Today’s letter isn’t really about writing, but it’s kind of about writing. Partially because it involves actual writing, and partially because what I’m about to share with you will make your writing better, by making you better. I’m not selling you anything; it’s just a practice that I think will change your life… if you use it.
Here’s a thing about me. I try to be pleasant and happy and bright-shiny all the time. Actually, it doesn’t even take much effort; it’s just how I evolved. As a kid, if I expressed any challenging emotions like sadness, disappointment, or anger, I was at best ignored and at worst punished. Eventually, I learned to avoid those emotions in general. I ate a lot of them (they taste like Nacho Cheese Doritos most of the time, occasionally they are Mint Milano cookies) but mostly, I just found a reason why a bad thing was in fact a blessing (i.e., “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” type toxic positivity) or I just pretended it wasn’t there (i.e., “la-dee-da, I’m not suffering staggering amounts of emotional abuse, la-dee-da”).
To this day, even after all the therapy and all the work and all the healing, I will often have challenging emotions—not negative; there’s nothing negative about anger, disappointment, or sadness—and simply not be consciously aware that I’m having them.
What used to happen when life was a lot harder and I had not yet healed was that I would have the occasional ragey moment, which I would sublimate into funny, amusing “rants” (I still had difficulty expressing my anger unless it was entertaining to someone) and then I’d just stagger around my emotions until they shut the hell up and I’d go about my business as usual.
That is… until I became friends with my husband who is, and I’m not even kidding, an emotional genius.
One day, when we were still just friends and co-working over Zoom during the early days of the pandemic, he told me this idea he’d had about how to deal with the anxiety that plagues him every time he tries to get to work. The idea was this; put on a blindfold, pop on some noise-canceling headphones, play white noise, set a 25-minute timer and journal by touch-typing. You don’t have to journal anything if you don’t have anything to say, but you must sit there for the whole 25 minutes so… you might as well say something. You start with the question, “How am I feeling?” and then just… go. It doesn’t matter if you don’t touch type that well, and it doesn’t matter if you spell things wrong or accidentally shift your fingers one letter off and type gibberish. You know what you need to write, and you write it. You don’t need to read it after; it’s the act of writing that is useful. I almost always, at some point, accidentally activate my caps lock and end up type-shouting for half the journaling session. Doesn’t matter. Not the point.
Anyway, back when Ian first talked about it, I thought, “Sure, why not?” and I tried it and when I say OH MY GOD, Writer… I’m not even kidding.
OH. MY. GOD.
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I’m trying to find an analogy for this experience, and I apologize up front for the one I’m using.
It’s emotional Ex-Lax.
Again… I apologize, but this exercise will clear you out, even if you’re emotionally expressive, but especially if you’re emotionally repressed the way that I am, which is super emotionally repressed.
I tried it for the first time about the same time he came up with up, early days of the pandemic. Considering how effective it is, and how tailor-made it is to fix one of my eternal weaknesses—knowing what I’m feeling and what it means and why it’s okay to feel that way—you’d think that I would be doing it all the time.
Nope. Despite the fact that every time I do it I a) get an insight into my own feelings and behavior that is incredibly valuable and often helps me put away whatever was weighing on me and b) bounce around the house in a gleeful mood for a couple of days afterward because I feel so goddamn light, I resist this method because it make me know what I’m really feeling and I. Don’t. Like. That.
Ian does it as regular maintenance, at least a few times a week. He’s at this point where the sessions aren’t as intense, and he tends to get a jump on the little anxieties before they turn into big, whopping anxieties.
That, I think, is how the method is supposed to work. For me, it works like this:
For a while, I’m truly fine. Therapy is regular and life is fine. But then Something Happens. Not necessarily a big Something, or even a bad Something, but it triggers my trauma and before I can consciously become aware that Something Is Up, my subconscious snatches the trigger and its resulting fee-fees, wraps it all up in a blanket, and stuffs it in a locker in the basement.
I continue on my way, smiling and laughing, but the faint muffled cries from the basement are audible. I hear them, but they’re soft and muffled enough that they don’t quite reach my consciousness.
It’s about now that Ian looks at me and asks, “Are you okay?” and I say, “I’m great!” And he goes, “Okay,” trusting me at my word.
A few more weeks go by. The muffled cries get louder, less muffled, and I’m starting to realize consciously that something’s not right. I feel frayed around the edges. This is when I go to Ian and say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I mean, nothing’s really bothering me, but I just feel off,” and he says, “Have you tried blindfold journaling?” and I say, “Good idea. I should do that,” and then I don’t do it.
A week or so later, I’m still feeling off, and I’m starting to get distant. Ian sits me down and says, “Something’s going on with you,” and I say, “I know, but I have no idea what it is.” And then we sit and talk for a while and I eventually hit on what's bothering me and then I cry and then I feel better and he says, “You know, blindfold journaling really helps when you’re not sure what’s wrong,” and I say, petulantly, “I know, but I hate it,” and he says, “I know, honey. I know.”
But the next time I feel off, I remember that conversation. I blindfold journal and it works, but it kicks my ass.
And the next time Something is Up, I go back to smothering my emotions in a locker until Ian makes me sit down and talk about it.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I’d like to believe that this time around this particular mulberry bush, I’ll actually start sitting my ass down on the regular and do the thing that would save me weeks of this nonsense, but… I probably won’t.
Try it. Report in. I’m dying to know how it works for y’all.
Wow, I have a similar pattern, I start feeling off and I don’t know why, I think I should try it (but I fear I might also hate it)
Love this! May we all be blessed with a partner who says things like, "Have you tried blindfold journaling?" Thanks for sharing this great advice for life and love and writing!