This Blog Is Not Abandoned
When I see an abandoned blog it makes me sad.
I guess because that’s how I feel when I abandon my own.
I have more “retired” blogs than I can remember well enough to list, but I never wanted PlentyWoman to be one of them.
So, I’m back, 11 months since my last post.
What Went Wrong
I always wonder why a blog was abandoned. Clearly, they had something to say that mattered to them. Why did they stop saying it? Did they lack the time, or lose the interest, or have some unwelcome life experience throw them off track?
The latter is how it happened for me here and it followed the dreaded rule of threes.
In December of 2017, I had a falling out with my mother. It happened over something old between us and hard to face. All the years of distance between us and it hadn’t done much to minimize the devastation of talking about it. So we stopped talking and wrote letters instead that felt safer, to me at least, yet somehow made everything worse.
In February 2018, one of my best friends died from complications following a brain aneurysm; she went through surgery and never woke up. We’d known each other more than 20 years and she was like family.
In March 2018, I lost my biggest writing client who had become my only client because the work was plenty so why push myself to do more? I knew better.
This was a lot of loss to experience in three months’ time.
The smart thing to do would have been using this website as an outlet for all of the associated grief, stress, and anxiety.
Of course, I did just the opposite and stopped posting to PlentyWoman pretty much altogether, so I lost that, too.
Instead, I poured my energy into the only thing I literally could not afford to neglect – finding new work.
I picked up a few writing projects here and there, but it wasn’t enough, so I did something I hadn’t done in over a decade – I took a job outside of the house.
I started tutoring kids, in reading mostly, but also writing and a little math.
The adjustment to working in a busy tutoring center was a real shock to the system of my socially anxious self, but I persisted and it helped.
My social anxiety got a lot better, forced to get comfortable with being uncomfortable around people all day. (I even relieved myself of a bit of my eye contact anxiety. Turns out, it’s okay – and probably for the best – that I don’t making meaningful eye contact all twenty times I pass the same person in the hallway every day!)
The good the job did for my social anxiety didn’t surprise me but the good it did for my career was something I hadn’t seen coming.
Expressive Writing Therapy
Last year, I was helping a student with a narrative autobiographical essay for school. It was a personal story he was telling, an emotional one. I loved helping him through it. Not because I was helping him write “better” but because of how much it clearly meant to him that I was encouraging and accepting of the feelings he was expressing.
In other words, it wasn’t the educational experience I found most rewarding, but what seemed like a therapeutic one.
In a related turn of events, during my commutes to and from the tutoring center, I listened to my favorite podcast, DIY MFA.
One day, one of Gabriela Pereira’s guests mentioned a friend of hers who was studying expressive writing therapy.
I didn’t even know that was a thing.
Sure, I knew writing was used in therapy, but my experience with it was limited to cognitive-behavioral therapy in which my therapist suggested I keep a worry journal – to methodically analyze my anxious thoughts as a means of minimizing their impact. (I’ve shared several of these entries here on this blog.)
Expressive writing therapy was a new concept to me – this idea of a therapist facilitating a formless writing process that helps you explore feelings about traumatic or stressful experiences.
I’d done plenty of expressive writing on my own, and it certainly felt therapeutic; I had a binful of journals filled with mostly illegible scribblings of emotional upheaval.
I’d just never done expressive writing with a therapist.
I wondered if it was anything like the experience I’d had helping the aforementioned student with his narrative essay.
It wasn’t therapy, of course, but was what I loved about helping him similar to what I might experience as an expressive writing therapist?
First, I needed to get clearer on just how different expressive writing is from narrative writing.
Expressive writing “pays more attention to feelings than the events, memories, objects, or people in the contents of a narrative,” writes John F. Evans, Expressive Writing Workshop Facilitator at Duke Integrative Medicine.
“Like narrative writing,” says Evans, “expressive writing may have the arc of a story: beginning, middle, and end.
“Sometimes expressive writing behaves like a story that swells to [a] crest and resolves itself on firm ground.
“But often, expressive writing is turbulent and unpredictable, and that is OK.
“Expressive writing is not so much what happened as it is how you feel about what happened or is happening.”
As a writer, I’m all about structure; outlining a story is my favorite part of the process. But when I’m working with someone else on their writing, what I enjoy most isn’t helping them structure a story. I like asking the questions that help them dig deeper and I like validating their responses.
What I’m trying to say is, this business of being an expressive writing therapist sounds like me.
Back to School
I’m planning to start graduate school in the New Year — for an M.A. in Clinical Psychology — then to move on to an Expressive Arts Therapy Certificate Program.
Note the expressive arts part of the certificate program.
Writing will be just one of many arts I can incorporate into my practice, not in isolation from one another, but as an integrated whole.
There are the visual arts, of course, like drawing, painting, sculpting, and collaging. But there’s also music, dance, movement, drama, and storytelling.
Natalie Rogers called it the Creative Connection, “the process of allowing one art form to influence another directly.”
Rogers was a pioneer in the field of expressive arts therapy and the daughter of Carl Rogers, one of the founders of the humanistic perspective and client-centered approach to psychotherapy.
“Using various expressive arts in sequence heightens and intensifies our journey inward,” Natalie Rogers wrote in The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts as Healing. 1
“When we move, it affects how we write or paint.2
“When we write or paint, it affects how we feel and think.3
“During the Creative Connection process, one art form stimulates and nurtures the other, bringing us to an inner core or essence which is our life energy.”4
What About PlentyWoman?
What my going back to school means for PlentyWoman is added incentive to keep it current.
One, with articles on what I’m learning about anxiety.
Two, with personal essays about how my mental health fares under the pressure of a graduate program. (At the risk of putting it out there for the universe to hear and provide accordingly, I see social and performance anxiety in my future.)
That said, I promise you this won’t turn into a blog all about school.
Speaking of family, I don’t see myself going into much detail about the thing with my mom, but maybe I will about the thing that got us talking again – the death of my father. He died April 23, 2019. We weren’t close – hadn’t been for years – and when we were, it wasn’t the happy kind.
Point is, I have plenty to write about the kinds of things that make me anxious (and what might make you anxious, too).
If you haven’t already, get the facts about women and anxiety.