Monday, September 21, 2009

Bipolar Blogging and Depression (Part 3)

The question I posed yesterday is this: Why does writing about negative things make me feel worse, while writing about positive things make me feel better.

Perhaps the best source on all this is James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., who, for more than two decades, has been a key researcher on the topic of writing to heal. In his book, Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval, Pennebaker differentiates between writing about negative things or traumas for a few days--until you understand what happened, and writing about it every day.

While writing about traumatic events so that we can understand them and can move on is beneficial, dwelling on negative experiences isn't. "I’m not convinced that having people write every day is a good idea," Pennebaker says. "I’m not even convinced that people should write about a horrible event for more than a couple of weeks. You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity."

On the other hand, writing to figure something out or problem solve is beneficial. And using positive words and expressing optimism truly does make you feel better.

20 comments:

Howard said...

I agree with Pennebaker, though I've often acted like I don't. For a long time, my morning journaling was very negative, writing about my negative feelings about life, etc., with no problem solving. Occasionally, on my blog - though less and less - I'll write about something and it will be mean-spirited. My best days are when I write out of wonder. About God, about his creation, about my fellow human beings. Or when I write about a problem, not knowing where I'm going while I'm writing, and I come out the other side having solved it along the way. I think it's ok to write often about problems if you are processing; it's not all right to write about negative things if you're complaining or dwelling on them.

marja said...

I totally agree with Pennebaker. The positive and the full of hope will help us most.

On the other hand, I don't think we should cover up the way we truly feel either. I don't think false positivity is a great thing either. We do need to be honest.

Like I said in my comment on your last post, Susan. I think expressing your true feelings, but then, within the same post, going beyond that and looking for the hopeful, is a good thing.

I really appreciate honesty in a blog. But I don't appreciate a person getting stuck on the negative either.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Howard,
Thanks for weighing in on this topic. I would imagine it will strike a chord for everyone who blogs...whether it's to heal or to write about our passions, or try to share our feelings about life.

Having "read you" for many years, I must say that some of my favorite posts of yours are about your children and wife, and the people you see--either in New York or in your travels about the country.

You have a great "eye" and great compassion, and that certainly comes through loudly and clearly!

Susan

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I appreciate your point of view on this topic. As you've said, Pennebaker does believe we should confront our demons in an honest and open way. In his original research with students, he had them write about traumatic events for 20 minutes each day for four days.

But, then he felt they should be done with it.

And that's kind of how I feel although I didn't practice this for years because I didn't know any better.

But, now I believe that when we're going through something or need to revisit past demons, we should write about them--either privately or openly--with absolute candor.

But, then we need to move on. After 32 months of blogging, I know bloggers who are still rehashing the same stuff over and over...or they use their blogs to discuss every negative experience they've ever encountered.

And the proof is in the pudding. As far as I can see they don't feel any better than they did years ago.

Susan

Tamara (TC) Staples said...

Susan,

This is why I closed Desire to Heal. It was time for me to move on with my life. My new blog deals with my writing life or I enjoy posting poetry and will probably add recipes, pictures, or whatever strikes me on a particular day. I have also found that my journaling has moved from boo-hooing to working through problems and then moving on. I also journal about things I am grateful for and I use my journal to write poetry, record things I want to remember, or even work out recipes in my head (versus in the kitchen). I have even been known to sketch in my journal if that is what feels like fun. I can't even go back and read my journals from years ago because they are just filled with day after week after year of writing out my pain. Like you, I just can't do that anymore without dragging myself down.

I also find that I don't have as many comments anymore on my blog. I don't track my stats so I have no idea if I have readers that aren't commenting. It bothered me at first but then I remembered that I am blogging more for me right now. If someone else enjoys it and wants to leave a comment... well, that is just gravy!

Hope your week is off to a wonderful start!

Hugs,
Tamara

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
Thanks for sharing! It's always interesting to learn why others have stopped blogging on a particular topic, and have moved on.

In a way, I feel like my blog can grow with me as I move away from the depression and bipolar posts and on to other topics.

But, I'll need to change the URL to make the transition complete. So, I'm deciding when and how I plan on doing this, and then my transition will be complete as well.

Yes, my week is off to a great start! I hope yours is too.

Susan

Tamara (TC) Staples said...

I would have LOVED to keep Desire to Heal and make it all about healing. And, I might revive it someday. I think that I am not strong enough now to handle hearing other people's continued issues with abuse and not go back there myself. I need a "cooling off" period where I just go off and concentrate on other things. Then, I think I might be able to come back and make a difference - or, at least that is a hope of mine.

