How writing can improve your mood and keep your brain moving forward…

In the process of writing my last post about AI and writing, I learned quite a bit about exactly how good writing is for our brains. First of all I learned that writing by hand is better for the brain than typing. Although a slower task, research indicates that physically writing things down appears to make the writer become more selective in what they write. What’s more, when you pen words on paper, the neurons in your brain fire signals at rapid speed, enabling you to make more neural connections.

Writing is a stimulating yet strenuous activity for the brain. When you write, all parts of your brain are actively engaged. Thanks to the brain’s neuroplasticity, it can grow and change over time. Just as athletes train their bodies, writers can do the same with their brains.

The process of recalling something, writing it down, and reading it back on paper boosts memory and comprehension, leading to improved cognitive processing. Given that many areas of the brain are engaged, the more you write, the more neural connections are formed within your brain.

Writing every day can benefit everyone, not only professional writers. It improves your memory, builds vocabulary, and refines your communication skills. Writing can also be very relaxing, especially if you lead a busy or stressful life.

When it comes to emotional stability and development, writing can be quite therapeutic. Writing gives some structure and organization to anxious thoughts and feelings. It can help the writer feel more in control of their negative moods, thus helping them get past suppressed difficult or traumatic events.

I have always been a avid writer since I first learned how. Writing is my way to have someone to talk to about difficult thoughts or feelings, a way to process my feelings to make me feel better. These days I find writing to be essential to both my mental health and brain health. Although I sometimes find it quite challenging for my brain, I do need this challenge to keep moving forward after a few serious head injuries.

5 Surprising Benefits of Writing by Hand

“Meet Cute” made me laugh and laugh!

From a purely Boomer perspective, this 2022 movie (a Peacock Original) made me laugh a lot! I would be the first to admit I know almost nothing about the “younger generation. ” I didn’t have kids and amazingly no grandkids either, so I have such a limited insight into how they relate and the ways they see their world. I felt like this movie gave me a little bit of insight and I found it hilarious.

To watch it you must be willing to suspend ‘reality’ quite a bit. Luckily Mike has helped me a lot with that. Rotten Tomatoes calls this a “time-loop romcom” where the two main characters keep repeating similar dates over and over again, because Sheila has discovered a time machine in a tanning bed in her manicurist’s backroom. In this process Sheila starts out absolutely loving Gary at first and proceeds to become super critical of him as they repeat their first date over a year. Then it becomes, can she change him by changing some of the traumas from his past?

At first I liked this film because I realized how fun it would be to re-live my first dates with the men I fell in love with when I was younger. In all cases I fell in love very quickly and we had great times together from the very first date.

Then I started to laugh at how differently the younger generation seems to approach tough subjects like depression and wanting to kill yourself. I felt that bad a number of times when I was young, but I never considered speaking to anyone about it except maybe a therapist. With much honesty and a great sense of humor these characters seemed to normalize hating your life. In our generation is seemed to be so hush-hush and such an embarrassing sign of personal failure. To the younger generation it almost seems natural or even normal to talk about how much and how often life sucks.

There are a number of aspects I loved about this film. See it! If you don’t like it you’ll know pretty quickly…

Gratitude for Internet Friends!

With so many nasty things happening on the Internet these days, I would like to call attention to a few marvelous friends I have made over the years and recognize a wonderful source for these friendships. The “Women of Midlife” group on Facebook was started about a decade ago to attract and assist women writers with support and friendship. I joined as soon as it formed, and through the years, as I read the writing of various other women past age 40, I developed online friendships. But I had no idea how much these women meant to me until I ran my last post about aging faster than my friends.

I wrote there about friendship loss as we age and our health begins to fail and was astounded by the response from the friendships I have developed over the years on “Women of Midlife.” These few women have watched me grow as a writer and as a woman over the years and therefore understand best my frustrations with brain injury and how that is now limiting my abilities to communicate and connect with others. They also seem to know that it has been quite difficult for me to make any real friends in my new environment in rural southern Colorado.

One message in particular hit home for me:

“Laura, you have always been tenacious in your hold on life. Your connection to nature often pulls you through. Your love for those in your life MAKES YOU YOUNGER than many. And finally your mental strength. I believe when we lose some of the physical the mental takes over. That is certainly the case with you.”

Blessings, Beth

I had no idea Beth understood my struggles so well and yet continue because of my desire to keep pressing on in spite of multiple challenges. I knew that some women, whom I have known for years but have never met in person, do care for me, but this response was unmistakable in its understanding, love and concern.

Thank you to “Women of Midlife” for fostering these kinds of close online friendships!

P.S. I also just learned what ‘ghosting’ is from one of those friends. Shame on those who do it!

The Pros and Cons of Writing an Autobiography

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself : ‘How alive am I willing to be?’” – Anne Lamott

Whether to create an autobiography is my latest writing dilemma. I go back and forth almost every day. I kept a journal from Junior High School on, so I certainly have the material to work with. I also have lots of pictures from my past. Don’t get me wrong. My goal is not to punish anyone. I just want to write something that some might enjoy reading some day.

PROS

I certainly don’t want to get stuck in my past, but on the other hand, wouldn’t it be interesting to see where my mind was at in 9th grade? In college? In my 30s in comparison to my 60s? As a psychologist I would love to study my own transition from my early beliefs as a naive youngster to what I now like to call older and much wiser. Perhaps a study of how a liberated woman’s mind developed, starting in the mid-1950s.

I like to believe my life had meaning. One way to pass on that meaning is to write about it. As a member of the transitional, mid-Baby Boomer generation, from the conservative, sexist 1940s and 50s, to the 60s, 70s and beyond, I wish to acknowledge how much our country changed especially in terms of women’s lives and roles. I lived a non-traditional life of first building a career and delaying marriage. I chose not to have children, choosing instead to get to fully know myself before I brought anyone else into my life.

