Archive for the 'Health and Wellness' Category

Linking Creativity and Depression

It’s not a new theory that some of the brightest, most creative and influential individuals in history have been plagued by depression – including Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, William Syron, and more recently the novelist, David Foster Wallace. A feature article in this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine section entitled, “Depression’s Upside,” by Jonah Lehrer offered a fascinating new slant on the subject. A study by a Yale Psychologist, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, showed that those with ruminative tendencies are more likely to become depressed. I found this to be an interesting factoid depicting those prone to this illness.

Supposedly, Darwin viewed his depression as a clarifying force, which helped him focus on essential problems. Apparently, in his writings, he claimed that sadness “leads an animal to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial.” In other words, for the creative individual, the darkness can be a sort of light.

The article certainly validated some of my own depressive moments. When everything is going extremely well in my personal life, I am more prone to writer’s block. As a journaling advocate and writing instructor who frequently lectures on the healing power of writing, I was thrilled that Lehrer referenced a recent study citing that ‘expressive writing’ leads to a significantly shorter depressive episode.  Many of us in the literary world are aware of this, but it’s refreshing to see it addressed in this reputable reference, for the masses to read.

In fact, in the journaling classes I teach, I see a major transformation in my students from the first to last class, particularly if they had signed up to find their way out of a crisis. I don’t really need any long-term case studies to convince me of the healing power of the written word. Just by examining my own life and those of my colleagues and students, I can see the pattern. I frequently make students laugh when I tell them that writing is certainly less expensive than therapy and often times, much more effective.

Depression is common in the general public and the article states that seven percent of the population will be affected by depression and this number tends to be higher amongst creative types.  So fellow writers, don’t worry so much about your depressive moments  or disregard your analytical ruminations, because you just never know what the outcome will be! Oh no, a literary drought!

To read the complete article, check out the following link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/magazine/28depression-t.html?em

The Mind-Body Connection

I suppose, once a nurse, always a nurse. Even though I have not practiced nursing in over twenty-five years, I have an innate interest in health issues try to keep up with all the recent advances. In recent years and many illnesses later, I have become more and more interested in the mind-body connection.

This past weekend I attended a lecture given by Dr. Hans Gruenn who runs the Longevity Center in Los Angeles. Now, isn’t this a perfect lecture for a baby boomer wanting to remain forever young?  Dr. Gruenn, originally from Germany, spoke on “Advances in Integrative Medicine,” and gave a powerful and poignant two-hour talk.

Integrative medicine is a type of medical practice that incorporates physical western medicine in addition to  alternative therapies while taking into consideration psychological, environmental, historical and genetic factors. It relies upon a partnership between the patient and the physician and is considered a way to treat the body, mind and spirit all at once.

The major question Dr. Gruenn posed for us, is to ask ourselves, not why we  get sick, but why don’t we heal? He believes that the patient must do their part in maintaining their health. He quoted Voltaire – “The doctor is to entertain the patient while he heals.” He admitted that some people have a tendency to see an array of doctors looking for solutions to their health problems, but that there is a real danger in seeing too many doctors and having too many tests. He agrees that we must pick and choose. He spoke about the difference between medical practice in the United States and in Europe and how the basis of good health gets down to good nutrition and eating fresh organic foods, instead of processed foods. He said that due to poor diets, the life expectancy for our children will be shorter than ours.

In general, he said, “Medicine keeps you honest. It makes you think why you  are stuck, whether it is for emotional, physical or genetic reasons.” He believes that the practice of medicine is a searching process and that if a patient comes into his office for a medical problem, he will typically treat that problem, however, if they do not heal by traditional methods, he will examine other reasons which might prevent their healing, including medical history, ancestors’ history and their general state of health.

His recommendation for good health is to examine the following:

1)   What is your weak spot? How can you address it?

2)   What is your diet? Do you have a metabolic problem? Genetic issue?

3)   Do you have food sensitivities or allergies?

