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Writing About Trauma: What We’ve Learned Since 2020

two young woman embrace while crying
With a little help from our friends

Memoir, a subgenre of creative nonfiction, is often the home of stories of trauma. As I point out in my blog post Writing About Trauma: What Memoir Is and Isn’t, memoir has a bad reputation for being all about trauma. It’s an unfair assessment. Yet, as a memoir writing coach and editor, I do find that the majority of my clients want to write a memoir about emotional pain, loss, grief, addiction, disease, or toxic relationships.

My personal feelings are that people are more motivated to share the negative aspects of their lives (rather than the good times) because those are the experiences they have reflected on and learned from the most. This is true of my own life. I have spent much of the past three and a half years analyzing my failed second marriage. From that failure, from that disappointment and emotional pain, I have learned more about myself than at any other time in my life. I could not have become who I am now—someone I am happy with and proud of—if not for that experience. Maybe there’s a memoir in my own future.

Mass Trauma—It’s a Thing

I’m compelled to write a second time about addressing trauma because I have heard more and read more about trauma in the last two years than the previous twenty combined. And the reason? The pandemic. Globally, COVID has sickened more than 393 million and killed almost 6 million, as of this writing. No one in the world—literally no one—has remained unaffected by COVID’s impact. Subsequently, health experts on TV, radio, podcasts, social media, and in writing have been forced to discuss the worldwide fallout with terms like mass trauma, collective trauma, and traumatic stressor event.

Trauma, once most often the psychologically painful side effect for war veterans, survivors of domestic violence and rape, serious accidents, natural disasters, harassment, witnessing violence, and the like, has driven tens of millions of US citizens to seek mental health counseling and medication for the first time in their lives. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, was first added to the bible of mental health disorders, the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual), in 1980 primarily as a descriptor for the mental health challenges faced by military veterans, particularly those who served in the Middle East. My father served in World War II. He definitely suffered from PTSD, then referred to as combat fatigue or battle shock. Upon returning from Europe in 1945 at the end of the war, he received no treatment and no counseling. And he never fully recovered.

Trauma, whether we like it or not, has become a household word—a mental health problem that knows no boundaries among class or color or gender or ethnicity. However, as I stated at the beginning of this, the dark experiences of our lives tend to be the ones we reflect on and learn from the most.

Therapeutic Journaling Can Help

Have you been journaling during the past two years? I wrote about the mental health benefits of therapeutic journaling a while back. This practice became more popular than ever during the last two years. Have you documented the day-to-day challenges you faced on your own, or as a parent, employee, employer, or caregiver? What lessons from this unprecedented time in our history will we learn and share for our children and future generations to help them navigate the difficult challenges life throws at us?

What have you learned about yourself since early 2020? Is there a memoir about survival, creativity, or transformation in you? Let me know in a comment. And take care.

In addition to working as a nonfiction and creative nonfiction editor and writing coach, I am co-author, with Dr. Terri Lyon, of the book Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism: No activism degree required—use your unique skills to change the world. Visit my website page Make a Difference and Dr. Lyon’s activism website Life At The Intersection to learn more about Make a Difference, including how to place bulk orders.

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