You Are a Storyteller: 5 Tips to Heal Yourself and the World Through Writing

5 Tips to Transform Yourself and the World Through the Power of Writing

Advice

TW: Eating Disorders


You have a story in you. Maybe that story is a song. A novel. It could be an honest conversation you know you need to have with someone you care about.


You may not know what this story looks or even sounds like, but you know it’s there.


It makes itself known to you whenever the day-to-day noise subsides. When you’re in the shower. Right before you fall asleep. Pieces of it stay tucked away in your phone’s notes. Always tucked away.


When I first started seeking therapy for my eating disorder, my therapist asked how many times I binged and purged, I said, "I dunno, three or four times a week?"

"Oh, that's not that bad," she said.


Really? I thought that bingeing and purging at all wasn't healthy? But, I didn't have the words to challenge her authority, so after another session or two, I just stopped going.


By the time I discovered bulimia (from an after school special actually warning against such behaviors, though my only takeaway was, "Holy crap, you can eat and throw up and not get fat?"), I had already been starving myself for six months.


Saturday Chinese School was only a couple of miles away from my house, so instead of riding in the car with my mother and three younger siblings, I ran.


My Chinese School teacher, a mom just like my own mother who was a teacher at the same school, pulled me aside one day.


"Ni zhe me gao de?" What's wrong?


I was surprised. My teacher was asking me about something other than whether I wrote my Mandarin homework? We didn't talk about things like this. We saved face. My mother hadn't even asked if I was okay.


But the teacher must've seen my now size 0 frame, and realized that I needed help. I shrugged it off.


"Mei shi, mei shi." Nothing's wrong. Nothing's wrong.


Asian culture has often taught us that self-expression is attention-seeking, unproductive, that it makes us weak, and that people will judge.

In reality, storytelling is our birthright. Taking ownership of the story that’s within you not only frees yourself, but it frees other people. Studies show that narrative identity — the story we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives — actually plays a huge role in whether we perceive ourselves to be happy or not.


At age 25, after spending time in Shanghai working as an editor, I returned back to Los Angeles, entered into an intensive outpatient program (IOP) I found on the internet, and the Universe, in all of her humor, helped me find a full-time job right around the corner from my eating disorder program…


What was the job? Writing about weight loss for Herbalife.


During the day, all day long, I’d write for one of the largest weight-loss companies in the world. The kitchen was stocked with weight-loss shakes and supplements. I had to interview MLM distributors who were my age, who were living the lives I wanted to have with the money, the cars, the marriage, the kids... and meanwhile, I was just struggling to survive.


For four days a week, after work, I rushed around the corner to my program. I was the only Asian person in group therapy, art therapy, yoga therapy, nutritional therapy. My private 1:1 therapist was a tiny, petite blonde woman who looked overwhelmed by the fact that she needed hours to become a fully licensed professional.


I’d listen to everyone else in the group, offer support and insights, and rally for everyone else.  Until one day, I put off a project interviewing dozens of distributors for a corporate magazine article feature, so I had to spend two days calling people and hearing their life success stories back-to-back.


I came to group therapy that day, opened my mouth, and began to bawl.


The whole room stopped what they were doing. I had been in the program almost one year and no one had ever seen me shed so much as a tear. I wore it as a badge of courage.


That moment was just one of many that broke me open. And at every one of those junctures, it became clearer and clearer that storytelling was not a luxury. It’s a lifeline.


Eventually, I would leave the program. I would keep going to 1:1 sessions. I would become a yoga teacher, a Reiki practitioner, a travel writer, and continue to pursue my passions by finding my own path towards happiness — aside from what I was taught was important growing up. 


Fast-forward 15 years later, and storytelling is an inseparable part of my life and career. I run a writing school, Wild Hearted Words, and a podcast, F*ck Saving Face, where I discuss mental and emotional health for Asian Americans by breaking through taboo topics. By owning my narrative identity, I’ve reached a place in my life in which purpose and connection are permanent residents.


Now, it’s your turn.


If you feel that tug within you to share your story, try Wild Hearted Words’ five signature writing tips:

  1. Let yourself suck. Whether it’s pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, give yourself permission to write freely. Even if what you’re writing doesn’t connect to the previous thought. Let it be a stream of consciousness. It is not your job to craft a perfectly structured essay or memoir right out the gate. It is your job to give words to your thoughts.
  2. Sharing does not mean everyone gets a slice. Remember that you get to choose what form your story takes and who you’ll share it with. So many writers edit themselves because they’re afraid of what a few people might think. You are writing this for you — first and foremost — and anyone else who you decide is worthy. You call the shots.
  3. Don’t be afraid to change your story. When I first began dipping my toes in vulnerability, my biggest fear was getting boxed in by whatever I shared publicly. If I share about my eating disorder experience, will I be labeled as the woman with an eating disorder? If I share about my traditional Chinese upbringing, will people see me only as an Asian woman? You are never limited by what you wrote a year ago or even yesterday. Approach every page with a beginner's mind, unafraid to write from this very moment.
  4. Write to release. The paradox of writing goes like this: We write to gain, but we also write to release. In the process of writing, we receive clarity, connection, purpose. Simultaneously, this same process allows us to shed past layers and past versions of ourselves.
  5. Remember that your story is a gift. Don’t take your experiences and wisdom for granted. You might believe that your story isn’t anything special, that it’s been told by many people before you — people who are more eloquent, more qualified, who have bigger followings than you do. The truth is, what you have is exactly what someone out there needs. You are the only person who can give it to them.


I often say that "Life may not always be pretty, but it is indeed beautiful. You can make your story beautiful today."


What story will you make beautiful?


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Shimmer is the online, affordable, and accessible community for anyone to begin improving their mental health and well-being through guided small groups. Join our newsletter or facebook group for exclusive free content and live events! If you're interested in writing for us, email jon@shimmer.care.

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