How To Bust Through a Writers Block
My brain broke. I supposed that’s what 12 felonies does to a gal. For 6 months I have failed to push off the heaviness. The weight of what my reality really is. Blocked. Stuck. Trapped in my own story. Ever been there? Here’s my Do’s and Don’ts for busting out.
DO NOT: Write down all the things that have gone wrong. FML. This was the stupidest thing anyone has recommended. I am the fool for actually trying it though. Good LOAAaarrd. The blanket of doom quilted me down and paralyzed any good thoughts for a month. The hypnosis of gloom locked me in. SKIP THAT. Do not do that. It was awful.
DO CREATE a Gratitude Ritual: Okay. This worked. Working with patients struggling with addiction has brought many broken brains my way. I have recommended a gratitude list to patients hundreds of times. The premise is you create your own happiness by practicing behaviors known to awaken the brain circuits linked to a joyful feeling. Dr Norman Doidge is my go-to guy on brains. He is a medical doctor and a psychoanalyst. He writes brain books that every doctor should read. I geek out when reading his stuff. Groupie. I am a Norman Doidge groupie. He shares patient stories of how brains break and fix. The fixing part is fascinating. It is the future. Less meds. Less surgeries. More authentic fixes.
My broken brain felt like what patients of addiction told me. Stuck. Resilience. I have bounced back before. How do I find that brain circuit and use it today? Right now.
Nurture vs. Nature tugs the war each time I saw an addiction patient. I wondered if their brains would be acting this way if not for the heavy use of drug over a time. I wondered if their brains were wired to be stuck – even if they had never done the drugs. Specifically I wondered about their puberty. Brain development at their time of puberty was supposed to finish maturing. If their addiction behaviors began during the intense brain-transformation of puberty, their struggles with addiction are a lifetime battle.
The broken brains in my addiction patients seemed extreme from my point of view. Until I read Dr Doidge’s book. The brains he teaches through are nightmares in comparison. Kids with half their brain missing from birth. A stroke deep within the brain of an eye surgeon who lost his ability to coordinate the left and right sides of his body. A story of a head trauma to 30-year-old bicyclist. Her level of trauma seemed average -the kind of story that could have happened to anyone. Yet the damage left her without her brain’s ability to balance. Normal people. Yet a sci-fi-kind-of-awful happening to them through the damage to their brains. Broken brains.
That blanket of doom pushes against my efforts to rise up from my grief of injustice. At the bottom of the pity party, I compare myself to those patients in Dr. Doidge’s book. I know. I know. Comparing is the most primitive version of thankfulness. That’s all I’ve got today. I am not depressed. I have not had a stroke. No Parkinson’s. Despite my 2-day snowboarding-experience, I don’t think I’ve had a significant head injury. I just get really pissed when I think about the injustice that happened. Pissed. Mad. . . . . And there I go again . . down that thought process of anger. It really blocks everything else from happening.
Dr. Doidge reprograms blind patients to see again. No kidding. The flexibility of a brain to heal from severe damage inspires me. Our brains are continually remodeled based on our experiences, our behavior, and our genes. We have control of one of the three. The behavior. Period.
Finding happiness is the topic of one chapter in Dr. Doidge’s book. You can’t boil the happiness gig down to one chapter in a book, but there are some rules of thumb he shares.
Joy trickles into our life with a stable routine. You must do the routine to find the joy.
Exercise is key. Don’t obsess over it. Just do it.
Focus on the relationships in your life. Not the rewards you get in a relationship, but the actual relationship. The serving part of the marriage, the giving part of the friendship, the loving part of the parenting. Not the outcome of the relationship.
Yep, that sounds all cheeky. The rose-colored, perfect life. And I am working on those areas. Seriously. I am. But how do I get through these moments of disgust. The ones that seem to surface each time I get to that part of the book where I write about the injustice. The anger bubbles, and the focus evaporates. It’s the real and truthful steps of this journey that landed me at the bottom of a mountain sized disappointment. Sometimes it hits my so fast, I just can’t push back the tears. Flood.
I have 2 quick fixes I found that have helped me push through the moments: Sound Therapy and Smell Therapy. Yep, call me a dork. Call me cheesy, but these are my quick fixes when I can’t seem to push the quilt of doom off my soul enough to write one more word.
