How to Write About Pain

Sometimes life can slam into you and catch you off guard. I tried surfing for the first time this week so I was literally slammed into by waves. I’m sure my surfing experience will become the basis for a whole other blog post, but for now I’ve learnt that although the waves will keep coming, you don’t have to pick yourself up alone. When I couldn’t muster up the energy to write this week, my writer friend Rachel Kang kindly offered to take over for me. Although she lives halfway across the world, she has been such a light and a blessing. I know you’ll gain so much from her words.


Poison.

That’s the name of the first song I ever wrote.

I’d been sick, battling an incessant bout of sore throats. I later came to learn that this bout of sore throats wasn’t just a bout of sore throats—it was a bout with strep throat and, all those weeks, the strep throat had gone undetected and untreated.

I remember asking to sit on the sidelines in cheer practice and asking if I could just mouth the words without singing in chorus because I had no voice to yell or sing with.

These bouts with strep throat led to me developing, Rheumatic Fever—a rare disease that comes from untreated strep throat. It’s a triggering autoimmune condition that unleashes the antibodies in your body to fight against your own body.

It stole my heath and my heart; it stole my voice—my physical voice and my literal voice.

So I wrote.

I needed a song that reached the deepest depth of how I felt. So I wrote. I needed words that surfaced the sinking shoreline of my soul. So I wrote. I had no listening ears, none that would linger long enough to hear my broken heart day after day after day after day. So I wrote. I wrote because a journal doesn’t care how sappy you sound. It doesn’t fold in and close up when you set fire to its pages.

Like a punching bag, hanging high from the ceiling on chains that choke tight around to keep it suspended, a journal never gives—no matter how strong the punch is, it holds its own.

That’s why I wrote. And that’s why I think you should write, too.

I’ll never forget the words I penned for my song, “Poison.”

I can feel it
I know whenever it’s there
On my lips, on my tongue
I can feel it tear
At the voice 
That sings so strongly 
So weak, so fatigued
I can’t go on

Those words still touch me deep in places no other words can. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s because I wrote these words myself.

I’m sure there are places of pain in your heart—places where the sun hasn’t shined, places that are deep and are dark. Places begging to be seen or heard or understood. Begging for release and relief. So, here’s how you write about those places and that pain:

  1. Let your pain be personal before you make it public. Social media has made sharing our stories so easy; it’s become second nature to us to type up the things that we think and are feeling and to share them. I believe there’s a very defined differenced between writing to reveal and writing to heal. Writing to reveal makes sharing your story about others. Writing to heal keeps the process personal and preserves the purpose that your writing was first intended to serve. Writing that isn’t shared publicly is more prone to endure the practice of patience. By practicing patience, we give our hearts and our minds the space to process what is hurting, where it hurts, why it’s hurting, and what needs to happen to make sure that kind of hurt doesn’t happen again.

    Pray and push through your pain before you jump to promoting it. Sit with your pain before you seek to share about it. Rest, before you run to rush and tell the world about it. Linger in it for a little while, and then lean into the lesson that will inevitably come from it.
  2. Believe that journaling is a validated form of writing. Often times, people think that because their story of pain involves another person that they can’t write about it. That couldn’t be anymore far from the truth. The beauty about writing is that it can be all things: it can be a blog post that is public or a handwritten card that is only ever read by one. Writing can be quickly typing up an Instagram post that gets 1,000 double taps and hearts, or it can simply be a journal entry, to be seen by no eyes other than your own.
    The words in your journal are no less validated than the ones from that famous author on the pages of that book between your hands. Your writing doesn’t have to be popular in order to be powerful and your story doesn’t have to go public in order to be justified.
  3. Pick your poison. You’ve got to write in the way that best allows you to process and push through pain. When I write in my journal, I feel as though I’m able to write to release, to vent. But — it always just stops there; it’s never enough. When I write a song, though, I feel like I’m actually able to heal. I feel more free, I feel more moved to cry and sing and fight through how I’m feeling. When I blog, I feel as though I’m able to organize my thoughts. And, yet, I always feel like blogging is not a time for helping myself. Rather, my focus naturally rests heavily on writing to see others be helped. But, that’s just me personally.
    Writing your way through pain doesn’t have to look like someone else’s way. It doesn’t have to look like writing a best-selling novel or a sappy diary with lock and key. It might look like writing letters to yourself. Or keeping a notebook of poems by your bedside. Or an unpublished blog. Or iPhone notes in your phone whenever tears come bubbling to the surface.
  4. Don’t use published writing as way to get back at people. I learned this from a wise acquisitions editor from Revell back in 2012. There is a stark difference between writing that seeks to simply share a sentiment and writing that seeks to destroy. The closest thing I can compare this to is the kind of tension that takes place between rappers at odds with each other. Think Tupac and Biggie and their endless battle between each other through song. Decades later, both of their bodies laid in lower caskets beneath the ground, there’s no taking back or redeeming the violent words or the legacies they left upon this earth.
    When you look back on your words, do you want them to be written in such a way that they point to the rage and strife that you held against others? Or do you want your words to paint a picture of a person that pushed through their pain without dragging the names of others through the mud? A person who knew hurt (deeply and widely) but still found a way to heal, and help others too.

