What exactly about writing or graphic
illness narratives is healing?
It has been proven that expressive writing does indeed help ones psychological and physical health in the long run. Desalvo analyzes an experiment that had been done by Pennbaker and his associate Sandra Beall. The experiment was to test the relationship between writing and wellness in their students.
Students were examined before the writing process began and also examined after. Some students wrote about trivial experiences, while others wrote about their emotions separate from an event, and events separate from emotions. Another group of students wrote about their emotions and traumatic events side by side which seemed to be the most efficient healing method. During the writing process it initially seemed that the students who wrote about their emotions isolated from traumatic events and traumatic events separate from their emotions, were the least effected by writing. However, the students who wrote about their traumatic experiences along with the emotions they felt were found extremely distraught while writing, some even cried. The students, who wrote about their emotions alongside traumatic events, seemingly had initial negative affects at the moment of writing. However, over a short time period these students showed to have better over all health and less doctor visits then the students who wrote about isolated incidents and emotions or trivial topics.
De Salvo confirms that,“Through writing, students had achieved a cathartic discharge of complex, pent-up feelings. But, too they had reflected upon the significance of these events, attaining insight into their trauma and achieving some distance from them. Through writing about events and feelings, students integrated the two; they understood what had occurred and what they felt about it, and they assimilated the meaning of this event into their lives, thereby diffusing its power over them” (22).
De Salvo suggests that this writing method of pairing events and emotions is what is most healing in the writing process. It is because the students were able to express bottled up feelings and link their emotions to particular events, that they now felt a sense of power over their trauma. This dominance over their hardship stems from understanding oneself and ones emotions related to events. It becomes difficult to make sense of events and emotions when they are internal and so this external outlet grants them this insight and gives them long term healing.
In Illness Narratives, Ann Jurecic states,“This book will explore how writers and readers use narratives of illness to make meaning of the experiences of living at risk, in prognosis, and in pain”
What does making meaning really mean?
How can illness narratives make meaning?“Our only hope as readers is to understand our failure to understand” (14)
Jurecic makes the point that although these illness narratives or testimonials of suffering give a great amount of insight into ones hardship and trauma, it often evokes a fake sense of emotion from readers. The sympathetic emotions evoked in readers’ distances the reader from truly understanding the situation and origins of suffering. It seems to Jurecic that the sympathy evoked is counter productive to the bigger picture illness narratives try to convey. This bigger picture according to Jurecic is making meaning of illness and tragedy. Readers must look past the sympathy and try to understand how these authors were able to understand their own illness or try to make meaning of it.
Making meaning out of illness can mean many things. For one illness narratives allow the writers to have a grasp and control over their situation. By having this control, one is able to better understand their situation. Writing a story on physical paper allows writers to physically see whats been held in their minds and hearts. It often evokes great emotion because they are now able to connect certain events with certain emotions.
Illness narratives also make meaning for those in the medical field, according to Jurecic. These illness narratives reclaim the voices of patients in the biomedical field. They give their illness a personal story and understanding. These illness narratives allow medical practitioners to respond to these stories with better personal understanding of their struggle as well as treat them with respect.
Why must there be a dichotomy between
making meaning and healing through
graphic illness narratives?
Through finding meaning in illness narratives, both
David Small and David B. were able to heal the pain of
their hardships.“Writing and reading are acts of discovery from which understanding emerges”- Jurecic“I, too, now believe that the way out of depression lies in finding the story that hasn’t been told, that must be told, and in exploring the feelings that narrative engenders—in writing it down”- DeSalvo
David B. would seek refuge in an alternate reality he created through illustrations in order to overcome the impact of Jean Christophe’s epilepsy on his family. It was this alternate reality that allowed him to cope with his adversities. In Epileptic, David B. was obsessed as a young boy with war stories and combats. He began to compile stories he written and illustrated of wars throughout history at a very young age and continued it as he got older.
