A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire
Working Through Health Issues with Writing
I have two poems published at Literary Mama: Swimming (Stretchmarks), from 2008 and Let’s Call This What it Is, from summer 2012. A lot of things have happened in the five years since that first poem appeared. I think the most obvious is that my daughter is a few years older! That probably goes without saying.
Now that I look back, there have been quite a few life-changing events in that time. I was pregnant twice since then-without the resulting babies-and made the decision to have my tubes tied in 2010. By no means was that a light decision, but it’s one I do not regret and found it to be the right thing to do with consideration to health issues.
One of my poems, “In the Library Bathroom” (unpublished at this point) deals with finding out I was pregnant, the subsequent loss of those pregnancies, then the surgery for the tubal ligation. It took me three years to process all of this, to be able to write about it. Then, one day, I cranked out the poem in about 15 or 20 minutes. It felt as if I'd exorcised a demon.
The poem in Literary Mama, Let’s Call This What It Is, came directly from two dreams I had about a year after the first miscarriage. I was out in the country, very warm and humid-swampy. There was a house I was running to. I go inside and discover an impossibly huge crocodile slithering in through the window in the back bedroom. I slam and lock that door. This was the very first dream I had of the crocodiles. I continued to dream about them for months. The second: I was in a house, in the kitchen. There are three stories to it and is sitting right on top of the river. In that river were crocodiles swimming. I look out to the porch and see a crocodile trying to get into the house, thrashing and spitting. And then, it turns into a baby boy and drowns in the river.
It was so obvious-even with the first dream-that this whole crocodile thing was about the pregnancies and the surgery. I wrote Let’s Call This What It Is and suddenly, the dreams stopped, until I had one last dream a few months later. In this dream the crocodiles drowned in the river, just like the boy. I believe that something was released by crafting those words.
Last year, I had an MRI after years of refusing not to. I don’t know if the refusal was because I was scared that they would actually find something or that they wouldn’t find anything at all -- again. However, an interesting discovery came out of this; they did indeed find something. I had an old scar on my brain that was indicative of a stroke, one that I most likely had while in in utero and one that is probably the cause of my epilepsy. It was absolutely revelatory after years of doctors telling me they didn’t know why I had this condition and nothing ever showing up on previous MRI’s as well as EEG’s. Of course, technology has made incredible, astronomical advances over the past 20 years. It’s amazing what we can see now; whole landscapes of uncharted territory.
A few years ago, my back went out. It was so bad I couldn’t stand straight and was confined to my bed. It turned out to be two slipped discs in my lower back. It lasted for most of the winter. Then, one day in the spring, I got out of bed and was walking completely straight with no pain, as if it never even happened.
With all these health issues, it took me months and years to write about it. I just could not write about it in the moment. The MRI poems were an exception. I had the first few stanzas of Going for the MRI on the way home from the hospital, even before we left the parking lot. About a month or so after I had written those, they were accepted to The Barefoot Review. I wrote something about my back injury, but it wasn’t until a year later. I had several dreams during that time. With some, it was hard to distinguish reality from dream. They were all incorporated into the resulting poem, Dreams, Diagnosis and Recovery, which was picked up by The Barefoot Review. It took me a long, long time to write about the epilepsy. I’ve had it all my life, yet never fully acknowledged it. It wasn’t until the MRI that I felt I could really write about it. But once I did, there was a feeling of release, just as with the other events.
Writing in every form is absolutely essential to me. If I don’t write, I don’t have a voice. It’s a necessary outlet, one that enables me to deal with everything in life whether it is illness, pregnancy, children, motherhood, relationships and whatever else comes my way. If I didn’t have writing as a way to deal with all of this, I’m not sure how I would have.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of poetry as therapy: who uses it, why they do and how. Anne Sexton is one of the most famous examples of this. She started writing at the suggestion of her therapist and went on to be one of the most controversial poets of her time. The power of words can be cathartic and earth-shattering. Use your words, write ‘till your fingers bleed, purge the demons-you are allowed to.
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