And your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. And you don’t have to bare it all or worry about doing it right. You need only to hold a pen in your hand and to touch its tip to the page. To make strokes and traces letters that form words.

Your heart will find its way from there.

Where do you see yourself falling on this list of thoughts on writing about pain? Do you feel as though this is something that you’re already doing, or trying to do? Or is writing about your pain hard to even think about, let alone write about?

Originally published on January 7, 2019 at www.rachelmariekang.com

Rachel Kang is a writer and editor. She is the creator of Indelible Ink, an online community for writers and want-to-be writers. She has written for (in)courageThe Daily Grace Co., and Charlotte Magazine, and is unapologetically passionate about words, stories, the creative process, deep cups of tea, and you. Hellos always welcome at Instagram.

THE WEDNESDAY CLUB

Everyone struggles to get through Humpday. It’s this dreaded, in-between, mess of a day where time slows to a crawl and your weekend is delayed. Let’s be honest- nothing exciting ever happens to anyone on a Wednesday…

Except if you’re part of the Wednesday Club!

In just a click, you can look forward to me showing up in your inbox with a sprinkle of confetti and encouragement to make Humpday fly by so you’re closer to dancing on the weekends. 

I won’t be like your flaky Tinder date. I’ll show up on time, every time, with insightful conversation, fun stories & a mission to leave you feeling inspired.

So what are you waiting for?


Enter your email to receive confetti and encouragement in your inbox every Humpday!


Gems written just for you:

What People Don’t Want To Know About Self-Belief

happy girl what people don't want to know about self belief ash chow

It’s been a month and a bit since I’ve started consistently posting on Wednesday’s and actually telling people about it. I know I keep counting the weeks, but it’s just astounding to me that I’m still here. It’s astounding to me because I’m always plagued with discouragement and wonder if my stories are really worth following along.

Although- that’s not true.

I know there are people reading who benefit from this more than I ever hoped.  

On New Year’s Eve, two beautiful souls gifted me a framed collage made up of all the thoughts and feelings people felt after reading this corner of the internet. In the early hours of the 1st of January, I read the compilation of love letters people had written to me to say that they could feel the depth of emotion in my words, and they felt seen and understood. It was the most thoughtful gift I’d ever received, and a tangible expression of the impact I’d always hoped to have. At the start of a new year, I felt empowered, celebrated and motivated to keep going.

But only for two days.

The next time I had to sit in front of a blank page and figure out what to write for that week, I felt anxious again.  I would get high-key stressed about sewing parts of my heart onto the page and putting it out to the universe, only for people not to care or show up. The same thoughts would run around my mind, like a tortured hamster who was forced to stay on his wheel, and I would wonder if it would really be a big deal if I just stopped showing up to the page.  

Often, in the midst of angst, uncertainty and yet another existential crisis, the help we need comes from unexpected sources. Kindred spirits are conjured up from thin air. The hope you needed to keep going may be found in a blogpost you might not ordinarily read but felt compelled to anyway.

People and words have always been the balm that helps soothe my wounds, and I’m a sucker for calling a bunch of people when I need help wading through my emotional mess. So is it really a surprise that on the brink of giving up I would meet someone who encapsulated both of those things?

As someone who used to be fluent in the art of losing people, I’m astounded by the way God crosses our paths with the ones who help us unravel our jumbled thoughts.

We met quite by accident.

While I was waiting on the phone to vent and cry to someone else, he picked up instead. He was one of those rare, old souls that knew how to help you wade through the swamp of your emotions, but also knew how to call out the good things he could see in you. I would call him a guardian angel, but I’ve learnt it’s irresponsible to place other fallible humans on a pedestal to be worshipped. So maybe we’ll just call him a friend.

When the anxious thoughts began to invade my mind and crush my chest, I called him again to ask what I should do. I regurgitated the same thoughts about feeling discouraged and waited for him to drip feed me all his comforting wisdom.

Instead, he asked “How many people is it going to take for you to believe in yourself?”

Have you ever wanted to punch someone in the face because you know they’re right, but you also don’t want to hear it?

 All we could hear was the fuzziness of the phone line as I let the implication of his words sink in.

How many messages will it take for you to feel good?

How many people have to validate you before you feel legit?

How much affirmation and confirmation do you need to fill the holes in your Swiss Cheese heart?

