Guest post: Words are tools of healing by Vivienne Tuffnell

41Z6WYh-WXL._UY250_Our thanks today to our guest blogger, writer and poet Vivienne Tuffnell, author of a number of wonderful novels, including Strangers and Pilgrims, The Bet and one of our favourites, Away With the Fairies, all dealing with the human condition in a mystical and spiritual way. Her short story collections are full of mystery, with supernatural elements and a deep questioning of what it means to be human. She has written and spoken of her own struggles with depression and has just published a fabulous selection of her prose pieces from her popular blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. These essays challenge, question and nourish the spirit, offering support to others in mental and emotional distress. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking is available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Just words

No one listens to me.
But then I have nothing to say
I have not said a thousand times before.
I’m dying for someone to hear
My silent screams
And offer help.
I’m searching for the words:
The right words
The magic words.
They’re just words;
They hold no power
To save or damn me.
Just words: no more.

I wrote this poem about ten years ago and I would say now: I was wrong. I wrote that poem before I discovered quite how powerful a tool the written word can be for self-healing. The process of reading and the process of writing have effects that I believe are much greater than we’re prepared to imagine.

I began writing almost before I could read; I used to sneak in to use my father’s typewriter, trying to write down my stories, believing that somehow the hitting of the keys would magically reveal the words. And words were magic of the finest kind, because they could transport you from a dull bedroom on a rainy November day when it’s too cold and wet to go out and play, to, well, anywhere in the entire universe. From being read to as a tiny tot, to trips to the local library twice daily during the long summer holidays, I devoured books. I started trying to create them too, from a very early age; I wrote my first novel when I was ten. I read English and Latin at university, which was so sobering I didn’t read much at all in the first year after graduating and it was another two years after that before I tried writing fiction again.

The other constant in all those years was depression. I experienced my first brush with it when I was about six. You might extrapolate that so much reading and so much writing were the cause of the depression, but it was more that they were the result of it. I read and I wrote to escape the yawning, gaping maw of the void that is depression. The times I experienced the most severe bouts of depression were ones where I could not (for whatever reason) read or write.

Recent advances in science have allowed us a sneaky peek into the human brain without slicing off the top of the skull; this means it’s now possible to have some clue about how our brains react to certain experiences. Most curious are fairly recent studies that involved MRI machines, volunteers, and sequences of words and pictures or sometimes other factors. These include  The emotion potential of words and passages in reading Harry Potter – An fMRI study and
Love, Pain, Money, Cocaine Light Up Same Area of Brain.

What is clear is that there are things going on in the brain that are beyond what we had previously thought. It gives great scope for pain relief and other beneficial results.

In the original version of the film Total Recall, memories are planted in a person’s brain to give them the illusion they have had a wonderful holiday. It’s a matter of an hour or two to create weeks’ worth of memories and the associated benefits on a person’s well-being that a great holiday would bring but without the need to travel or take time off. That’s what a good book can do, too.

As a reader, I crave books that can bring me relief from the inner darkness, but not by providing me with unremitting sweetness and light. There is something obviously false and unsatisfying about books that contain no conflict, no peril, no risk, because life isn’t like that. Some demand to be able to buy books with a Happy Every After guarantee (generally romance) but I doubt that this is a wise choice. Knowing beforehand a book will have a happy ending robs the reader of the experience of literary catharsis, of suffering with the main characters without being certain of relief. It’s the experience that brings the changes in the emotional state, not the outcome.

As a writer, I use my writing to explore how I feel and think, and the expression of my inner life in stories is one way I cope with my own sometimes fragile mental and emotional state. Yet there is both catharsis and a kind of creative synthesis that goes on, largely unconsciously, in the creation of a novel. When I write, quite often I don’t know how the book will end until it comes to me during the process of actually writing it. I often don’t know what the main themes of a book are until it is complete, and sometimes not even then. The feedback from readers sometimes brings me insights into what the book is about that I had no conscious clue about. One of the things I have found most rewarding as an author is that readers have found the books have affected them in profound and positive ways. It could be said that the books have been agents of healing and of comfort. It’s something that makes the process so worthwhile, doubly so, for the writing of a book is a process of catharsis and of inner healing for me; to know that it has this effect on readers enhances my own experience

