Communion Of Dreams


I admit it. I’m an addict.

Hello, my name is Jim. I’ve got a writing problem.

Via PZ and Evolutionblog, news that blogging (and writing in general) is actually a therapeutic form of self-medication:

Blogging–It’s Good for You

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

Scientists now hope to explore the neurological underpinnings at play, especially considering the explosion of blogs. According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.

Flaherty, who studies conditions such as hypergraphia (an uncontrollable urge to write) and writer’s block, also looks to disease models to explain the drive behind this mode of communication. For example, people with mania often talk too much. “We believe something in the brain’s limbic system is boosting their desire to communicate,” Flaherty explains. Located mainly in the midbrain, the limbic system controls our drives, whether they are related to food, sex, appetite, or problem solving. “You know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,” Flaherty notes. Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art.

OK, I don’t know about doing it ‘compulsively’, but I do know that writing has always been a way for me to cope with stressful events in my life, and I can honestly say that writing about caring for Martha Sr for the last year of her life with Alzheimer’s helped me keep some hold on my sanity.

Likewise, writing at UTI about the absurdities of modern life, with a particular emphasis on the effect of religion and politics, allows me to blow off a little steam and keep things in perspective. Some dialog with others, getting feedback and another perspective, also helps, and is the appeal (to me) of blogging over just writing for myself. This blog has a different emphasis, though there is some overlap (and why I cross post a fair amount between the two). I tend to be more personal here, and to tie things more often to the vision of the future portrayed in Communion of Dreams.

And as addictions go, it’s a lot less self-destructive than many options.

Jim Downey

(A slightly different version of this is at UTI.)


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