Thursday, March 13, 2008

Writing Well

Coming from keyboard of a writing instructor, those two little words might just conjure up images of sentence diagrams and arcane grammar rules. While I do admit to making my advanced writing students suffer through a brief “it’s/its” and “there/their/they’re” refresher (because really, can I release them into the real world without knowing the difference?), I have no intention of discussing writing mechanics here.

No, I’m much more interested in a far more compelling meaning of “writing well.” A few months ago, I mentioned a creative writing program for pediatric patients with chronic illness I was given a fellowship to finish developing. I spent more than a year consulting with doctors, pediatric social workers and other experts and compiling extensive research to make the case that if you give pediatric patients the tools to express their feelings and emotions about illness, the benefits are manifold: better adjustment and attitude towards illness, increased compliance with treatment plans, increased quality of life, and decreased hospitalizations and costs.

It’s a win-win situation.

Though I’ve had to step away from active implementation of the program temporarily, I remain committed to seeing it come to fruition, and remain committed to my belief in the power of words to heal. And certainly, witnessing a thriving medblogging community only furthers my belief in this.

Of course I had a lifetime of personal anecdotal experience to motivate me—when I was a child sidelined with illness, I read and wrote constantly. The sicker I got, the more pages I read and the more pages I wrote.

However, I used something far more concrete to help build my case: research published in JAMA that showed patients with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis who wrote about their illness experience manifested better health outcomes than the patients who didn’t.

I am happy to report there is more evidence to help make the connection between writing and wellness even stronger: a recent New York Times article by Tara Parker-Pope called “The Power of Words for Cancer Patients.” Researchers followed 71 adult cancer patients who wrote about their illness experiences while waiting for their routine oncology appointments. They were asked write about how cancer changed them, and how they felt about those changes.

According to the article, “After the writing assignment, about half of the cancer patients said the exercise had changed their thinking about their illness, while 35 percent reported that writing changed the way they felt about their illness …While a change in the way a patient thinks or feels about a disease may not sound like much, the findings showed that the brief writing exercise led to improved quality of life.”

Writing about illness is far more than merely a coping therapy. Expressive writing can be transformative. The article quotes one study participant as saying the following about the writing process: “Don’t get me wrong, cancer isn’t a gift, it just showed me what the gifts in my life are.”

Seems like no matter what your age or illness is, if writing can somehow get you closer to that point, it’s worth a shot. Right?

10 comments:

Kelly said...

(sorry I commented on the wrong blog. trying again)

wow that sounds really amazing ;)

Aviva said...

Wow. So cool that you helped develop that program. So cool that there's all this research confirming that it helps to right about being sick.

And so well done, that I'm going to have to link to this article in my blog. :)

I get some grief from some family members who really only want to hear that I'm feeling better and say that my blog and even its title is depressing. (My response? I tell them to stop reading it if they don't like it. :) It helps me feel better.

Richard Anderson said...

Interesting research. I am always urging spousal caregivers who are members of the Well Spouse Association, http://wellspouse.org or who post on the WSA Forum, to journal -- write about their caregiving experiences, at least when they are going through some kind of crisis with their ill spouse.

And, not to be too morbid, journaling is especially useful _after_ your spouse dies. A number of our members stay with the organization after they are widowed, and write in the Forum about how, and how much it has affected them.

I often say, write it down, when you're in the heat of the moment, and then, months later, you'll be able to see by re-reading, how far you've come in your grieving.

Since spousal caregivers in particular experience a kind of "rolling grief" as they see fresh losses in the chronic illness of their mate, that advice can work there, too.

Brittney said...

Writing has helped me figure things out, express my frustration, and since I blog it has helped me to get feedback on ideas before I step off that cliff.

Both creative writing and writing essays on my thoughts about dealeing with GP and my asthma have both helped. I think it all goes back to not holding in my feelings. That is what eats me up.

Oh, and I really need help with writing mechanics. I never remember the difference between its and it's. :)

David Williams said...

Great research. Its a bit confusion in writing the words. Writing helps in expressing out views and also figuring out the things.

Vanessa said...

I completely agree with you that writing well is a win-win situation. I also have a habit of writing daily in my diary and I just love doing this.

Dan Walter said...

Excellent post. How about some feedback on my medblog???
http://adventuresincardiology.wordpress.com/

Freadom said...

Very intersting idea. It does make sense though. Cool.

Sheryl said...

Laurie, I recently found your blog and have been enjoying your posts. I think this program is an amazing idea.

I recently started blogging about arthritis disease management and it has been a cathartic and interesting experience. I'm more aware of how I manage my RA and also more aware of what changes I might need to implement to be better at coping.

Please keep us posted on this program. I'm very interested to learn how it transpires.

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