By Leda McDaniel.
“Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine” -Oliver Sacks1
The use of creative mediums to express human experiences of pain and suffering are ubiquitous throughout history. One such medium–creative writing– and in particular storytelling can be an incredibly useful and healing form of expression for those in pain (physical or mental). Storytelling, as a first-person account of recovery from illness and injury can serve to illustrate not only the lived experience of an individual, but also as a way to inspire hope for others going through similar struggles. Communicating the perspectives of those suffering from chronic pain via stories, can serve to benefit both patients as well as to inform clinicians treating these patients.2
My personal journey of recovering from pain has included multiple examples of using writing as a creative outlet for coping as well as communication to others regarding my personal experiences. I have written numerous blog posts (See: SapiensMoves & FarmerLeda blogs) about my process of recovery and experiences through my journey of recovery and healing from 3 years of chronic knee pain– including 12 months of being unable to walk due to pain. This year, I also published a book about my journey of healing: (“Moments From A Year of Healing: A Book of Memories and Essays”). One of the reasons that I wanted to publish this book was to provide a way for clinicians to better understand the day-to-day experience of someone in chronic pain from a patient perspective.
Clinicians can benefit from such storytelling via what has been called “narrative reasoning,” in which a patient’s perspective can illustrate their lived experience and inform future clinical practice.2 Also, the practice of discussing and writing about “case studies” has been a useful and accepted way to inform clinical practice and advance successful treatment strategies throughout many sectors of medicine: from neurology to oncology and physical therapy practice.1,3,4
The other main reason that I wanted to chronicle my experiences in my recent book was to serve as an inspiration and way for others struggling from chronic pain to hear an example of healing and recovery. In my book, I do not seek to “sugar coat” the process or struggle, but rather, try to provide a vulnerable look at the lows and also the tremendous highs of ultimately finding successful methods to lead me on a path of healing. I am now pain-free and able to pursue many of the recreational activities that bring me joy including trail running, weightlifting, and yoga.
Patients or those struggling with chronic pain can benefit from writing via the chance to share accounts of their experiences as well as the act of writing itself. Certain clinicians recommend the use of “expressive writing” as a part of a comprehensive treatment strategy for chronic pain.5 Additionally, research has shown that writing about emotional experiences for just 15-30 minutes for 3-5 days can have numerous mental and physical health benefits.6
I encourage you to turn to storytelling, whether you are a patient or clinician, for the myriad of richness it can provide as a method of communicating poignantly about human moments of hardship. I hope that this practice of storytelling improves the way that you relate with others either personally or professionally and that it promotes each of your journeys towards good health!
Leda McDaniel is a Student Physical Therapist and Doctorate Candidate in Ohio Universities’ Doctor of Physical Therapy Program.
- Sacks, O. The River of Consciousness. Knopf; 2017.
- Courtney CA, O’Hearn MA, Franck CC. Frida Kahlo: Portrait of chronic pain. Physical therapy. 2016;97(1):90–96.
- Sacks, O. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales. Picador; 1986.
- Doidge, N. The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from Frontiers of Neuroplasticity. New York: Penguin Books; 2015.
- Dr. David Hanscom. http://www.backincontrol.com/
- Pennebaker, JW. Writing about Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 1997; 8, (3) 162-166.
Editor’s Note: Leda McDaniel is a Student Physical Therapist and Doctorate Candidate in Ohio Universities’ Doctor of Physical Therapy Program and has written a memoir that chronicles her journey of healing after she contracted CRPS following a sports injury.