Writing My Life

At five, standing in my grandparent’s garden.

When I told a friend a while back that I’m in the process of writing a memoir, she asked me what it was going to write about. I struggled with what to tell her. I wasn’t very clear yet myself, but trying to find words that I thought would serve the purpose, I said, “Well, it’s about my life, how I came to be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how I’ve brought peace into my life.”

Sufficing as a fair to middling, but far too general a description, it didn’t answer the deeper questions that had been rolling around in my head when I started the writing. “What am I going to include?  What do I want to say and why do I even want to do this?  Am I up to the challenge of reliving some of the darker moments of my life?”

In my first conversations with myself about writing my life, I didn’t have a clue as to how to start.  So I started with stories as they came to me. I published some here, on this blog.  I wrote the happy stories, avoiding the dark stuff, not ready to spill the beans and their big stink. Slowly, I started allowing the ghosts waiting outside the door into my studio and began digging deeper, becoming more honest with and about myself.

Many have told me that I’ve lived a fascinating life and should get it all down on paper. They told me it would be helpful to others who’ve suffered through undiagnosed PTSD. Many people don’t understand that it can be caused by lesser events than living through a tsunami or being a veteran of a cruel and arduous war.

But my first concern was just getting it all out of my internal storeroom, knowing that once I started getting my shame out, I’d feel lighter and happier. I could downsize my memory bank, just as I was downsizing my belongings and living space. I felt that writing through my struggles, I could begin to put the fragmented pieces of my life back together, reaching a new understanding of who I am and how I got to be me.  I knew it could open up the doors I’ve kept locked for far too long and giving me a new perspective on where I’ve come from.

As I was trying to get started on this project, I was diagnosed with Endometrial cancer, which grows in the lining of the Uterus. I was told by a number of doctors that if one has to have cancer, this is the best kind to have. It’s easily treated, depending of course, on its stage when it’s discovered.  Even so, I was extremely frightened. Cancer is the killer in my family. Heart disease has rarely been an issue. All of my relatives, who have passed on, died of complications and the affects cancer had on their bodies. We’ve had cancer of the lungs, bladder, esophagus, nasal cavity, and colorectal cancer.  I found it disturbing to think that unless I’m run over by a dump truck or die of some other external cause, my life would most probably end in the same kind of suffering that my forebears in death went through.  I did not want that for myself.

Treatment for my cancer was a simple hysterectomy, removing all of my reproductive organs. As long as it would be gone, I didn’t care about the loss of parts of myself. At my age, I wouldn’t be needing them anyway. I now visit my Oncologist twice a year to be rechecked and to date there has been no reoccurrence. I’m told that the chances of it returning are rare and should it show up again it is treatable.

While spending several months recuperating from the surgery, I decided that there was no time to worry about cancer and its potential return.  I had no time to feel sorry for myself or the events in my life that had brought me to this moment. I wanted a new a perspective on how to proceed through the rest of my days. Life has been hard and cruel at times and I still bear the scars of child abuse. I’ve struggled with depression, extreme anxiety and spent years thinking of myself as broken and unfit. I learned about and began to accept that I’m an HSP, or a highly sensitive person. Whatever the cause, whether genetic or learned over time, I am an introvert, who has continuously tried to be the extrovert that I thought everyone expected me to be.  I was constantly at war with myself, feeling unworthy of the good things in my life, wondering what was wrong with me, and why I couldn’t reach my unthinkable dream of being just like everyone else.  In a word, Normal.

My cancer has given me a second chance at life. With the help of a therapist whose specialty was treating trauma, I had already begun the journey.  There was much healing to be done, both from the surgical standpoint and from years of blaming, hating, and abusing myself, because I was different and didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

I can say with confidence that the most effective part of the healing process has been my memoir writing and allowing myself to relive certain aspects of life.  It has been difficult, but I’ve also discovered the many joyful times I spent with my parents, who unable to cope with their own lives, abused me and my brothers.  I’m learning about forgiveness. I’m learning to love myself and that I am worthy, and a good person.

I’m still at work on my memoir and cannot say how long it will take me to finish it. I need time to navigate through my memories and often need to take breaks between the intense chapters in order to reground myself. Being able to laugh at myself and to be joyful about my newest perceptions is constantly rewarding me.  When I’m finished writing my life and it hopefully becomes a book, I will be most happy if those who read my words will find within them, peace and a new perspective on suffering.

Are you writing a memoir or keeping a journal?  Are you finding it easy or difficult to write your stories?  Do you feel that writing about your life is an opportunity to heal the most painful parts of your journey? 

This entry was posted in Books, Childhood, family, Gratefulness, Life, love, Memoir, Navigating Through Life, stories, Time, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Writing My Life

  1. You honesty is refreshing and I wish you great success on your memoir writing journey

  2. Sharon says:

    As always, I am truly impacted by your words. Bless you.
    Love, Sharon

  3. costajill says:

    I can tell you’ve achieved some peace, and there’s more to come. It ‘s always hard to get this stuff out, but it feels so good and reads well, too. I’ve published my first book Free To Bloom which is very autobiographical, but published as fiction. It was just easier that way. Now I’ve started on a memoir, Life and Deaf, on my blog costajill.com. Check it out. Good luck to us both. Jill

  4. Great that you can share your experiences and get everything out onto the page and perhaps even help or inspire another. The will to do is sufficient reason to continue without explanation.

  5. I’d like to say I’m writing but it’s more like avoiding. Remembering the dark stuff is so difficult so I write about other things ~ for now. You’re very brave.

  6. jzrart says:

    Thanks for your comment, Kathryn. You will do it when you are ready. It’s taken me many, many years to finally get to the point where I need to do this. For me it’s a way to put my life in order as I age. I suppose it is brave, but it really is a necessity for me, so I don’t feel I’m being brave … maybe stubborn! (-:

  7. kara says:

    You may not know this but you continue to encourage me through your writing – I’m telling you this so you know. Also, every time you mention something more specific to writing and healing I think of this book “Writing as a Way of Healing” by Louise DeSalvo, Ph.D. I hope you already know of the book, but in case you do not I’m mentioning it because it pops into my head sometimes when I read about your writing path.

    • jzrart says:


      Thank you so much for your note. I had no idea that my writing has been encouraging you. That is the highest compliment you can send my way. Thank you so very much.

      No, I didn’t know about that book but I will certainly look into it. Sounds like it’s right up my alley.

      Peace to you and happy, happy writing.


  8. Mary McC says:

    Hello Joan, Just a thought, I wonder if you would be interested in a course starting next week called ‘Writing towards healing’ on http://www.writingourwayhome.co.uk ?

    I took part in it last year, combines writing with healing and sharing with other people in a small group. It helped me to be brave and share things. It may be of interest but either way, best of luck writing your memoirs

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