Treat yourself. Instead of reading the rest of this article, first go and write down something that’s bothering you …
… I’m now assuming you’ve done just that, and have come back to this, the next sentence. My theory is that writing is great for dealing with bothers. We often hear of the talking cure – I’m up for that. I’ve often talked about the doing cure. It’s saved me many times. I think with huge fondness of the gentle way in which colleagues at the BBC quietly nudged me into doable tasks after my son Eddie died. Many people in my situation at that time are not so lucky. Long stretches of nothingness can be tough, straight after a big loss.
I’ve also talked about stretching. Yes, I know about the huge benefits of being active and aerobic: thrashing through water, brambles or traffic are all helpful ways of dealing with tension, sadness, bitterness and anger. Stretching is less exhausting and more contemplative. Yes, I have also heard of yoga, but if you want to stretch in an atheist way, all you have to do is study cats. They do a lot of it.
I’ve also written about the one-good-thing principle. It works like this: make sure that during the day you do one thing you can be proud of. Some days, for me, it might be that I remembered that our cups cupboard is above the glasses cupboard and not the other way round. It might be that I found the book I had been looking for for more than 20 years. Then, just as you go to sleep, you focus on this one thing. You push aside (if that’s how minds work) all the dross, flotsam and dreck, as my mother called it (Yiddish for poo). You just bring your mind round to the One Good Thing. And dwell on it.
All that we know. What I’m talking about is writing.
One major problem for people reading this is that you are all competent readers and writers, schooled in the art of the sentence. Vast chunks of our education were devoted to writing good sentences, well expressed sentences, sentences with subordinate clauses. Writing good sentences is a life sentence. Once we are inducted into it, it becomes very difficult to get out of it.
The sentence was invented to help us make logical sense of the world, that’s why we’ve got words like “if”, “although”, “because”, “whereas” and “since” – to suggest that the phenomena of the world are somehow linked in time, place, cause, contrast and the like. But bother and upset don’t come in sentences. They might benefit from a writing that isn’t for the time being concerned with logic.
Shakespeare knew about this. Listen to Juliet’s father spluttering with rage when Juliet indicates she might not want to go along with his idea of a perfect marriage:
How, how, how, how, chopped-logic! What is this?
“Proud,” and “I thank you,” and “I thank you not,”
And yet “not proud,” mistress minion you?
Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds …
And the modernists – whether poets such as HD or Amy Lowell or prose writers such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf – all discovered that there are times when the sensation of the moment or feeling of a memory is either too fluid or too fragmentary to be captured properly by the sentence.
So here’s the experiment: back with your bother.
Whatever word or phrase comes into your head, write it down. Don’t worry about whether it fills the whole line (part of the tyranny of the sentence!). Don’t worry if it sounds unfinished.
Whatever next thought comes into your mind, write it down underneath that previous line. I call this “unfolding”. Now repeat this unfolding for as short or as long a time as you want. Remember that you can nick anything you want from songs, poems, plays or films that help you express this bother.
Mine, today, might look something like this:
Losing the way
Losing my grip
Losing the sense
But don’t worry about what mine look like, or about getting them right. They’re yours.
Now, a moment to think about what you’ve done. You’ve taken something out of your mind – a feeling, a thought, an idea – found some words for it, and put it outside yourself. You can now look at it, as if it is separate from you, even though it is connected to you. Now what? You can consider whether you’ve “got it right”. Have you been true to yourself, to that feeling? If not, you can change it. You can reflect on it in any way you like: is that really where I’m at? You can also share it with someone or some people.
This is a whole other ballgame, though. Peopletend to think you’re asking them whether what you’ve written is “good”, whereas the point of this is whether it’s doing you good. The best response is if people wish to have a go themselves, because in sharing bothers we start to find that we are less alone than we’re inclined to think we are.
We find company and help in our similarities and commonalities. So try the “bothers” experiment, see if it works and maybe share it with someone you trust. Writing might not be an instant cure for all your bothers, but it can be a way of feeling less in a hole alone with yourself.
Michael Rosen is a writer and broadcaster. His book Getting Better: Life Lessons on Going Under, Getting Over It, And Getting Through It is published by Ebury Press