Expressive writing with Elita Almeida
“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have” ~Robert Holden
Elita, a travel blogger and self-proclaimed logophile, has loved expressing herself through the written word since she was a teenager. Journaling paved the way for her first blog – Skinny Genus – which was about being body shamed for, well… being skinny. Eventually, the traveller in her found expression through another blog – Nomadic Thunker.
The 29 year old now facilitates expressive writing workshops at various locations in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and other cities under the name ‘Be You For You’ and shares her travel experiences under the section ‘Have Feet Will Travel’ on her blog. “Nomadic Thunker is my coinage for the purposeful, intentional explorer that I am of both, worlds within and outside, which is manifested through ‘Be You For You’ and ‘Have Feet Will Travel’, respectively,” she says. We speak with her to know more about expressive writing and what do her workshops entail.
What is expressive writing and how did you learn about it?
The dictionary definition of the term expressive writing is that it’s “personal and emotional writing without regard to form or other writing conventions like spelling, punctuation and verb agreement”. ‘Be You For You’ are workshops on expressive writing and intra-personal communication where creative writing is not the focus, here we write to express.
My journey with expressive writing is a blend of both my own personal experiences as well as through training and reading up. I’ve been journaling for close to half my life now but a couple of years ago I started feeling like a dog chasing its own tail running around in circles. While I was able to cathart and express by writing, I wasn’t necessarily making any breakthroughs. Attending workshops on using writing that lent itself to reflection and introspection followed up a few years later by taking up courses in counselling which allowed me to stumble upon a pathway towards expressive writing. My trainings had equipped me to begin understanding my own narrative and observe how some of my own thoughts had been counterintuitive for my growth. From there, in my pursuit for self-improvement, I kept reading up and putting into practice through writing the different approaches I’ve come across.
Having experienced the difference one can bring about to their own life with a pen and a sheet of paper, I set out to design my own workshops and ‘Be You For You’ was born.
What are the workshops like? Are there different levels and do participants have to do any kind of preparation to attend the workshop?
In a nutshell, ‘Be You For You’ uses the understanding of intra-personal communication to strengthen the inter-personal ones.
As a society, we don’t talk enough about the things that are on our mind – either because safe spaces don’t exist or we’re worried about the judgment we could be inviting upon ourselves (which is the same as safe spaces not existing). To add another layer of complexity we don’t acknowledge the conversation we have with ourselves.
Now imagine what if we did acknowledge that? What would we learn about ourselves? And how would that shape our interpersonal relationships?
‘Be You For You’ encourages and offers participants an opportunity to hold that safe space to express themselves in the way that comes most naturally to them. And because expressive writing IS NOT creative writing, one does not have to have a flair for writing nor come equipped with a command over a language. It’s an opportunity for anyone who is interested, to understand and become more aware of how they communicate with themselves at present.
Yes, one format of the workshop is such that participants can go through two levels – if the first is to understand how we communicate with ourselves, the second is about understanding how we can make that communication more effective. However, the first level which is focused on the intra-personal communication is also whole on its own.
How does expressive writing and the workshop help people heal?
Healing is seldom, if ever, linear. I believe that ‘Be You For You’ initiates and/or supports the process of healing. Writing, as we know it, provides a non-intrusive space for anyone to release any pent up energy they may have been experiencing. Most of us have journalled at some point (and more likely during those years of teenage angst).
What ‘Be You For You’ does – through a self-reflective and compassionate approach – is that it enables and empowers participants to understand their individual inner storytelling and to use insights to improve their relationship with themselves (and of course, in turn, with others too). The audience for a piece of work that comes from expressive writing is no one but the creator themselves (unlike how it is with Creative Writing where there is always an external audience).
One disclaimer that I stand by is that these workshops aren’t a replacement to therapy but they do complement the process.
Can you share a couple of stories of the changes people went through during the workshop?
I’ve had parent-child duos, friends and even married couples attend the workshop together as have colleagues from the same teams and organizations. Not only do they experience a shift within themselves but they’ve also experienced a shift in their relationship with each other.
Speaking of changes people have experienced, it’s best expressed through their own words:
– “I came here plagued by emptiness. I am going back with a toolkit and feeling much more encouraged.”
– “I’m leaving this workshop with an understanding of how connected our minds and words are … of how to express myself …and a lot of self-awareness.”
– “Loved to hear thoughts and stories from others; makes you realise we are different but the same.”
– “I’m leaving the workshop with a great set of tools to help me navigate my place in the world and the belief that I can be in control of how (and what) I think and feel.”
– ‘I feel a lot more confident about being me and penning my thoughts down.”
Do you recommend an exercise or practice that a person has to continue even after the workshop?
‘Be You For You’ is in essence a bouquet of a variety of ways in which individuals can express themselves to transition from narratives of contamination to narratives of redemption. The day long workshops come with an array of activities that can be used by participants whenever they so desire. The activities lend themselves to suit different moods and different styles of expression – and these could vary over time for any individual.
I am all about free-will. So while I do encourage participants to build in a practice of writing as regularly as possible, I don’t enforce compulsions. Habit formation takes time but it also takes dogged perseverance. I do hear back from participants who’ve built the practice into their everyday lives as they share their encounters and learning about themselves in their journey of self-expression.