Interestingly, it was many years later as an adult when he began to look back at his drawings and tried to make meaning out of them. David B. states, “Nowadays, when I reread some of those stories at the time, I can’t make heads or tales of them. I don’t know anymore but I had to draw and write constantly. I had to fill my time in order to prevent my brothers disease from reaching me” (276). David B. feared giving up on hope for Jean Christophe. David and his family fought extremely hard in order to give Christophe a better life and a cure but Christophe had already given up on himself. David B. feared letting the epilepsy catch up to him and disabling him the way it disabled Jean Christophe.
Later in the epilogue when David B. and Jean Christophe have a conversation about how warfare scares them, B. makes sense of his drawings and states, “I drew it a lot. It had something to do with understanding the brutality of your seizures” (356). In order to make meaning of Jean Christophe’s epilepsy, David B. continuously drew figures in a constant battle trying to overcome hardship. The struggle between disease and death interested David B. and it reflected in his illustrations. It was his drawings that kept him somewhat sane through witnessing his brother deteriorate. His mother even says, “All those drawings of warriors and soldiers that you make, those are your guardian angels” (157) It was these graphic images of these warriors that David B. felt a sense of safety and protection. These constant images of battles and wars made meaning of hardship as a whole. Throughout the novel, B. recollects stories from his ancestors and how they overcame difficulties. His drawings of these warriors were a representation of trying to overcome his brother’s epilepsy. David’s comics gave him a sense of individuality and expression, he writes, “I forge the weapons that allow me to be more then a sick mans brother” (319). David B.’s weapons here refer to his comic books and his ability to create stories.
David B. contained his true feelings about running around Europe searching for a cure for his brother. He withheld his ill feelings about how his brother’s epilepsy flooded their life and negatively affected his family. In a phone conversation with his father, his father says, “You were never at all the way you describe yourself as an adolescent, you were always cheerful laughing”. David responds, “Its true, I hid it well” (168). In the same panel he writes, “My mask is so thoroughly in place” (168). For most of his life David was silent on his true feelings regarding his brother. He maintained his composure when his brother would have sudden seizures on the street and call everyone’s attention. David B. did not openly express that at one point he actually wanted his brother to die because his epilepsy was taking over their lives. DeSalvo would argue that this novel was a therapeutic release for David B. because he not only spoke about traumatic events but also paired it with his emotions. Jurecic would not agree, however that these illustrations actually healed B.; rather she would argue that these images allowed him to make meaning of his feelings at the time.
Healing in Stitches
David Small also created his own escape through his drawings. After a trip at the hospital as a child to visit his father, Small had played around on different floors of the hospital and had forgotten his shoes. His mother was extremely upset at him the day of as well as the day after. He writes, “Her silent fury was like a black tidal wave either you out f the way or…” (46). Small then illustrates a picture of a large tide engulfing him in the air. He was extremely scared of his mother and her outbursts as a child, and so the next page depicts his escape to happier thoughts through his illustrations. His face is seemingly upset, yet he draws a happy character in order to escape his current feelings. The next image depicts these characters coming to life emerging from a piece of paper. These two images express that his drawings not only was an outlet for his negative emotions but they brought him to an alternate reality where he could be happy.
Stitches mainly consists of image rather than words. The pictures speak volumes on how Small felt. After Small’s visit to the psychiatrist’s office, the psychiatrist triggered emotion in Small when he said, “Your mother doesn’t love you” (255). For exactly 12 pages after, there is nothing but pure image of water works. These images were extremely powerful. Although a few pages were just of close ups of Small crying and then a rainstorm. Those ten pages of rain and tears and a storm, expressed a great deal of emotion and release. Small dedicates ten pages to his reaction the psychiatrist’s statement. It not only shows how powerful illustration can be in order to express raw feeling but also allows readers to understand one of Small’s biggest difficulties growing up, and that was his mother’s negligence. Small makes meaning of his internal struggles in this section of the novel. This essential portion of the book where Small comes to this harsh reality, was vital to Small’s healing process while writing. For David Small to come to terms with the fact that what was perhaps worse then the cancer itself was that his mother didn’t love him or express love to him. The pages of pure illustration are heart wrenching and evoke emotion from readers. Small’s choice of depicting rain fall to depict his tears exposes an immense amount of withheld feeling that finally poured out on to 10 pages of rain and tears.