February 26, 2015

Writing for Survival

Ever since I was a child, I have always had an insatiable need to write. From “self-published” story books to reflections and rants in my diary as a teen, to painfully embarrassing attempts at song lyrics in young adulthood.

When I was diagnosed with a terminal spinal cancer at age 24, writing saved me. I had no friends who could relate to my fear and pain. My parents at the time were overwhelmed with their own cancer battle. I was alone… Except for writing.

Alice Walker talks about the powerful need to write:

“I think writing really helps you heal yourself. I think if you write long enough you, will be a healthy person. That is, if you really need to write, I’m supposed to make money, or what will make fame.”

Writing has always been about survival for me.

Roughly twenty years later, when I was diagnosed with cancer a second time, it was writing I turned to again when I sat at home alone, battling waves of chemo induced nausea and feelings of isolation.

My need to write is so primal that even my kids know, “Don’t interrupt Mommy when she’s blogging… It’s not good!”

As a mother/wife/school volunteer my time always seems to belong to someone else… But, not when I’m writing.

When I’m writing, I have solitude, comfort, and peace. I am can truly be myself, express what I want—I am free!

It turns out my natural proclivity to write is ACTUALLY a healthy survival instinct. According to a new research report:

Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write from Mic

“By writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, participants were significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma. Participants ultimately spent less time in the hospital, enjoyed lower blood pressure and had better liver functionality than their counterparts. “

Read more here.

When I was a teacher, especially a writing (English) teacher, always held this understanding close to my heart. Yet, as a new English teacher I quickly learned to stop asking students to “tell me how you feel” in their writing. In urban public schools, many children are facing the impacts of poverty every day. Through student writing, your perception of a what a “typical” childhood looks like, is presented to you through various student lenses, some of which are different than you may ever have known existed. (That said, my former colleagues who are now working in private schools or in the suburbs tell me that we often stereotype urban kids. Children of upwardly mobile families may also write about serious issues. They may concern different topics, but they are no less concerning.)

This said, I learned to focused my writing assignments on academic topics with compelling themes. Thus, I figured, my students could get some of the therapeutic benefits of writing, without my feeling I’d stepped outside the realm of teacher and into the role of group therapy practitioner.

Even so, I always held the role of “writing teacher” with utmost regard. For I knew that whether or not my students chose to become English majors, or journalists, or grant writers, teaching them to be the joy of written expression would help them articulate their ideas, connect with others, heal their wounds and nourish their souls.

Just some of my thoughts…

What do you think? What are you writing about? How does writing keep you sane? Comfort you? Help you heal? Set you free?

Related reads: Connected Educator 101: Blogging is Good for You!

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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Life-long Learning, Social Emotional

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