Author Judith Hannan
“Stories are antibodies against illness and pain,” Anatole Broyard said in Intoxicated by My Illness. In the winter, we need our words even more. What greater tool do we have against the darker days than our stories, which shine a light on ourselves and connect us to each other. The Write Prescription: Telling Your Story to Live With and Beyond Illness is my hands-on guide for those searching for their words. Here is a brand-new prompt, written for Mantra readers.
I am lying flat on my back, no pillow under my head, willing gravity to relieve my neck of the weight it carries. This is more than the weight of my skull, my brain, my teeth, my tongue. It is the heaviness of a mind and soul plowed under into darkness. Depression makes my body hurt, as if the fascia underneath my skin has grown too small, drawing my limbs into a fetal ball. My shoulders are in a perpetual shrug, as if they are trying to attach themselves to my ears. My throat closes against the food I try to swallow. The scale is a thief.
“Eventually, the light returns. It always does.”
The depression comes when I move away from home, have children, wave goodbye when it is time for them to leave. My body grips itself because there is nothing else familiar to hold on to. On my back, as I feel my muscles release, I ask my neck to speak to me. Thank you for this time, for letting me rest. I know we would both prefer doing other things—like dancing or writing or getting out of this room, this house. I’m tired of looking at the ceiling, the recessed lights, the patch of sky out the window I see in my peripheral vision. If I must lie like this, place me outside where I can watch the tree limbs swirl, follow the sun, observe the rise of the stars and planets, catch a meteor. I love you. I wish I had answers. But this is a mystery to me. You take a nap one afternoon when life is good, and you wake up 45 minutes later and someone has turned the flame down on the sun. Eventually, the light returns. It always does. Let’s repeat, “It won’t last forever. It won’t last forever.” As long as it does, though, I will hold you. I am sorry to cause you pain, but it is the only way I can protect you.
• Sit quietly for five or ten minutes. Scan your body. Is there a part or organ that is speaking to you? What is it saying? Write a monologue.
• Do you have a response to what your body has said? Write the dialogue.
• My body and I have told many lies to each other: The pain is not from depression; I must be ill. You’re barren, my body and I told each other when conception appeared impossible. Write the lies that you have told your body and/or the ones it has told you.
• Write an ode to a part of your body that you love or for which you are grateful.
Judith Hannan is the author of Motherhood Exaggerated, a memoir of discovery and transformation during her daughter’s cancer treatment and transition into survival. She teaches writing to homeless mothers and at-risk adolescents. Judith speaks frequently on the subject of narrative medicine.