I have a friend who contributed to an article of this same title, originally published on Medcast. This article builds on that original piece and is part of my way of sharing (with permission) the shared interest we have in writing.
With lockdown we all threw ourselves into new activities like Zoom cocktails, online concerts, learning to bake sourdough and Zoom dinner parties. The novelty quickly evaporated and those of us who had the opportunity to do so, turned (or returned) to old-fashioned pastimes or strategies from our earlier lives to help us cope. These hobbies undoubtedly have a proven personal therapeutic benefit.
Let me introduce you to my friend and brother in Christ - Andrew Gan – he has the privilege (some say misfortune!) to serve as a GP in COVID stricken Melbourne. He grew up in Singapore before migrating to Australia to study medicine. Throughout high school his interest in creative writing was supported and mentored by one of Singapore’s leading contemporary poets, Ho Poh Fun. As Andrew says in this piece, he took up running to help him through COVID. It has led to this beautiful riff about his running experience that combines his two favourite well-being strategies:
During Stage 4 Restrictions in Melbourne, I took up running….
To be perfectly honest, it was my excuse to be outdoors while not wearing a mask. I spend up to 8 hours a day clad in a face mask; goggles; gowns, face shields. It feels like a relief not to be clad in a plastic bubble
I run to feel the crisp breeze on my face.
Sometimes I close my eyes and wonder if this is what it might feel like to have an oxygen tank deliver 8 litres/min into my alveoli.
I pass by an elderly neighbour out on a leisurely stroll. Was that a smile, or a scowl, under his face covering?
I run to feel the pounding rhythm of the asphalt beneath my legs.
It reminds me that I am not paralysed in an intensive care bed, reliant on nurses to turn me so as to avoid bedsores.
I look up at the overcast sky, and wish I could feel the warmth of the sun on my cheeks. I am told by popular media that Vitamin D may boost my immune system; that ultraviolet rays kill coronaviruses. I recall the historic existence of medical sanitoriums and their inhabitants – were they likewise sceptical of their illnesses and treatments?
I run to spy on my neighbour's plum tree. Its numerous buds have finally broken, displaying a cacophony of twinkling salmon blossoms. Standing underneath it, I marvel at its abundance; and silently wonder if I will still be here when it fruits in summer.
I wave to the regular runner on the other side of the road, and she silently waves back. We respectfully keep our social distance day after day, and give each other the thumbs' up. She appears in head-to-toe athleisure wear, and I wonder if she stays in it all day - not much else to dress up for, is there?
A sprig from an errant bush brushes against my ankle - has it escaped the wrathful glare of the whipper-snipper? If I had not noticed it and snapped it off, would it keep on creeping and growing across the pavement?
I know that duties wait for me at the end; patients to be seen, phone calls to be made, results to be checked, emails to be answered. But for now I am content where I am headed; each throbbing pulse in my chest; each tenacious exhalation, followed by another. Every laboured breath drives me further; further from where I began and closer to where I want to be.
James Pennebaker, an Amercian social psychologist, has said that there is a body of evidence out there to support the notion that writing is good for your mental health. Pennebaker showed that it wasn’t what you write or the style that you wrote it in that was important, but just the act of writing.
His research subjects wrote unpunctuated, unstructured, streams of consciousness that didn’t need to mean anything to anyone – even themselves and even that was shown to be beneficial.
Arguably for us, the body of writers who regularly contribute to Christian Today, may recognise the value of writing and the almost monthly cycle contributes – perhaps subconsciously – to our mental health and resilience.
For me, my attraction to writing is partly rooted in the heritage of my parents. My Dad began his career as an English Teacher, in Singapore. From there, he transitioned into book editing and was employed by the publishing house McGraw-Hill. This is where and how my parents met. My Mum studied arts/geography in the University of Malaysia, being one of the last cohorts to have English-based lessons. English was also my strongest Year 12/VCE subject and I have always enjoyed reading. It is said that the “Melways” (street directory) was one of the first books I learnt to “read” and at the age of two I could find our home/street.
I certainly find writing therapeutic; putting thoughts on paper and having the ability to reflect and re-read them helps me, even before COVID.
Nic Lee works by day as a Business Analyst Consultant whilst, outside of business hours, maintains an IT support & website services business. He volunteers with 89.9 LightFM (Christian Community Radio). Nic has served for over twenty years in his local church, in worship, technology consulting, life group leading and event management.