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Writing to Heal

July 17, 2014

The Healing Benefits of Writing

Seventeen years ago, when I was first diagnosed with MS, I shut down. I stopped going out, I stopped listening to music. Even writing, which had been a passion of mine, fell to the sidelines. At the precise moment in my life when I most needed to write, I turned the computer off and put my pen down.

I see now that it wasn’t the best way to handle my grief. After a few months of despair, I pulled myself together. I started medication, became educated about the reality of MS (versus the hype), and began to make peace with my new life. It took some time.  It wasn’t easy, but eventually I made it through intact.

If I could go back and do it over again, I’d never stop writing.

How it Works

Quite simply, research tells us that writing helps us heal. When trauma strikes, writing allows us to find sense in the event. It provides us with a safe outlet for secret thoughts and fears. And it connects us to the truth of what we feel underneath all the noise. In the most basic terms, when we express ourselves in writing, we reduce our stress and improve our overall mood… and in turn our bodies react positively.

Let’s get specific. Here are some of the ways expressive writing impacts our physical and emotional selves:

  • Decreased heart rate
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Enhanced breathing
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Greater effectiveness in managing stress

According to J. W. Pennebaker, a top researcher in the field of expressive writing, “When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health. They go to the doctor less.”

Further, the benefits of writing appear to be long-lasting. Says Pennebaker, “Reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.”

As MS patients, we all know about vagueness and uncertainty. But when it comes to expressive writing, the evidence is clear: writing helps us heal.

Write it Out

So, give a try. Take a few minutes (20 minutes are recommended) and just start writing. You can write whatever you want.  The format and length are immaterial, and the only requirement is honesty.  You can write about how you came to learn you have MS.  Compose a poem about your unique experience with MS.  Start a journal, sharing your hidden thoughts and fears. And don’t forget the most important part of this: the only audience is you. So don’t worry about editing.  You’re not trying to win a Pulitzer or even get published. You’re writing to heal.

When you’re diagnosed with MS, your path takes a turn. That’s undeniable. Honor this truth and write your story. You may not be able to cure the MS, but you can mend your spirit. No question about it.

Karen Bender is a personal historian. She helps people write their life stories and preserve their family histories for future generations. Visit her website at

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