The power of storytelling.
I started this blog in October 2018. I wrote two short posts about burnout. Almost a year later I needed to pour my thoughts onto my screen just to get them out of my head. It worked. Somehow I was able to work through what was troubling my mind at the time and I’ve found a safe place to store it. I was experiencing burnout and my mind couldn’t stop racing, not during the night and not during the day.
Initially I didn’t blog about ‘my story’ at all. I looked everything up what I could find under the sun about depression which I was diagnosed with 9 month later. With the help of medication, therapy and a small supportive system I felt at least supported and understood. I used my blog as a ‘dumping ground’ for all my thoughts and knowledge that I’ve built up. I wasn’t working at the time and when I had some little energy to meet up with friends I couldn’t speak about depression all the time. Although I gained a lot of knowledge about all the possible symptoms, how sleep and thoughts are influenced, why you aren’t motivated to do anything and that you experience hopelessness and loss of pleasure.
Trusting all my thoughts into my blog felt fine. It was a relief. Looking back I couldn’t dream that I really would be blogging about ‘my story’, abuse and difficult relationships with family a year later. I’ve never thought that I would be courageous enough to do that. But it came naturally, through reading stories of other people. People that I don’t know in real life but who were kind, caring and sympathetic towards me. They wrote so openly about their life experiences of all sorts that something opened up inside of me and I made the biggest jump ever; I wrote about what is very painful and difficult for me.
But why would I do that? Isn’t that dangerous or just plain silly?
Emotional, autobiographical storytelling can be a path to truly owning your story.
The most important advantage to me is that by writing you’re able to put your story down. It can lift the weight off your shoulders. ‘Emotional, autobiographical storytelling means writing about events and people that have mattered to you in your own life–not just describing the facts of your lives’. The second advantage is that readers can identify themselves with your story. People form communities through shared knowledge. Not one story will be identical and thus, while you recognize elements, you can learn new ways of looking at it, dealing with hardships or laugh together with fun moments. Sharing makes you care and it forms a bond. Did you know that when listening to a story, the same regions in the brain will become active in the teller as in the audience? The teller literally puts his or her emotions into you. I don’t want to make this sound scary but that is the way it works on a more biological level.
Surprisingly, the evidence from many studies suggests that it is not necessary to “keep” a journal, as people say. Even writing on just one or two days, if you really put yourself into it, that can have significant psychological benefits.
- Realizing that sharing your story can help others. Resilience is strengthened by recognizing that we are all experts in our own lives and we all have something to share with others. Sharing your story can be a part of your healing process. Again I’m referring to the starting point of my blog. I initially looked online for recovery stories from burnout. I wanted to discover the magic wand that would swoop all of my misery away. I discovered that there was no such thing as a magical wand but that stories weren’t that easy to find. The ones that I did find didn’t resonate with me because they seemed to be too advanced in their recovery process and I didn’t find any hope in them. I was at the bottom and the stories started at least half way. I stayed at the bottom and kept on looking for some light. Once I got the more accurate diagnosis of depression, I found people and their stories that brought me some real encouragement.
- Finding your voice. It means learning how to express yourself and learning how to think about what has happened in your life in a way that makes sense. Developing and organizing your story often means imposing a traditional story structure on the events of your life. It helps to think about your life as a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It helps to think about how the various events—even the bad ones—have been part of a journey toward the person you became or want to become. Writing it down or telling it to someone else can help you impose that organization on it, help you identify key events, and even help you just rehearse and remember the details in a way that helps you become the author of your own life.
- Re-affirming your values. Sometimes you learn things about yourself from the act of writing or storytelling. It can be a way to clarify what is important. We all lead busy lives, there is always something to do. By pausing the hustle and bustle and reflecting on our own life, things emerge from the grey area to the forefront of our brain. It becomes more clear to us what we are occupied with and what matters to us the most.
- Finding peace, finding hope. What’s the difference between someone who has achieved resilience and someone who has not? One important difference is a sense of well-being. People who have found their voice, shared their story, and reaffirmed their values often find a sense of peace and a hopefulness that they did not have before.
- Finding purpose and strength. For me mental illness made everything meaningless and hopeless. By taking one step after the other to construct my story, it helps me to pick up the pieces that life events did shatter. I look at them one by one and piece them together with golden glue. Something that once was broken but can be repaired through thoughtful action, has the opportunity for a second life no?
Resources, notes and references.
 Stephens GJ, Silbert LJ, Hasson U. Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Aug 10;107(32):14425-30.
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