New writers are often instructed to “write what you know.” That doesn’t always help, of course. Without research and interviews, I never would have been able to write about the making of Kentucky bourbon (unfortunately, no tasting allowed) or the value of metaphors in medical hypnosis. Yet, it has been priceless advice at other times. Especially with one major event in my life. Writing about something I sadly did know resulted in two books and a new tangent in my career.
When a 2003 hit-and-run left my husband, Ken, with a traumatic brain injury, I learned firsthand how damage to the brain can alter and twist a familiar life. Already a journaler, I filled page after page during these months. My journal not only helped me stay as grounded as possible during a terrifying time, it later served as a valuable resource for personal essays, some of which went into my first collection, What I Thought I Knew, published in 2008.
Understanding the healing powers of journaling, in 2006 I combined research with personal experience as a writer, and as Ken’s wife, to create a six-session journaling workshop for people with brain injury. I have since facilitated it twice yearly at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Southern Arizona. Along the way, the workshop morphed into a journaling workbook, After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, which I co-authored with Susan B. Schuster, M.A., CCC-SLP, who had been Ken’s terrific outpatient speech therapist. Published in September 2009, it has been endorsed as a “landmark book for people with brain injury and their friends and family” by James Pennebaker, the leading journaling researcher. Even before its release, it had received interest within the therapeutic journaling and cognitive rehabilitation communities.
The participants in my workshops, including Ken, often explain how much journaling has helped them discover their new, post-injury stories. These courageous people inspired me, and I recently became a certified instructor for Journal to the Self. Soon I’ll facilitate workshops for family caregivers of people with brain injury, as well as other workshops on topics like getting unstuck and reclaiming your voice.
Every year, 1.4 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury, and an estimated 5 million are living with long-term disabilities as a result of brain injury. Another 360,000 men and women are estimated to have received a TBI in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While it saddens me to have learned about brain injury in such a personal way, both Ken and I are happy I was able to “write what I know” so that out of our darkness has come some light for others.
Barbara Stahura is an award-winning freelance writer and certified instructor of Journal to the Self, who frequently uses her writing to take an original and transformative approach to the ordinary. She is the author of nearly 300 articles and personal essays, the author or contributor to more than a dozen books, and has interviewed some of the leading transformative figures of our time, including Wayne Dyer, Bruce Lipton, Christiane Northrup, and Jill Bolte Taylor. Barbara now offers a number of journaling workshops, including “After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story,” plus others based on Journal to the Self. Barbara lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband, Ken Willingham, now much recovered from a traumatic brain injury. Her Web site is http://www.barbarastahura.com.