Think back to when you were younger. You probably kept a journal, perhaps under lock and key, away from prying eyes. What was so precious to you in that journal? Your emotions, for sure; that journal helped you make sense of your pubescent emotions. You tried to unravel conflicted emotions of unrequited love, of not fitting in, feelings of awkwardness. Perhaps you even tried to quell suicidal thoughts.
That journal you kept was your therapy.
Writing is therapy.
Whether we writers spin tales of fantastical lands, or unearth new perspectives from years of research, we are engaging in a form of therapy that allows us to understand so much of ourselves through fictional and real lives. As readers, we come to see ourselves in the unreliable narrator of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, or the unnamed heroine of Sylvia Plath’s poetry; their creation’s struggles, and the struggles of the creators, are our struggles.
Art is the sum of the struggle. The best art, or, at the very least, the art we enjoy and respond to, comes from the emotional struggle. Think of the lyrics of Kurt Cobain or Elliott Smith. Think of Sylvia Plath’s poetry. Think of Hubert Selby’s bitter prose.
Go back to that journal, if you still have it – it’s probably tucked away in your old room at your parents’ home, and yes, your parents have read it. Read a few passages; the language may be simpler, the emotions rawer, but you can still identify with that thirteen-year-old you, the one whose parents don’t understand, the one whose friends offer pain and pleasure. What’s changed is you, physically, but you still need to make sense of the same conflicts and traumas. That’s why so many of us gravitate towards writing, as a means of cognitive therapy.
With the advent of social media, the avenues for self-expression are nearly endless, and, with that, the medium for us to express our thoughts, whether they’re trite or earth-shattering. When we read poetry on social media, we are reading therapy in session. And there are no bounds of confidentiality between patient and therapist to respect; the patient is also the therapist, and by sharing their words online, the writer is engaging in feedback that is both visceral and cognitive. How many times have you read someone’s words and immediately understood the pain they’ve shared? Countless times, of course.
When a writer tells you “writing is my therapy,” this isn’t a glib declaration. It’s a time-honored and valuable form of self-analysis. I chose to write to quiet my own internal criticisms, and to understand the cycle of obsessive thinking that has been a major part of my life. Needless to say, writing isn’t the best practice for mental health provision, but writing, or engaging in any form of creativity, is the salve we oftentimes need to soothe these psychic wounds.
Corporate drone by day, swashbuckling wordsmith by night, Gus Sanchez's work has been featured in several online and print journals. He is the author of Out Where the Buses Don't Run: Seven Years of Rants, Raves, Dirty Jokes and Bad Ideas From a Small But Loud Corner of the Blogosphere, a self-indulgent tome no one should bother to read. A native New Yorker, Gus now lives in Charlotte, NC, with his wife, his daughter, a bionic dog, and a vinyl record collection that's spinning out of control. Spinning...get it?