Guest Post: The Freedom of the Written Word

by Gurpreet Sihat

I’ve always dreamed of being a writer.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve pictured myself living a bohemian author lifestyle: hauled up somewhere in the woods with nothing but books, coffee, and maybe a kitten in my midst.

In my early teens, I thought the only way to be an author was to become a writer of fiction. I didn’t quite understand the fluidity of the craft and thought that if I couldn’t write something as crazy as V.C. Andrews’ Dolanganger series then I could never write anything worth reading. (Funny side note, I was reading Andrews aged 12 with books passed down to me by my best friend’s grandmother.)

Until recently, it hadn’t dawned on me that being a writer had nothing to do with being a published author.

Woven deep within me is this unwavering feeling, a burning need to write.

When I was 16, it was angst-filled poetry. When I was 20, it was academic papers for university. Now, at 25, recovering from an incredibly difficult journey, it’s the journals I keep to declutter my mind from overwhelming feelings and to chronicle my life as it is, without embellishment or reflection.

In the Autumn of 2015, I was diagnosed with leukemia.

Within a week I started intensive chemotherapy which had me admitted to the hospital for three months. Talk about a life changing experience! I searched and searched to find something, anything, to make me feel less alone.

How-to books didn’t resonate with me. They focused on outpatient treatments, tumorous cancers, patients recovering from surgeries and the like. As for the stories I found about leukemia, both fiction and memoir alike were filled with tragic, painful experiences that were not my reality. They left me feeling terrible.Where was the hope? Where were the people with the undying positivity that was coursing through my, albeit sick, veins?

That’s when it hit me.
That’s when I realised that there must be others out there like me wishing for a story of hope and of a truth they could relate to.
That’s when the title of memoir writer printed itself on my body, mind, and soul.

Chemotherapy is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, without it I quite literally would not have survived to be telling you my story. On the other, with it comes a slew of side effects including impossible to beat fatigue and brain fog like you can’t understand unless you’ve experienced it. On top of that, I experienced migraines which made looking at a screen difficult, and shakiness and weakness which made putting pen to paper incredibly difficult.

Needless to say, writing during treatment and my first year of recovery did not go well. Instead, I kept a list of topics that I wanted to cover when my body and mind would be ready to tackle them.

Being in recovery has me out of work and study and focused on healing – which means a lot of time spent in the comfort of home, often binge watching Netflix or browsing the Web for hours on end.

This past November, I felt passionate and ready to write. At first I challenged myself to complete NaNoWriMo. I spent the month of October planning and mentally preparing myself, but soon realized that my story was much more complex and unstructured in my mind than I had anticipated. And, when November came along, I discovered another difficulty.

It wasn’t the daily word count for me (in all honestly, I could easily write three time 50,000 words about my experience with illness), it was that I wasn’t quite ready to go back and dig deep to tell those stories; intimate stories about spending days on end staring at the ceiling, counting the seconds until someone came to visit my bedside, and feeling a kind of weakness that you can really only understand if you’ve experienced it.

Instead, I have taken to journaling as often as possible. I’m a writer, after all.

In my journal, nothing has to be perfect. I don’t have to find the right words or imagery to tell my story. I don’t have to force myself into writing chronologically or making any sense at all. In my journal, I can be free.

And I can assure you that nothing, not anything, feels better than that freedom.


Darya Danesh is a 20 something Canadian writer who as adopted Amsterdam, The Netherlands as her forever home. She is currently working on a memoir to chronicle her experiences through a cancer diagnosis, treatment, and life-after-the-fact. She spends most of her time journaling and eating pizza.

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