Writers and the Mental Health Connection

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The average American cannot reach adulthood without hearing about the tragic lives of several writers. John Berryman, Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, and Allan Ginsberg are favorites of the education system. Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and Edgar Allan Poe have a large media influence. For every famous writer who appears to have a Utopian existence there seems to be an equally talented writer who struggles with mental illness, cannot cope with life’s challenges, and meets a tragic end: often self-inflicted. The field of psychology is singularly interested in the connection between writers and mental health. A quick check at PsycINFO for academic papers related to “creative writing” or “creative writers” registered over 1100 hits: nearly half of those since 2000. The nature of many of those research papers was rather surprising. Instead of delving into areas such as childhood, alcoholism, and drugs they attempted to find a connection between the act of writing or creativity and mental health. This paper deals with the three primary connections between writers and mental health as viewed through the psychological studies: creativity and madness, mental health evaluation through a writer’s words, and the “writing cure” controversy. Continue reading

Creative outlets

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(Had to learn guitar to put music to my lyrics.)

Utilizing your creative talents can be just as beneficial physically as they are spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically.

Pat Snyder, author of “The Dog Ate My Planner,” has taken her ability to inject humor and creativity into the stressful areas of her life, and organized it into a complete series of wacky workshops to teach others how to do the same.

There are numerous humorous books, CDs, and DVDs on the market to satisfy every personality and taste; such as Laughter from the Pearly Gates, Healing Through Humor, or any family-oriented comedy special. In fact, Healing Through Humor, by Charles and Frances Hunter, has been used by medical professionals during laughter therapy sessions. The forward was written by Dr. Francisco Contreras, who is quoted as saying, “Positive emotions invoked by humor have healing effects.” And Dr. Don Colbert claims, “Laughter is absolutely the best medicine as it charges the immune system and triggers the relaxation response.”

Here are some other positive effects from laughter:

  • Your heart and lungs are stimulated.
  • Your heart beats faster and your blood pressure rises.
  • You breathe deeper and oxygenate more blood.
  • Your body releases natural pain killers called endorphins, and you produce more immune cells.
  • You burn seventy-eight times more calories than when the body is in a resting state.
  • Your diaphragm, facial muscles, and internal organs all get jostled in what some professionals call “internal jogging.”

And after laughing your muscles and arteries relax, which is great for easing pain. Likewise, your blood pressure subsides and your pulse drops below normal: all of which researchers attribute to aiding digestion.

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(One of my fine art pieces called “Life’s storyboard #1)

However, creativity doesn’t have to be combined with humor to be beneficial at releasing stress, or for any number of other creative healing therapies, such as Veteran and Educational institutions, like Montclair University, having programs for veterans and military students to relieve stress and exorcise pent-up emotions through creative art and writing.

Dr. Marie Cascarano, Coordinator of Health Promotion for the University, claims, “Everyone experiences stress throughout their daily lives, but the key to managing daily stressors is finding a way to take breaks throughout the day to take care of you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Creating art and discussing the process can help you increase your self-awareness and relieve stress while using your creativity.”

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(My first attempt at negative etching.)

Another creative outlet used extensively by novice and professional alike is the various forms of music therapy: an outlet I utilize for stress relief and healing.

Sung-Chi Chen, BSN, RN, says, “Music therapy has shown positive outcomes on physiological and psychological well-being among older people.” However, music therapy is clearly beneficial to everyone, not just the elderly. For instance, on Art Drum.com there is a list of twelve ways drumming benefits students: everything from physical benefits to helping them focus and become better students.

All forms of music can be therapeutic, but I am strongly attracted to percussion and drum therapy, including drum circles.

When you have individuals like Babatunde Olatunji quote, “Rhythm is the soul of life. The whole universe revolves in rhythm,” it is not simply a statement off the cuff. These are words backed by thousands of years of human culture utilizing percussion instruments to communicate, celebrate, instill a strong sense of social community, worship, heal, and even bid their last farewells. After all, who of us does not know of the strong role drums have played in many communities like the African tribes, Australian aborigines, and Native American tribes?