“I guess it’s just easier for me to fall back on the narrative that I’m not going to succeed and that this isn’t going to be worth it,” I explained to him.

“So…it’s easier for you to not believe in yourself than it is to challenge yourself?” He said wryly.

Again, I resisted the urge to hang up the phone.

“Yes…” my voice trailed off as I contemplated the absurdity of that sentence.

And it is absurd.

I would shake the shoulders and metaphorically slap any loved one who told me that they didn’t believe enough in themselves to keep persevering. I’d give all the pep talks, hold them accountable and make sure they were implementing the baby steps that would get them off their butt and moving forward.

It’s easy to push other people out of their comfort zone, but when it comes to us, we’d rather cover our ears and stay comfortable.

I am the Queen of staying comfortable. I bet you are too. We crave comfort so much that we’d rather stay snuggled under the blanket of thoughts that tell us we aren’t good enough, this isn’t going to work or it’s too damn hard, because we think it’s going to keep us safe and warm.

Except it’s not.

If you dared open your eyes and take a good hard look around, you’ll realise these thoughts are just lies designed to keep you in one spot. But even after knowing the truth, we still stay curled under those blankets. We’re a generation that longs for escapism, yet we don’t actually like the change and the challenge that comes along with it.

On Boxing Day, I bought a pair of really beautiful, high quality, tan sandals. It’s now January and they’re still sitting untouched in the box they came in. I’m still walking all over the city in my old pair of shoes where the heels are worn down and the straps are badly frayed.  You might think it’s crazy for me to attach myself to them, but I’ve worn them so many times that they’ve moulded to my feet. They’ve been with me on all my adventures. I know the exact fit and feel of them so well that trying to wear anything else would feel wrong.

While I was thinking about these shoes, I was reminded of something a mentor once told me.

“You have this habit of running back to the old things in your life that you can’t even see all the new things that are right in front of you. God has a whole new life He wants to give you, but are you ever going to reach out and take it?”

***

I don’t know how long you’ve been conditioned to crave the thoughts that keep you in one spot.

But I know that even attempting to believe anything different will feel so wrong and so weird that it’s easier to slip your feet back into the old pair of shoes. You know, the ones that carry you down the path of fear and inadequacy. Because of this, we find it hard to believe anyone who says there are good things ahead of us. We struggle to reach out and seize it because it’s easier to believe the lie that we’re not worthy rather than get disappointed yet again.

But anything that makes you into a better person will require a constant re-shifting of the things you repeat to yourself, and above all – a fight.

People will fight hard to believe in magic, sparkly vampires and the Avengers, yet they can’t imagine a reality where they believe in themselves.

Self-Belief isn’t a nicotine patch that you slap on once and expect to be cured from the addiction to your deprecating thoughts. It doesn’t come from 100 people telling you how much potential you have or 200 double taps on the screen. It’s a day by day thing. It’s waking up and choosing to wrestle with the thoughts that moan ‘come back to the blanket of lies.’

I’ve spoken to dozens of entrepreneurs, listened to every motivational speaker and every podcast host, and they all say the same thing. Self- Belief is a you thing. It’s there. It’s literally in the name. It’s an inside job no one else can complete but Y-O-U.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t lean on your people. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ask them to rally around you or support you. But your cheerleaders can only cheer for so long before their throats get hoarse. It’s going to be up to you to keep rallying around yourself when everyone else falls away.

My friend on the phone was right to ask me how many people I needed to believe in me before I believed in myself. All the external praise in the world won’t do anything for you if you can’t learn to validate yourself first.

People can hold up the mirror to show you the dark spots, sit with you in your mess, and hold one end of your string of jumbled thoughts. But it has to be you that does the work of untangling the lies that you’re not going to make it. No one else but you.

That’s a really scary sentence to process. Until you realise it’s actually freeing. The person you’ve always wanted to come along and save you from your deprecating thoughts has always been you babe.

No one else but you is going to know whether you’ve done the work to change your perspective and believe in yourself.

 But you’re the one who’ll get all the benefit baby.

Only you.

Know anyone doubting themselves lately? Sharing is caring!

THE WEDNESDAY CLUB

Everyone struggles to get through Humpday. It’s this dreaded, in-between, mess of a day where time slows to a crawl and your weekend is delayed. Let’s be honest- nothing exciting ever happens to anyone on a Wednesday…

Except if you’re part of the Wednesday Club!

In just a click, you can look forward to me showing up in your inbox with a sprinkle of confetti and encouragement to make Humpday fly by so you’re closer to dancing on the weekends. 

I won’t be like your flaky Tinder date. I’ll show up on time, every time, with insightful conversation, fun stories & a mission to leave you feeling inspired.

So what are you waiting for?

Enter your email to receive confetti and encouragement in your inbox every Humpday!

Need more encouragement? Check out these gems: