I often think about the irony of having written a book in which a young girl unwittingly becomes a Young Carer only to find myself some years later, as an Old Carer. It’s not something I planned – not something any Carer plans – but when my elderly dad needed to move nearby, and when his new home in sheltered housing was flooded by Hurricane Desmond, my own life went on hold.
Caring for a relative is hard. Even when you’re not actually in their presence they are never far from your mind. And because they are dependent on you, it’s hard to walk away when you need some space or a bit of your own life back. You are constantly juggling their needs with yours.
Consequently, my writing suffered. It’s hard to be creative when your emotional energy has been drained by another medical non-emergency, another shopping trip, a pile of wet laundry, that lost hearing aid, or an update on bowel movements. You can’t just turn off the crazy conversations in your head. And whilst I did manage to carve out some writing time (a couple of hours or a day here or there), my creative flow was missing and it was a real struggle to make progress.
But that was 2016.
And this is 2017. My dad’s not getting any younger, I’m still a Carer, and I need to find a way back into my writing life.
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks resurrecting a book I’d mostly written before Dad’s big move north, before Desmond, before my brain was taken up with Dad’s Alzheimer’s, and over the weekend I published it on Amazon.
In Your Write Mind is a collection of therapeutic creative writing exercises. I’ve used a few of them this month and I have to say they’ve helped. They reminded me that I’m not a bad person for wanting my life back, that I can still write, and that this is just a phase in my life. It too will pass.
So I’m going to share with you one of the exercises which made me feel a little better and helped me be a little kinder to myself. Have a go, and if you like it, why not buy the book and try them all.
Exercise 5 ~ Forgive Yourself in a Letter
“Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Forgiveness is about letting go of blame and resentment and implies a willingness to move on. When you forgive, you do not necessarily forget but research shows that forgiving a wrong may make it easier to forget. Those people who cannot or will not extend forgiving compassion to themselves risk increased stress and the possibility of serious health problems. Forgiveness, therefore, plays a key role in emotional, mental and physical well-being. [*]
One way you can help yourself to feel better about past events and behaviours is to allow the ‘past you’ and the ‘present you’ to interact, because writing to yourself is a very powerful way of acknowledging what you have learned in life and how it has helped you to be where you are now.
- Write a letter to your younger self, beginning Dear Me.
- If there is a specific thing you want to forgive, acknowledge this in your letter as much as you feel you need to, and tell ‘past you’ that you are happy to let this go.
- Also tell ‘past you’ what you have achieved in your life, what you might expect to happen over the years and tell them how they got through the bad times and how they enjoyed the good times.
- Give ‘past you’ the benefit of your ‘what you know now’ knowledge.
- Tell ‘past you’ you forgive them and remember to send back some love.
Whatever has happened in your past, the simple fact is that you made it through; you are here today, trying to find ways to feel happier. The past is gone. You are in the present.
a) Forgiving a Wrong May Actually Make It Easier to Forget | Saima Noreen | Association for Psychological Science, 2014
b) Forgive yourself if you want to live longer: Those lacking ‘self-compassion’ get stressed more easily and let it affect them over a longer period of time – leading to serious health problems. | Adam Withnall | The Independent, 2014
c) The New Science of Forgiveness | Everett L. Worthington, Jr. | Greater Good Science Centre | University of California, Berkeley. 2004 (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_new_science_of_forgiveness)