teen writing

The Doc Journey: From a Teen Who Loved to Write But Needed to Learn to Rip

Peace at Home April 17, 2024 | Ruth Freeman

Intro from Peace At Home founder, Ruth Freeman, LCSW: 

We at Peace At Home have appreciated a long and productive partnership with the founder of TheDocJourney.com, David Hanscom, MD. Dr. Hanscom works with colleagues to transform the practice of medicine to include an understanding of the physiology of fearful thoughts (both conscious and unconscious) and they impact on our health and relationships. We have worked together because he is so passionate about helping parents understand the importance of home being a psychologically safe place and exactly what that means in everyday family life. If relationships with your kids feels too stressed, you may want to check out the Doc Journey as did our teen reviewer below. We thought if the website could pass muster with a teen reviewer, our parents will hopefully be ready to get the message. Here’s comments about the program from Peace At Home’s first and very articulate high school intern:

I’ve always felt as though my chest is enveloped by plastic wrap as I go through the day, getting tighter as time goes on until snapping every few weeks. The immense release of emotion helps for a short period, however, these small increments of time have never made up for the way I know I’ll feel within days. 

I’ve struggled with this cycle since I was around ten, and despite many conversations with friends and various therapists, I have always known in the back of my mind that I need to learn how to cope healthily by myself. 

When I was younger, my aunt Ruth introduced me to a new method of easing my anxiety – burning my worries. I scribbled out everything I was scared of, placing it into a metal bowl and watching as my dad lit a match and set the small slips of paper aflame. At the time, I couldn’t grasp the reasoning behind the ritual, instead writing down as many things as I could think of purely because I thought that setting things on fire was fun (because it is). I didn’t understand why I was doing it, why the adults around me believed it would help. I thought the process would never be able to stick – confused as to how the flame would make my anxiety go away, only seeing it as a temporary distraction. Now, I realize that “temporary distraction” genuinely helped me cope in completely subconscious ways. 

The Doc Journey brings me back to those moments, burning every worry I had from the week, spewing it out as best as I could. My writing – and subsequent destruction of said writing– has completely changed my perspective on my anxiety. Knowing I’m the only one who will experience the world in the way that I do and being able to put it into genuine, visible words gives me a kind of comfort that I rarely experience. It’s as though I’m giving myself a hug, validating that my feelings are real and allowing them to breathe outside of the wrap I squeeze them into so tightly. 

Initially, I experimented with the Free Write technique. I like the freedom of expression it gives me – the lack of form takes even more pressure off of the task. As I explored the website, I discovered the three-column writing technique. The opposite of Free Writing, it asked me to place my feelings into categories, giving them labels. Doing so gave me an opportunity to look at my worries as logically as possible – something which tends to be difficult for me.  

Finding ten minutes to write at the end of every day wasn’t difficult, however, remembering to do so proved to be much harder. I like to use an old journal for my write-and-rip pages, combined with the closest pen that I can find. I try to keep both on the bookshelf right next to my bed, and they’re extremely easy to grab before I knock out every night. Despite the ease of access, there are times when I find myself lying in bed with all of the lights off, too tired to reach below me for my notebook and turn on the lights to begin writing after I’ve forgotten to do so. In such cases, I began to use my notes app to replicate the process that would normally be carried out on paper. I assumed that it would feel just as satisfying, perhaps even more so with the speed at which it could be done. The abbreviations that I could use on the app and the way that I could delete the entire page with one click was appealing, especially when I was already exhausted. I repeated my adaptation of the strategy for multiple nights in a row, beginning to treat it as a job to complete rather than a form of coping. I would give myself a pat on the back each time I deleted my paragraphs– followed by shutting off my phone and falling asleep.

My newfound method was convenient, but I have come to realize that the physical element emphasized in the Doc Journey’s write-and-rip method is a keystone to its effectiveness. Deleting the block of text on my notes app is nowhere near as gratifying as the reward of absolutely annihilating a sheet of paper. The feeling of relief that washes over me as I rip my thoughts to shreds is not mirrored by simply staring at my screen and watching the words disappear within milliseconds. 

When I first listened to the audio clips available on the website, I was slightly overwhelmed by the way that Dr. Hanscom spoke and the way that the AI-generated audios described the uniquely human topics of mental health. I’ve never heard someone give guidance about anxiety in such a blunt way, therapist or otherwise, so the phrasing and technical explanations caught me off guard. I’m used to anyone I confide in softening the blows and telling me that everything will be okay without providing any reasons, no matter what situation

I describe. Despite the learning curve, I was able to acclimate myself to what was initially a rude awakening. After listening through my first lesson, I discovered my appreciation for the science behind anxiety being brought to the forefront of the conversation. I’ve always felt that it is important to know the inner workings of my brain and body, so for me, it was extremely helpful. 

The language in the videos and audio clips is my only gripe. Some of the podcast-style readings can sound robotic and wordy, with a lack of personability making it hard to pay attention to or, at times, understand. The advice sometimes leans towards feeling like a lecture, especially after a day of school and work. Should the program be advertised to a bigger audience, including those my age, I believe that the wording needs to be adjusted and any AI-formulated audios should be replaced. When Dr. Hanscom was in the videos himself, his gestures and voice inflections made it far easier for me to pay attention than the generic voice of the podcast-style clips. Hearing a real person’s voice made me more inclined to ingest the information.

The Doc Journey is an incredible resource for those struggling with mental health at any stage in their life. The information provided and the suggested coping methods are important for anyone with anxiety to have access to, and I firmly believe that age should not be a restriction for said information. 

Andie Ettenberg is a high school senior who lives with her family in Massachusetts. She is Peace At Home’s first high school intern. Andie created and edits an independent newspaper outside of school and plans to study Philosophy and Literature when she goes to college in the fall of 2024. She envisions a future in which she writes a book, practices as an ethicist, and lives in Maine someday. If she could change one thing about her family it would be that they listen to each other better when they disagree. One thing she appreciates about her family is that they communicate more than most families and are really open with each other. 

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