613N30NIieL._UX250_Thanks once again to Vivienne. Do check out the links to her work and let us know how you feel about the ability of words to comfort and heal…

Vivienne’s Amazon page

Zen and the Art of Tightrope walking

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Building a relationship with reading….

downloadThe title of this post really has a double meaning and is inspired by the radio show Talking Books on 10Radio in Somerset. The guests today were in the relatively early stage of their relationship – newly engaged and very much in love. Clearly, they were not in need of our couples counselling, or Shaping Anger for Couples workshops but it was refreshing to hear that they were cementing their bond in a thoughtful and intelligent way. They had set themselves a challenge, a brave one, and it was something we thought you, our followers, might be interested in as a way to share ideas and subjects that are important to you with someone close.

Each person in relationship chooses five books for the other to read. It is as simple as that. Any genre, for any age. Yet it is so much more complex in reality. By choosing those books you are making a number of decisions and taking interesting aspects of your personality and relationships into account. Do you pick books you think will make you look clever? Or do you choose books that you grew up with and which remind you of key times in your life? Do you look over your shelves for books you think the other will enjoy? Or are you trying to trip them up? Are you being honest and authentic in your choices?

When you consider these points you can see it is not quite as easy as it first seems. How will each of you respond to the other’s list? What if a book that is your favourite is loathed by the other? Are you prepared to defend your choices in a constructive way? Or do you fear an argument? Have we put you off even considering this as a way to bring you together and offer opportunities for fascinating conversations?

We have, on this blog, often highlighted reading as a way to relax and to take you out of a stressful day. We have a page on the Local Bookshops site (see the link to the right) with a list of our favourite titles (we are always looking for suggestions) and our poetry for mindfulness posts are very popular. But we thought this was an additional way to make reading part of your whole life and at the same time learning a little more about someone you are close to. It doesn’t have to be a life partner – it could be a friend or work colleague for example. But we think it is a really interesting way to take you out of the routine of the day and into a conversation with a difference.

In fact, you could do it with music, or films. It will get you talking, and relationships are best nurtured by finding ways to communicate and make sure you are really understood and known by people who are important to you.

What do you think?

A ‘let’s talk!’ book recommendation: Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard

download (4)Occasionally, here at The Terrace, we like to suggest books, films or programmes that we have enjoyed and which we think you will find interesting and thought-provoking. So today we have a review of Emotional Geology, written by Linda Gillard and available in paperback or on Kindle.

Following the lead character, Rose Leonard, as she runs from events in her troubled past to take refuge in  a small cottage on the island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, the book is described as a  ‘passionate, off-beat love story’, but it is much more than that. It deals, in forthright terms, with the terrors of mental ill-health and Rose’s struggle to come to terms with her past. It examines the power of memory; discusses with great honesty what it means to be ‘mad’ and takes you to the very edge, literally, with descriptions of mountaineering that would put any non-adrenaline junky off the idea of climbing for life. In fact, mountaineering is a metaphor for Rose’s life in many respects, as she too has a tenuous hold on on the solidity of what passes for ‘normal’  life.

Another key theme is Rose’s love for textiles, and the stories that are woven in the fabric of the landscape translated into poetry and into her art works. Her art reflects her life and the new love offered by Calum, a fragile younger man. He is a poet who struggles with his own demons, and  their relationship, along with the difficulties Rose experiences in her role as mother to a troubled daughter, are central to the story.  But there is a real warmth at the heart of the book, as the community of North Uist embraces Rose and her work, and without giving too much away, offer her healing and a way forward.

Linda is the author of seven novels, but Emotional Geology is her first. She lives in the Scottish Highlands, and in Emotional Geology, the landscape of the Scottish island of North Uist is a key character in the story. She has a website www.lindagillard.co.uk and an author page on Facebook  at www.facebook.com/LindaGillardAuthor.

So do take a look. Emotional Geology is a book that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.