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Journaling Your Plastic Surgery Journey: In Living Color

  • Feb 28, 2016

Visually journaling your way to healing.

As I discussed in the previous blog about written journaling, the process of decision-making, preparation, and recovery from Plastic Surgery can be a real emotional and physical rollercoaster many find themselves inadequately prepared to handle. Journaling your experience has been shown to have emotional and medical benefit that speeds your recovery and healing.

Just as using your pen and paper to allow words and emotion to flow with written journaling, visual journaling or art journaling may be even more impactful in speeding the recovery from surgery.

Creativity stimulates physical healing.

Visual journals are essentially “art diaries.” They often contain both images and paintingwords. Like an actual diary, they are meant to document day-to-day experiences, activities, and emotions. Visual journals have been used for centuries as records of ideas and imagination. The most famous of all art journalists was Leonardo da Vinci who carried a visual journal with him at all times. Seven thousand pages exist today from his journals that recorded his myriad ideas, impressions, and observations — from drawings and paintings of anatomy, botany, and the physics of the flow of water to philosophical musings and prophecies, plans for inventions, and instruments of flight.

Most art therapists recommend visual journaling as a way of exploring feelings and experiences over time. In fact, the importance of noting how your expressions change from week to week is one of the basic tenets of art therapy. A single image or art work just a snapshot of the moment, but as you continue to record your creations in your journal, your own visual language naturally emerges over time and definitely has some health benefits.

According to Elizabeth Warson, professor at George Washington University’s art therapy program, the regular practice of art journaling can reduce your heart rate, increase serotonin (a feel-good hormone) production, speeds up creation and function of healing immune cells, and decreases the body’s stress responses.

These findings complement previous well-known studies by James Pennebaker on the benefits of writing about distressful experiences and the physiological changes that journaling can bring about in the long term.

During illness and treatment, you, like many patients, will be likely to feel like you’ve lost your sense of wholeness, as if you’ve been “disassembled.” By pulling out your paints, glue, and colored paper, a real sense of wholeness is accessible to you at every moment, regardless of what you may be going through. Creating something integrates your senses, feelings, and physical sensations as you heal. Your regular routines of life get interrupted by a surgery and especially if you have a subsequent long recovery, you may get face to face with negativity and self-pity. Instead of letting these nasty energies linger, express the junk through creative journaling.

You do not need to be an artist to do visual art journaling- just a human.

You really need to possess no talent to enjoy and receive benefit from journaling. Like written journaling, the idea here is that no judgment should be attached. No journal exampleone else needs to see it but you. This is your path to healing and your experience, so you can put down exactly what your are going through.

Visual journaling has so many ways to approach it- making a collage journal of words cut from magazines and print materials or mix photo collage with writing, paint, and other materials in a sketchbook. Painting, using various inks and ink sprays, inscribing favorite quotes and scriptures, and drawing feely and without judgement of the works’ perfection (or lack thereof) are essential parts of an visual journaling experience. Even drawing with the non-dominant hand can evoke creativity by activating the opposite side of the brain. You may want to use your pre-op and post-op snapshots as musings or even part of a collage in your visual journal, then surround those photos with your feelings as portrayed by the doodles and scribes you put on paper. This creates a timeline of healing that allows you to reflect in how far you’ve come.

“Altered books” are fun ways to up-cycle old books with still pretty bindings, as IMG_0931they are visual journals that involve taking actual books and changing them into journals. My favorite with altered books is to lightly gesso over a pages of type, then you can draw, paint, collage, over-write, or any other way you can think of to stimulate self-expression. So rather than working with a sketchbook or journal with blank white pages, the nature of the book itself provides a stimulus for creative journaling. In fact, old hard cover books found in the dollar bin are some of the best for use as future altered books. I used an old Reader’s Digest here as an example.

Make a habit of creativity time.

If you decide to take up visual journaling, try to make it a habit. Just like any wellness practice, a visual journal is more powerful if you make it a regular part of your life or routine. It is a valuable tool to use as you heal from your plastic surgery and to record your transformative journey, but you will find it valuable to carry on this practice into your “regular” life, too. Find a time when you devote your complete attention to it and use it as a meditative retreat, letting out whatever comes to mind in images and words.

Creativity, self-reflection, and emotional expression come together in art journaling. It’s an act of “personal integration,” connecting your thoughts, emotions, and sensations. In many ways, art journaling is an “alternative selfie” record of one’s experiences. Anyone can make art journaling a fun activity and life practice to promote self-awareness and personal development.

“The thought of a painter must not be considered as separate from his pictorial means, for the thought is worth no more than its expression by the means, which must be more complete… the deeper is his thought. I am unable to distinguish between the feeling I have about life and my way of translating it.”~ Henri Matisse