If I break my leg, will writing about it heal me?
Ah, the broken leg – that quintessential injury, that tangible emblem of pragmatism that is so often brandished at the mere mention of creative writing in healthcare. A glistening femur has been casting a shadow over my notebook for some time now, ready to crash down like a gavel, snapping itself in two with the impact and daring me to fix it with ink.
So, can writing fix a broken leg? No, of course not, but for the sake of argument, let’s stick with the implied analogy.
A broken leg is not the beginning of the story, and neither is it a disembodied limb. First and foremost, writing engages you – the person attached to this rather unfortunate extremity. Are you an old woman, with osteoporosis? A young child who has fallen off a climbing frame? A skier, whose holiday has been disrupted? A professional footballer, whose career may be jeopardised? An x-ray will give clues to your identity, and the nature of your injury, but only you can say, “I’m worried about how I’ll do my housework”, “I’m scared of playing outdoors now”, “I’ve wasted all my savings on this trip” or “I don’t have a plan B”. Suddenly, a plaster cast doesn’t seem adequate at all.
The principle behind asking these questions is holism – that is, viewing something as a whole – not just component parts. In this case, we begin to see a person, a life, relationships – not just a leg. Writing isn’t a necessary part of this process, but I and many others have discovered that it certainly helps. If you’ve ever written a ‘to-do’ list, you’ll have an idea of why this is – writing things down can help you to see them more clearly, you no longer have to hold them in mind – you can take a step back, and decide how you’re going to approach things. The diary and journal writers among you will know that writing can offer a valuable emotional outlet, too. Lying in a hospital bed can generate fear and frustration that won’t be acknowledged by drugs and drips, but there is always room for them on the page.
As a fuller picture of this broken leg emerges– developing further limbs, a torso, head, even a mind and feelings – questions may seem to multiply, not diminish. However, it is extremely important that these questions are asked – if they are supressed, they cannot be answered. Writing, and in particular creative writing, may be a useful tool for looking for solutions to problems – it is remarkable how often we can find answers within our own imaginations. Equally, though, writing might simply allow us to look for support before a problem escalates – to ask for help around the house, to be slowly reintroduced to the playground, to accept financial loss, to find new strengths and passions.
No, writing doesn’t heal bones. But healing bones doesn’t heal people.