4)   How acidic are you? (your pH should be over

He suggested the following basic supplements for health (which I was already happily take!)

1)   Omega 3’s (anti-inflammatory)

2)   Minerals

3)   Digestive enzymes

4)   Vitamin D

5)   Probiotics

If your blood test show deficiencies, you might be instructed to take additional supplements. In the 1970s when I studied nursing, Integrative Medicine was not even in my curriculum. Practitioners in this field were regarded as being on the fringe or practicing quackery. Even acupuncture and chiropractic treatments which are more readily accepted today, were considered questionable treatments.

Today is different, many nursing and medical schools are teaching their students to think in an integrative way with the understanding that the  body, mind and spirit all interact and are never independent of one another. Nutrition is part of the curriculum, whereas typically in those days, it was not.

There’s no doubt that some non-traditional treatments might not work or may not have been adequately tested, but with good research and referrals, it is certainly worth a try. Personally, I believe in the mind-body-spirit connection. As  someone who  meditates and writes in a journal daily, I can honestly say that it makes a huge difference in managing my own stress levels!

The Red Book by C.J. Jung

Last week I had the special opportunity to visit Pacifica University for James Hillman’s Lecture, entitled “The Active Imagination,” which was prompted by the recent and controversial release of C. G.Jung’s The Red Book (Liber Novu) which last month was published by his heirs with the assistance of the translator Sonu Shamdasani. Hillman encountered Jung in Zurich in 1958 after obtaining his Ph.D. Jung began the journal in 1913 after a falling-out with Freud. Apparently he was afflicted by a psychotic episode which he viewed as a voluntary confrontation with his unconscious. At the time he was having strange dreams and frightening visions. Because of the personal and quirky nature of the manuscript, it was not published during his lifetime. The book’s theme is about how Jung regained his soul and overcame his imbalance and spiritual isolation.

In The Red Book, Jung described his dreams which reflected what was going on in the world—what was happening during the horror and crumbling of the 19th century. According to Hillman, Jung was thrown off by all the events of the time. Hillman described The Red Book as the theory of madness and the defending of madness. He continues, “Many have written that Jung was psychotic or had something called, ‘creative illness.’ This makes the point that in order to do something radical, one must leave the safe terrain. What held it together for Jung was his commitment to his own world, which had no acceptance and had no real authoritative background.” Apparently, Jung stayed committed to the journal for about 15 years and wrote in it at the end of the day, in spite of a busy practice, a wife and children. He was desperate. He was going crazy and had to do something. He was trying to survive with his demons, images and voices, which is why he wrote in the journal.

Jung believed that imagination is the reproductive activity of the mind in general. He believed that people often suffer from a lack of imagination. According to Hillman, many might have thought this book to be a book of instruction, but in fact it’s not – it is simply a book to learn from. The book retails for $195, but is available on Amazon for $ 114.07, although I noticed this morning that it is temporarily out of stock. I also understand the book is on display until January at The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC.

Celebrate Collaboration

I am always up for a good reason to celebrate and today is a special one for me as it marks the launching of my latest book, YOUR HIGH RISK PREGNANCY: A PRACTICAL AND SUPPORTIVE GUIDE. This book was originally published in 1988 under the title of, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to Infertility and High-Risk Pregnancy. Since its initial publication and cover designed by my daughter, Rachel at the age of three, there have been two subsequent editions.

The first edition was written while I was on bed rest with Rachel. After she was born, my husband and I self-published the book in our basement on what was probably the first desktop publishing program, Ventura Publishing. From that basement I sold 10,000 copies and was then went on to sell the rights to Hunter House Publishers who released all the subsequent editions. This newly updated version could not have been completed without the generous assistance of Errol Norwitz, MD, Professor of Yale School of Medicine, Co-Director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Yale-New Haven Hospital. When the publisher asked me to update the book, I knew I wanted to collaborate with a physician specializing in high-risk pregnancies. After a thorough Google search, Dr. Norwitz’s name was first on my list.. Our connection was truly serendipitous. I phoned him to ask if he would be interested in updating this book with me. When I mentioned the book’s title, he stopped and said with enthusiasm, “I would love to. You know, I am familiar with your book. It’s on my bookshelf. I’ve had it since I was a medical student in South Africa!”

