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How Journaling Helps You Cope With Mental and Physical Pain

A journal is your completely unaltered voice – it’s just for you. And if you know that voice, and you like it, you can bring it out to everyone else, and that’s the most honest and vulnerable thing you can do. ~ Lucy Dacus, musician

“Dear God,
Help me to be more honest about my physical and mental pain.”
Is the sky falling? — because I think my head just exploded.

I wrote that prayer in my fourth week of writing in I’ve Been Thinking…The Journal by Maria Shriver. Four weeks in, and the crippling anxiety, pain, and shame surrounding my illnesses are easing. Writing is powerful. I have done it for years in songs, poems, and in my work, but never have I so keenly trained its eye on my interior.

Both of my conditions are invisible to all but me and those very close to me. I suffer from depression, fibromyalgia, and all the spiritual sickness that mental illness and chronic pain afford—the loneliness, the lack of mobility, the self-loathing, and the anger at God. A friend once told me, “It’s not your fault these things tapped you on your shoulder, Lisa.”

Through my recent writing, I have come to understand that all of our shoulders bear a burden of some weight. Left unattended, they can lead to treacherous spiritual and emotional pain, but these burdens can also cause us to leap to empathy and compassion. They carry the gift of the opportunity to be of service to others and to nurture one another through gentle acts of kindness.

Maria Popova writes in her brilliant weekly digest, Brain Pickings: “We are creatures of remarkable moodiness and mental turbulence and what we think we believe at any given moment—those capital-T “truths” we arrive at about ourselves and the world—can be profoundly different from our beliefs a decade, a year, and sometimes even a day later.” Yes, even a day later. I have found so many of those “capital-T Truths” in such a short time. Even a backward glance to a few weeks of written words has left me in awe of their revelations.

I think my friends love me for various reasons but especially for my loyalty; not the blind-eyed kind, but the kind that says, “Don’t judge my friend for this one moment. You don’t know the sum of her heart.” It is the easiest thing in the world for me to say about those I cherish, and yet…

“Dear God,
Teach me to be as kind to myself as I am to others.”

The act of writing intentionally, with the beautiful prompts and encouragement that Maria’s book includes, has given me a deep understanding that the noise of my thoughts needs quieting. For me, it is like the gift of the meditation of the rosary. I repeat those memorized prayers until I can find my own words to pray. Writing in my journal helps me find my own words to relieve the world’s and my discouraging chatter while pointing the way to restoring the faith of my inner encourager.

Lisa Washka is a Sunday Paper Ambassador.

This essay was featured in the Feb. 3rd edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.




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