Modern-day professionals, medical and otherwise, have discovered some fascinating facts regarding percussion and/or drum therapy. For instance, Ben Schwarcz, a professional music therapist with Alternative Depression Therapy, claims “Drumming Therapy taps into layers of the mind and body that other modalities cannot. Studies have shown that repetitive drumming changes brain wave activity, inducing a state of calm and focused awareness.”

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(My favorite instrument to play.)

One of the best studies done backing the benefits of drumming was published in Alternative Therapies in January, 2001, entitled, “Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects.” Some of the key discoveries for this research are as follows:

“Both neuroendocrine and immunologic alterations were found in drumming subjects following this composite intervention compared with controls. These changes appear to be immunoenhancing (increased DHEA-to-cortisol ratios, increased NK cell activity, and increased LAK cell activity).” In other words, not only can it immediately reduce stress, but it “has the potential to produce cumulative or sustaining neuroendocrine or immunological effects that could contribute to the well-being of an individual facing a long-term condition in which elevated NK cell activity is known to be beneficial.”

It would literally require volumes of text to do this subject justice. However, there is enough evidence shown here to come to the conclusion that all forms of creative therapies or outlets have some form of positive effects that can be acquired through personal or group participation. So be sure to make some time during your week to let your God-given creative juices flow.

 

Works Cited

Bittman, Dr.Barry B., et al. “Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects.” Alternative Therapies. Jan. 2001 Vol.7 No.1 P.38-47 Print.

Hunter, Charles and Frances. Healing Through Humor. Creation House Press. Lake Mary Florida 2003. Print.

Phillips, Bob and Jonny Hawkins. Laughter From the Pearly Gates. Harvest House Publishers. Eugene, OR. 2004. Print.

Rodak, Denise Y. “Stress Relief Through the Creative Arts.” Montclair State Univ. Web. 8 May 2011.

Schwarcz, Ben, MFT. “Drumming Therapy: Healing Through Rhythm and Sound.” Alternative Depression Therapy. Web. 8 May 2011

[* Originally published on another blog in 2011.]

Beware the Scam

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I caution the creative individual

   who yearns for artistic acceptance:

Beware the scam, as poison.

Poison corrodes confidence in anyone who trusts:

     breeds an over-cautious nature for sowing

    in a field that requires daily planting.

   It inspires naught, but negativism

     where positive thinking must abound.

    It deceives with tempting novelties

     to stroke the fragile ego, so easily bought:

      thus, clouding the artistic soul

         which should yearn for the challenge

          of perfecting poetry and prose.

   And to you, who would scam the writer —

      the artist —

        the dreamer.

   You too should take heed,

    and mend your ways while you can.

    For the pen is mightier, as the saying goes,

      and time, after all, wounds all heels.

© JW Thomas

A Written Memory

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With pen in hand, I take to write

that which unveils through inner sight.

A spark of memory intertwined with past,

and hope the pen will make it last.

When first to touch upon the sheet,

it clears the webs through visions sweet.

Soon, thoughts do dance in proper disorder,

extending their distance between margin borders.

Making revisions to each bit of copy:

keeping the groomed, and discarding the sloppy.

Soon there it is… for all now to read,

that which I lived, and relive at thought speed.

© JW Thomas

This Day’s Journey

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At one-o’clock I run with Snow-Hare above and below the frozen tundra in Northern Alaska, and I’m touched by the wonder and awe at each tunnel rising when welcomed by the majestic blues and greens and playful dance of Aurora Borealis.

At two-o’clock I befriend Field Mouse as he challenges two children to a staring contest: buying time to contemplate why the young maiden appears mousey and the young lad looks rather ratty. And why is there no light in their eyes, no smile on their faces, and what made them so solemn and numb? Are they not a thousand times taller than he? Why do they feel so unblessed?

At three-o’clock I perch beside Sparrow on the singing wire running off the man-made tree to the age-obscured stone of the homo-sapiens hives known as “projects.” And we watch a rag-tag band of urchins – what Sparrow heard peacock humans call them – as they frolic in an unlawful stream of water in an effort to beat the heat.