That moment reignited my belief in the value of my book. After Dr. Norwitz graciously accepted my invitation, we spoke nearly every week for three months. During each conversation I would interview him about the latest developments in high-risk pregnancy management. He has been a sheer delight to work with: professional, knowledgeable and eager to craft a book which will continue to help many women. Because I’ve heard that not all collaborative efforts are successful, I certainly consider myself lucky. I want to celebrate this new edition, and perhaps more importantly, celebrate an effective collaborative effort. On the book’s new back cover, just before describing the book’s contents, “You are not alone,” is printed in bold letters. This not only applies to all pregnant women who will read my book, but to it also applies to me for having had such a great collaborative partner for the rebirth of this title. In addition to the many medical updates, one change that is close to my heart is the addition of a “Journaling Corner,” at the end of each chapter, which provides prompts for women to write about their own high-risk pregnancy experience. As a journaling advocate, I just could not help but to share my passion with others. I invite you and your loved ones in need of such a book, to purchase it on Amazon or from your local bookstores. Errol Norwitz and I both thank you, our readers!

http://www.amazon.com/Your-High-Risk-Pregnancy-Practical-Supportive/dp/0897935209/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257832398&sr=8-8

Pregnancy Book Cover

Writing for Wellness and Health

This past weekend I attended a conference in Atlanta — the Wellness and Writing Connections Conference. My dear friend and colleague, Julie Davey also the author of  Writing For Wellness (a fabulous book) was the keynote speaker. I conducted a workshop entitled, “The Healing Notebook.” It’s the second year I have taught this workshop and the crowd is always very enthusiastic and includes writers, therapists, and clinicians. The premise of my workshop is to discuss not only the healing power of words, but how regular notebook-writing can empower us. Recent studies have shown that writing down your feelings can help you  come to terms with difficult situations. The good thing is that there are no rules to the healing notebook. You can dictate your own method and do at your own pace. By doing this you will gain control of your life.

Quite a few writers have used their notebooks as a way to heal and they have also gone on to publish their work, including Walt Whitman, Andre Lorde, May Sarton, Hilda Raz, Donald Hall, Elizabeth Berg, Jane Kenyon, Isabel Allende and my favorite diarist, Anaïs Nin who began her first journal as a letter to her estranged father who left the family when she was ten years old. Writing that letter was her way of healing from the pain of losing him. Since that day, Nin became an avid diarist and today has numerous published volumes.

I am also a big advocate of letter writing in the notebook and novelist Isabel Allende began her writing career by writing a letter to her grandfather when he was nearly 100 years old. At the time he was dying in Chile where her novel House of Spirits was set. She admits that in many ways, writing that novel saved her life.

The Healing Notebook has numerous benefits including: it’s a place to capture and record memories, a place to clear the mind, a place to build self-confidence, a place to empower and a place to witness the healing process. I always suggest using proper tools—that is, a notebook and pen which inspires and resonates with you. You want to be motivated to use your journal. I suggest starting with free-writing first thing in the morning, with 15-20 minutes and increasing the time as needed. Basically, this is writing without lifting your pen off the page and seeing where your mind goes. Begin by writing about an experience which has deeply affected your life or which has obsessed you for quite some time.

In general, my only suggestion is that when you sit down to write, you should write as long as you like, but if the pain gets too great, it is probably a good idea to stop. This would be an appropriate time to take a break and do something different like walking or some other form of exercise. The best part about keeping a healing notebook is the ability to turn a negative into a positive and what can be so bad about that?


Quote of the Week


"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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