I think changing the name of your blog, if you want to concentrate just on wellness, would be good. It would be a fresh start that is more in line with your desired focus. You have so much to share but you have to take care of you first.

I think that you are doing great and I see you being a voice for wellness in a way that does not bring you down. For me, it seems that this partly entails not writing so much in first person. I just can't make that leap yet from first person survivor to third person authority. In my mind, at least, that is what I would need to do.

Hugs,
Tamara

Paula Joy said...

Hey Susan!!

I think the looking for the pearls in every situation is important. That being said, there are times when I just need to be honest with how I am feeling and vent!! There's a time and place for all of it.

I am kind of in a place with my blog right now where I am taking a turn. It's obvious that I haven't been writing about bipolar for quite a while now, but I'm not sure where I want to go with it. My blog just follows along with, and so does my blog friends. That's important.

Anyway, it's good to be back!! Thanks for showing love and care for me while I was away - I really appreciate you!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
What you've written has given me a new insight into how I blog. For much of the year, I see myself as a bipolar/depression survivor who can show others that they, too, can survive.

Then, there are the months where I don't feel as well, and the blog seems like a burden to me. In the past, I've stopped posting for at least a few months when I feel this way.

And, since I've been feeling a bit out of sorts, I guess I've been feeling the blog is somewhat of a burden again.

But...if during these off periods, I just post about gardening, photography, music, and other healing activities, that's okay. Then, when I feel better, I can return to posting about depression and bipolar recovery, as well as other topics of interest.

Thanks so very much for sharing how you feel because it enabled me to figure all this out!

Love,
Susan

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Paula,
I've been feeling a bit low these past few weeks...and I can't tell you how much I appreciate your comment. Your kind words actually brought tears to my eyes.

Love,
Susan

KJ said...

When I write about negative experiences or traumatic events in order to heal I feel like it is helpful. When I fixate on my negative experiences or problems I get depressed and stay down.

I think that there is a place for that type of writing but I think it holds true that when we are positive (even in writing) we are happier than when we are negative.

Excellent posts and topic!

Paula Joy said...

I've been wondering how you are doing - I know that fall is a low time for you as you reflect on when your son went off to College... Just know that I'm thinking about you and praying for you. You really are special to me.

Love,

Paula

Wellness Writer said...

Dear KJ,
You're another friend and supporter who's always there with a kind word. Thanks for sharing your feelings on this subject, and for being there!

Love,
Susan

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Paula,
Actually, I had been feeling a bit down, but I've been better since my son had his Lasik surgery, and I'm no longer worried.

This last weekend I gardened a lot, and felt so much better after spending two days with my hands in soil, and planting some beautiful flowers.

So...I'm just kind of taking things as they come, doing all my wellness activities, and hoping to keep the fall depression at bay!

Thanks for thinking about me and praying for me as well! I can use all the help I can get:)

Love,
Susan

Wendy Love said...

Another challenging post by Susan! I agree that writing out the awful stuff, too much, is not therapeutic, but I agree with Paula, that sometimes just getting it out there, how we REALLY feel is helpful. Blogging the negative stuff is just hard for me.

Most of the time I choose to write about something useful or helpful, or creative or inspiring. This probably stems from being raised in a house where the rule was "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything". I really must get that book. Every time you mention it, there is something that tweeks my interest. Thank you for sharing your resources.

I am glad your son's surgery was a success. I am also happy for you that you are feeling pretty good, given the season. May that continue....

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Wendy,
I think that Pennebaker's point is that it's very important to write about the negative stuff honestly and openly. But, once you have written about it, it's important to move on.

That doesn't mean you can't revisit traumas and write about them again and again if need be, but if you spend every day writing about traumas and upheavals, then that's all you'll be thinking about...rather than using your energy to move forward.

Thanks for the kind thoughts about my son.

Susan

Mariposa said...

Somebody told me before to be careful with my thoughts for the things that I let to preoccupy my mind can affect my being, because the power of suggestion can be very powerful. I have switched to blogging about more about the positive stuff as compared to my early blogging which was really gloomy...and I'd say it's helping me feel good!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Mariposa,
I certainly agree. While I never would have thought you posted "gloomy" thoughts, I do believe that if we focus on negative things, and read blogs by negative people, we feel less well!

Susan

Tamara (TC) Staples said...

Susan,

That sounds perfect! The rest of us can benefit from reading about other healing activities. I, for one, would love to read more about your gardening. I think there really is a way that you can continue to blog and have it be healing for others yet not a drain on you. Plus, it is okay, and probably good, to take breaks from time to time. When I take a break and then return, I usually have such renewed energy.

Hugs,
Tamara

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
Thanks for all your support on this. I really appreciate it!

Susan