In my life I have realized that after going through a difficult event, I often need to tell the story of what happened over and over and over until I am done telling it. This is a common enough experience…many of us need to tell the story of what happened to us so that we can try to make sense of it or find meaning in it.
At a mental health clinic I have worked at for the past two years, we use a structured program to help people (children, specifically) with PTSD symptoms that incorporates the child “telling the story” of what happened to them. We have children write their “trauma narrative;” they are asked to write the story about what happened to them in great detail. . (I wouldn’t suggest doing this without a professional’s help, by the way.) Then they are asked to read it out loud each time they come in for a session. Each time they read it, it gets easier. It teaches them that they can not only handle telling the story, but they can be calm when they talk about it. It helps them to not avoid it any more. It helps them to become desensitized to the emotional “charge.” They can express their thoughts and feelings about it and be supported in the process. They learn how strong and resilient they have become. Research has shown that this program works…children have recovered from PTSD symptoms utilizing this program.
I have found that the same type of process often works for people who don’t necessarily have PTSD symptoms, but have gone through something very difficult. Many people need to tell the story again and again when they’ve been through a traumatic event…and cancer is a traumatic event.
I’m a talker. Always have been, always will be. So what I’ve noticed about myself is that sometimes I tend to talk about a traumatic event a lot. So for me it naturally goes like this: tell it…tell it…tell it…tell it…be done telling it…need to stop talking about it.
Knowing when I am done telling the story is important for me. In fact, sometimes I notice that after a certain point, if I continue to talk about it, it starts to feel yucky. (I know…really nice clinical term, right?) That’s how I know that I am done telling the story, that I have processed it as much as I need to for the time being.…it feels yucky when I talk about it, whereas before it felt like I needed to talk about it, and it actually felt better to talk about it than to keep it inside.
For example, when I was going through cancer treatment, I felt the need to tell everyone I knew about what it was like. I talked about surgery, diagnosis, the bone marrow biopsy, chemotherapy, and every experience in between…sometimes with the gory details. I now feel kind of badly for my family and friends, because I feel like I may have forced these stories upon them, when they might not have wanted to hear every detail.
But…in the telling, the stories lost their emotional charge for me, they started feeling less painful. I feel that telling the story over and over is part of how I healed from the experience. So now I am grateful to those who listened. It served me greatly to tell the stories until it reached a point where I was done talking about it for a while.
Cancer survivors: how does telling your story help you?
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Photo Credit: Natty Malik