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MSWA Bulletin Magazine Autumn 18

EXPRESSIVE WRITING JEAN

EXPRESSIVE WRITING JEAN HUDSON, MSWA COUNSELLOR I work as a Counsellor with MSWA and I am also a trained Expressive Therapist. Did you know that using a pen and paper can enhance personal growth by creating a sense of empowerment and control? Have you ever been feeling low, down in the dumps, stuck in a rut, or a little stressed out? Of course, the answer to that question will be ‘Yes’ for everyone. We all experience difficult times along with good times, and often struggle to find a happy equilibrium. For some, seeing a counsellor can help. For those who are creative, drawing, painting, listening to music, and dancing can help. You don’t need to be artistic to write, you don’t even need to be a prolific writer. All you need is a pen, a piece of paper, and the motivation to write. It’s inexpensive and something you can do at any time of the day. Expressive writing is different from writing in a journal or diary writing: • Journal/diary writing is usually free form, where the writer jots down whatever pops into their head, whereas therapeutic writing is often based on prompts or exercises • Journal/diary writing usually focuses on recording events as they occurred whereas writing therapy focuses on analysing the events and writing about the thoughts and feelings that arise following the event • Keeping a journal can be very helpful for the user as it; improves memory, records important events and can promote relaxation at the day’s end; writing about traumatic or extremely stressful events can have a significant healing effect Some of the benefits of expressive writing: • Several studies have shown the healing effects of writing: people who undertook writing for 15 minutes, four days in a row, following a traumatic experience, experienced better health outcomes for up to four months later (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005) • Expressive writing may improve immune system functioning (Murray 2002) • Regular expressive writing can help the writer find meaning in their experiences, view things from a new perspective, and see the silver linings in their most stressful or negative experiences (Tartakovsky, 2015) How to get started You might be writing on your own and thinking of seeing a counsellor or you may already be working with a counsellor, he or she may be able to assist. • Use whatever works best for you, whether it is a beautiful journal or a cheap notebook • Decorate and personalise it if you wish • Set a goal to write for a certain amount of time each day • Choose where you will write each day • Follow the 5 steps to WRITE W what do you want to write about? Name it R review and reflect on it – close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and focus I investigate your thoughts and feelings. Start writing and keep going – don’t worry about spelling or punctuation T time yourself – write 5 to 15 minutes without stopping E exit by re-reading what you have written – reflect on it and write one or two sentences. It’s okay if you only manage a few words or if you write several pages. Write as if no one else will read it and avoid writing what you think people would like to read. You are writing about the good, the bad and the ugly as you experience it. You are writing to be honest, even if it is painful. Here are some prompts if you get stuck…. • 100 things I love • 100 things that make me sad • 100 reasons to wake up in the morning • My favourite way to spend the day is …. • If I could talk to my teenage self, the one thing I would say is... • 30 things that make me smile • I really wish others knew this about me • Use 10 words to describe yourself • Write a list of questions to which you urgently require answers • List all the things you are grateful for “The truth knocks on the door and you say: “go away, I’m looking for the truth, and so it goes away.” Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Finally, write from the heart, tell yourself the truth, trust the process – and enjoy! 12 | MSWA BULLETIN AUTUMN 2018

MY WIFE HAS MS CARL MARCHE “How much do you weigh?” I asked. It was an innocent question, but after 22 years of marriage I should have known better when the look of impending damnation came, as my wife slowly raised her head from the book she was reading. “Okay, how about this then….” as I proceeded cautiously, “are you close to 49kg?” “Why?” she said, in a long-guarded tone that implied I could have been after the secret code to the nukes. “It’s just that I have been reading about the Wife Carrying World Championships held annually in Finland, and the rules state that the minimum weight of the wife to be carried in the race is 49kg. It looks like fun and I thought we could give it go.” Not surprisingly there was silence and a slight shaking of the head as she turned the page and continued to read her novel. It was Melbourne Cup Day in 2005. We both sat together in the waiting room of Royal Perth Hospital, brought there by a bout of Optic Neuritis, pondering the cause of this illness that had rudely interrupted our busy lives. We assumed that after powering through the birth of 4 children, my wife’s previous complaints of fatigue, imbalance and limb numbness were simply caused by the demands of parenting. Loss of eyesight in one eye however, told us there was something very wrong and had us thinking the worst. The lovely neurologist who presided over us soon provided the diagnosis: multiple sclerosis. Since that time, I have lost count of the number of times I have said to people, “My wife has MS”. At first, and now looking back, the way I said it was more about me than her. I was coming to terms with it! Yes, I felt bad for her having to go through this, but talking about it to others was really about working through how it would affect me, and the uncertainties I had. How will this impact the kids, what if she couldn’t work, how would we pay the bills, what if we couldn’t travel and continue with the perfect life we had planned? I was just the stereotypical man who really viewed things initially from my perspective. But now, I say “My wife has MS” to anyone who will listen, and it is said with a massive amount of pride. No, I would not wish MS on anyone and its chaotic and random decline is horrible, but what I have learned on this journey with her, is what an incredibly strong and amazingly resilient human she is. The inner beauty and peace that attracted me to her many years ago has risen to outshine the physical limitations that she endures daily and her appreciation of the simple beauties of life around her, despite the daily obstacles, is awe-inspiring. MS has brought us together, closer than I think we would ever have achieved without it. “It’s only 13,000kms from Perth to Finland,” I said, “and this sport is made for us” as I continued to read out aloud the first four rules set by the International Wife Carrying Competition. May I say, they seemed so relevant for many people partnered on an MS-related journey. RULE 1. The wife to be carried may be your own, or the neighbor’s, or you may have found her further afield. Well we don’t know in life, at times of need, who may carry us or for whom we may be the carrier. RULE 2. The length of the official track is 253.5 meters and has two dry obstacles and a water obstacle about one metre deep. Obstacles – talk to someone with MS and they will tell you about obstacles. That is one area in which they have an intimate knowledge. Obstacles, we step right over you, albeit very slowly and carefully. RULE 3. Each contestant takes care of his/her safety and all participants must enjoy themselves. The way we battle every day, take responsibility for, and even choose to be happy in the face of MS is our individual choice. RULE 4. The minimum weight of the wife to be carried is 49kgs but any higher weight is acceptable. As the load gets heavier, we have no choice but to get stronger. “We have never been overseas together, so this could be our first trip now that the kids are getting older,” I said. Whether it was just to humour me, or if she had a genuine interest I am yet to determine, but she eventually said, “54kg”. “GREAT!” I exclaimed. “That means you only have to lose 5kg to get to the minimum weight, and being over 40, we qualify for the ‘Seniors’ class of the competition.” “Why the look? What did I say this time?” Note: At the time of publication the author is yet to have gained permission to lift his wife on to his shoulders, but the enthusiasm is ever-present. MSWA BULLETIN AUTUMN 2018 | 13