As a kid, my handwriting was quite pleasant to the eye. Childish, with big rounded letters, but easy to read and fluent.
At some point during puberty or pre-adolescence, this changed. My writing became uneven and nervous, I had problems connecting some of the letters, and the lines were never really parallel. It was the handwriting of somebody going through an emotional storm.
When I was agitated or nervous, it was almost impossible to write anything legibly. I usually had to restart several times. Even so, the end result looked like crap.
Although I was worried about what I perceived as an acquired inability to use and control my hand properly, I didn’t speak to anyone about it. My way of dealing with it was to avoid handwriting as much as I could. By then, avoidance and self-blame were already deeply-rooted mechanisms that intervened almost everywhere in my life.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that the transformation of my handwriting had nothing to do with my hand, my writing skills, or the lack of any particular ability. It was a symptom of problems of attachment and self-esteem that went way back into early childhood. Writing was just one of the ways in which the problem manifested itself, demanding my attention, telling me not to look away.
But I did look away. I was not prepared to look beyond my trembling, nervous hand. In front of others, I made fun of my “doctor’s handwriting” as a way of explaining myself.
Sometimes, the frustration with my inability to write legibly was so big that I was caught in a compulsive loop of writing a few words, getting annoyed at the slightest slip of my hand in drawing a letter and restarting with a new sheet of paper. Over and over again. As my frustration grew, the chances of actually getting those words on paper were diminishing. My hand felt like an enemy, simply refusing to cooperate or turning against me when I expected it the least.
I was blocked in my own perceived failure. That perception worked as a self-fulfilling prophecy, increasing the probability of error and reinforcing the idea that I’m unable to do it. I could not accept failure. I could not accept the situation. I could not accept myself.
Not being able to perceive or accept things as they are here and now is the core of dysfunctional self-narratives – the stories we keep on tell ourselves, although they paint a distorted picture of our current situation and thus undermine our attempts to build healthy coping mechanisms.
For me, the problem was not that my handwriting was ugly or hardly legible. The problem was that I felt unable to just let it be and keep on writing. I was unable to accept that part of me that manifested itself through this tortured writing. I resented it and wanted to keep on suppressing it. My handwriting was a symptom of disconnection from my own body and emotions.
I never managed to “solve” the problem in the sense of having nice handwriting. But some things changed over time. These things reframed and transformed the problem to the point where I am hardly bothered by it anymore.
As I grew older, handwriting was less and less required in situations such as exams or writing formal letters. This diminished the probability of getting caught in that obsessive-compulsive loop of rewriting. It took away the stress. With no pressure to perform, my handwriting became more relaxed, fluent, and legible.
But the most important thing that changed was acceptance. My writing was not meant to conform to my idea of what nice handwriting is. It was what it was – a manifestation of my whole being. I needed to take it as such.
Acceptance is not a purely intellectual act. It is an integration of reason and emotions. You may be well aware of how you should feel or act but still feel differently. My inability to accept my “ugly” writing had little to do with handwriting. What I resented was that part of myself that cried for attention and expressed itself through my writing. It was a part of me I had constantly suppressed.
Only when there was enough acceptance and detachment, my handwriting slowly started to manifest this change. Only when I started owning my writing, along with that part of me that I resented, the problem began to transform. I felt more able to act upon it. It felt more manageable and, somehow, less important.
Some problems are unsolvable if we get stuck in them. Sometimes, solving a problem means reframing it. Becoming aware of what is behind it and how it is connected to other things that matter to us. Then acting upon them.