At four-o’clock I accompany Great Gray Wolf, an Alpha male, as he gazes upon an unusual gathering of clan women from civilized tribes. Each woman is adorned in ritual attire and bears tokens, small totems, and masks befitting their clans. And there is joy in their eyes, magic in their songs, and enough love for all in the Circle of Life.

At five-o’clock Eagle and I soar on thermals high over a once familiar Baltic region, now scarred and scorched with a barrage of lead volleys and explosive concussions. A growing collection of bodies litter landmarks and bathe Mother Earth in blood.

At six-o’clock I hang upside-down in the rafter shadows of a bombed-out inn with a wounded bat losing his life-sustaining blood, and grip, while watching four GIs tear-up as a comrade tickles the ivory of an out-of-tune piano.

At seven-o’clock I slowly regain consciousness and realize a herd of humans are gawking at me through a fenced enclosure, and a waft of air brings a whiff of Baboon.

At eight-o’clock I swim naked with Talapia in flood-waters near Bangladesh as his school play catch me if you can with malnourished fisher-folk balancing precariously on bamboo stands casting and retrieving their nets.

At nine-o’clock I stand in a cool eddy with Bear at the mouth of a creek connected to Old Man River, where Sock-eye veer off on the last leg of their journey to ancestral spawning grounds.

At ten-o’clock I am Toro, and I feel the penetrating pain of steel reminders of two matadors I gored since forced into the Barcelona arena as a cruel joke and alleged sport for the inhumane throng of humanity. And while the next “macho man” attempts to stare me down with confidence over a one-sided game of slaughter, I promise myself, before I die this day; I’ll castrate the two-legged son of a sow!

At eleven-o’clock I know no stress as I romp with Otter on a snowy slope east of crystal water swelling behind Beaver’s dam.

At twelve-o’clock I celebrate life with the sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch… of woman.

I am content.

Tick-tock… tick-tock… tick-tock…

Until tomorrow.

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© JW Thomas

Shakespeare: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

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[A response paper on a writer’s strategy using a single topic; something Shakespeare was an expert at.]

 

THESEUS

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour

Draws on apace. Four happy days bring in

Another moon; but, O, methinks, how slow

This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires,

Like to a stepdame, or a dowager,

Long withering out a young man’s revenue.

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Skakespeare squeezes numerous definitions out of the moon in the first two acts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the above passage Theseus attributes a personality to the moon, and the alleged personality is blamed for dragging out the time until he and Hippolyta can marry: “She lingers my desires.” Hippolyta responds with her own use of the moon, but she insinuates how it will be a celestial ornament to their marriage celebration: “And then the moon, like to a silver bow new-bent in heaven, shall behold the night of our solemnities” – (1.1.9-10). Later, when Egeus accuses Lysander before Theseus, he claims he serenaded Hermia by moonlight: “Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung, with feigning voice, verses of feigning love” – (1.1.30-31). And when Theseus discusses Egeus’ claim with Hermia, he again mentions the moon. However, he is now using it to represent a period of time: “Take time to pause; and, by the next moon” – (1.1.83). And there are five more times within the first two acts where moon or moonlight are used. Quince tells the actors in the play that they will rehearse “by moonlight” – (1.2.98-104). Fairy claims, “I do wander everywhere, swifter than the moon’s sphere” – (2.1.6-7), a reference to an antiquated belief about the moon’s orbit in a hollow sphere around Earth. Oberon proclaims, “Ill met by moonlight” —  (2.1.60), when running into Titania: as if it is a waste of  romantic moonlight for them to meet while quarreling. And Titania later mentions “moonlight revels” – (2.1.139-142), in her talk with Oberon, when she suggests a way for them to come together after Theseus’ wedding, or she’ll continue to shun him. And, finally, Oberon tells of seeing Cupid’s arrow “in the chaste beams of the wat’ry moon” – (2.1.161-162), when discussing how the flower known as love-in-idleness was transformed.

I found it interesting to see the various uses Shakespeare found for a singular topic. And the above definitions and uses are merely from the first two acts. And even though the meanings are different the multiple uses add a sense of continuity to the piece. It’s an excellent writer’s strategy to tie the piece together.