I lived most of my adult life working and single, enjoying the freedom that brings. I experienced a divorce (at age 45), which at least half of Baby Boomers have been through. I also spent a few years studying the trends in Baby Boomers in my 50s, and then wrote a book about them.

I have a graduate degree in psychology and studied midlife love for a few years after my divorce. I also opened my own version of a dating service in the early 2000s. That’s how I met husband number two, while trolling for matches for my women clients… My second book tells this story: How to Believe In Love Again.

I feel I have lots to share with other Baby Boomers and their children and grandchildren, eventually!

CONS:

What a lot of work! Do I have the stamina at this late date?

I certainly don’t want to get stuck in my past. As far as I’m concerned, I have already spent too much time thinking about what happened ‘back then.’ It seems to be one of my obsessions, and yet I do appreciate all the enticing memories I have from so many trips abroad and a few great love affairs. (You know who you were!) I find my trips down memory lane to be fantastic entertainment for when I’m sick and stuck in bed for days… It just seems like this is the right time to set the record straight in my own mind (before I lose it…LOL!)

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

And then there’s the whole question of seeing the past honestly and calling an asshole an asshole. On that topic I’m afraid I agree with my hero,

Anne Lamott: “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

As Anne says, acknowledging and telling our truth is what aging is all about!

But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” – Anne Lamott

Are all illnesses caused by our minds?

You cannot control how other people receive your energy. Anything you do or say gets filtered through the lens of whatever they are going through at the moment, which is NOT ABOUT YOU.

I met a new person this week who has me quite perplexed. After speaking to her for only a few minutes, she offered me quite a bit of advice. She diagnosed my problems as, “You need to get out of your head to attract good health and healing.” Her swiftness and certainty was disturbing and mildly annoying considering the fact she does not know me at all. She apparently believes all physical ailments are simply a manifestation of emotional problems. Solve those and the illness disappears. This left me wondering, if I told her I have lung cancer, would she recommend better counseling?

To deal with my confusion I spent some time today talking with my favorite health professional about my exchange with this self-defined “healer.” She first emphasized to me that there is no certainty in the field of medicine. That is why they call themselves “practitioners.” Even what may seem like a perfect diagnosis after months of testing and analysis still has no certainty. So for someone who describes herself as a “healer” to decide after just a few minutes of conversation that she knows how to “fix” me is absurd. That same health professional I once told to “Walk a mile in my shoes!” when she suggested that she knew how it felt to be constantly out of breathe while dealing with a severe head injury. Since then my friend has read and recommended the book: “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor Ph.D., who experienced a massive stroke at age 37. Now I believe my friend has a much better understanding of what I deal with every single day.

Blaming the victim?

I never forgot an image from my counseling internship at a rehab hospital 25 years ago. I went in to speak to an elderly lady and the first thing she said was, “Why is this happening to me? Doesn’t God love me anymore?” In other words, what did I do to deserve this illness? First of all, we all will die of something. I do not believe we “cause” everything that happens to us. Did Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained brain scientist, cause her own stroke? Did I choose or cause myself decades of bronchitis and extreme breathing difficulties? Did I somehow choose to almost die numerous times from hypoxia? What about genetics, air pollution, and my choice to live a stress-filled life in a number of foreign countries?

What do we hope for when we make ourselves vulnerable to others?

What I need from others when I tell them about my difficulties in breathing and concentration is caring concern, non-judgment and, most of all, compassion. I crave exactly what David Richo lists in his book “How to Be an Adult in Relationships.” Drawing on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, David recommends we offer others our attention (observing, listening, and noticing the feelings at play), acceptance of them just as they are, appreciation of their gifts, limits, longings and affection.

After a lifetime of carefully observing how others respond to pain, I was disappointed with this recent acquaintance. Some run away from pain or change the subject. Others immediately try to “fix” me. When they suggest that they have simple answers to complex problems I have been dealing with for decades, I know they do not know of what they speak.

Please prepare now for unexpected outcomes

I’m sad to learn that my friend Rena Kaplowski died yesterday, even though she went the way she wished, in her sleep. Her passing has been a bit of a wakeup call for me and perhaps should be for millions of us. Rena had just turned 67 when she suffered a devastating stroke. Weeks of unconsciousness and intensive care followed, and she had just been moved to a rehab center when she passed.

Rena had not signed an advance directive form like Five Wishes which allows each of us to guide important medical care decisions that might be made if we should become seriously ill, decisions like whether we would like to be given life-support treatments. You may think that your loved ones and doctors will know what you want when you are very ill, but in reality, everyone has different wishes and it’s important to make them clearly known. Expressing your wishes in an advance directive helps to empower your family and other loved ones, and your doctor to make the best decisions when the time comes, and avoid disagreements about what to do next. Completing a form like “Five Wishes” can help you and your loved ones gain peace of mind around difficult end-of-life decisions.

The best time to fill out an advance directive form is now, before you face a health crisis. Because life is unpredictable, it’s best to be prepared. Anyone over the age of 18 can use the “Five Wishes” form. It is also a good idea to review and possibly update your Five Wishes advance directive when you experience significant life events like marriage, divorce, having children, or being diagnosed with a major illness. “Five Wishes” was written with the help of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law & Aging and is used widely in all 50 states. Federal law requires medical care providers to honor patient wishes as expressed.

Remember, you will always make your own health care decisions if you are able to talk with your doctor and understand what is being said. This directive only takes effect when you are too ill to understand or communicate. If you are unable to make your own decisions or speak for yourself, an advance directive and the person you chose to be your healthcare agent, can help direct your care with your doctor.