SIDE NOTE: I’d prefer carbs in the depths of ticked-off despair. I big shot of cookie dough. A handful of chewy, sugary, buttery dough and then wait for the burst of dopamine to bathe my brain. (LOL) Just the thought of it makes me smile. But the price of that dopamine has cost me 2 sizes in underpants. Ya. From a small. To a large. Ouch.
Dr. Doidge recommends sound therapy through a series of sounds that push your brain to hear what is not easy or usual to hear. The range of sound, measured in hertz, that can be heard by the human brain from about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. We hear sounds best from 1,000 Hz to 5,000 Hz, where human speech is centered. The hearing range follows that classic bell-shaped-curve found in most of nature. The sounds at the edges of the range trigger some of our brains to “hear.”
If you naturally don’t hear these sounds, it links to other blanks areas that your brain struggles to fire the messages inside the brain. These blank spots in hearing often match up with black spots that are associated with focus, emotional regulation, the natural tendency to read unspoken emotional language, like body language. Brains struggling with focus, empathy, or verbal communications often have ranges of sounds they don’t hear. They just don’t real the sound . . or at least it seems to be very very slightly hear. Those folks may struggle for a lifetime if no one teaches them to train their brains to hear those sounds. The literature now shows that turning on those blank hearing areas also triggers other areas of the brain to turn on. Short circuits found in brains such as autism, those recovering from drug abuse, chronic alcoholics, concussions, or even certain strokes, have a very high percentage that don’t hear the upper and lower sounds of that bell shaped curve.
The sound therapy trains the hearing part of the brain to respond more efficiently. By stretching our hearing skills beyond what their brain naturally hear, we awakens other parts of our brain. That is the key to my quick fix. That’s when we awaken other skills that might be short circuiting in our brain. For example, sound therapy can slow down your heart rate when you’re ticked off. BINGO.
In iTunes, I searched for Brain Therapy music. Yuck. Barf. No way. Sounds like a massage therapist room and before long, I get sleepy and have to pee. I listened to hundreds of these tracks. All terrible. I had to be careful, because patients without the ability to hear these sounds often report the music therapy to be very scratchy at first. Really awful sounding . . so maybe that’s why I hated it for the first 100 songs.
Filtering through the auditory barf of iTunes brain songs, I remember a podcast about stretching sound. RadioLab. Podcasts and audiobooks have become my favorite mental escape. A vacation without leaving home. I use certain podcasts as story-tellers at bedtime. In my not-so-good times the podcasts substitute for mommy reading stories. It works GREAT.
The RadioLab podcast called RULED BY TIME is worth listening. These music geeks stretch out the music from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. That’s correct- they stretch the sound. The complete 9th symphony should last just over an hour and these cute little sound-nerds stretched it to last 24 hours. Had I not heard the backstory about this process on RadioLab, I would not have even considered listening to this. I don’t mind classical music, but I don’t seek it out. The usual reason I download a classical piece of music off of iTunes would be to learn the sound one of my boys are playing on the piano. As a novice piano player, I can help a little bit if I know what it is supposed to sound like. To understate the point, the stretched-out classical music is an unexpected attraction for me.
After many hours of failing to find brain music that actually connected to my brain, here is what I have learned: My favorite thing to listen to while writing : 9-Beet-Stretch. The title of the stretched out Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is 9-Beet-Stretch.
SMELL THERAPY: This too has some science behind why it works. Not quite as cool as the sound therapy, this links habit to behavior. If I want to keep the angry pissed off version of my brain quiet, then I should practice awakening the opposite: Gratitude. Being thankful and grateful is a habit to be practiced. So each morning, before I attempt to write in my book, I get out my favorite smell: Lavender Oil. And click on the YouTube called By Any Stretch
I don’t watch it . . I just put my headphones in an listen for at least an hour. I write ONE thank you to someone that has helped me. The smell + the sound + the act of practicing gratefulness = feels good. Then . . . I write.
What do you do? In the comments leave ONE THING you do when life hits you hard. You’re at the bottom of a valley. What do you do to feel better?