When Was the Last Time You Told Your Story?

There are three questions that healers of a Central Oregon Native American tribe ask their patients before beginning medicine work:

  • When was the last time you sang?
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • When was the last time you told your story?

The healers believe the answers a person gives tell them how deep the illness, injury, or damage lies.

I thought of this as I was singing and dancing alone in my kitchen the other day. I thought about the times I didn’t sing or dance—or tell my story.

Whole years have gone by when I didn’t sing or dance—not even when I was alone in my house or car.

And whole years have gone by when I didn’t journal. Those times, when I stopped telling my story to myself, those were the worst times in my life. I can see it so clearly now but of course, when you’re in the middle of the bad time, you can’t see much of anything.

I started keeping a journal when I was eleven years old. Since then, there have been many times I felt I couldn’t share my thoughts or feelings with anyone else, but I wrote them in my journal as a way of working through those thoughts and feelings. A journal entry, to me, is always a dialogue with myself. Like most conversations, it usually ends with a shift or change in perspective: Some kind of resolution.

And it was a way of saying, if only to myself, “I matter. My story and my life count.”

I almost never look back at my journal entries, with the exception of my Five Year Journal. (I love seeing what I (or my son) was doing a year ago today or two years ago today.) My regular journal entries are “of the moment,” and they help me process whatever I’m going through at that particular time and place. They are only for myself and they are not interesting to me once the moment has passed.

I told my story, now I’m moving on. When I stop being able to tell my story, even to myself, I know I need to make some changes.

  • When was the last time you sang?
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • When was the last time you told your story?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother, and stepmother. I can’t sing but I enjoy singing. I think I can dance, a little, and I enjoy that, too. I enjoy telling my story (and almost any story) best of all!

33 thoughts on “When Was the Last Time You Told Your Story?

  1. Beautifully written post and very thought-provoking. I have also been a diary-writer since I was a kid, and like you I rarely read back. Here’s a question for you – do you keep your old diaries? I still have mine from the teenage years. I’d like to burn them or throw them away, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. What about you? And what’s your Five Year Diary? A separate one you write with the intention of reading back?

    • Hi My Little Spanish Notebook,
      Thanks for your comments. I have most of my old journals. There are a few I just can’t find–like the first one I wrote when I was 11, but I have a couple from my teenage years and then most of the rest of them. I keep them in a bin in the basement. I couldn’t throw them out, but I don’t want to read them. I have told my husband that when I die the journals go to my twin sister (I told her, too.) She can do whatever she wants with them, even just throw them out. She’s the only person in the world I’d be comfortable reading them. 🙂

      I think you need to do whatever feels most comfortable to you with the journals. I am missing a journal from my third and fourth year of med school and it was a time, among other things, when I started dating someone who eventually became my fiance (and even later, my ex-fiance). I always wish I could find that journal, so that’s really what prevents me from throwing my journals away. What if I feel the same way in the future about my more recent journals?

      My five year journal is actually titled “a thought a day,” Five Year Journal, but I keep it next to my bed and I write a little blurb about the day every day. Each page has space for the same date 5 years in a row, so once you start the second year, it’s easy to see what you wrote the same day a year earlier. I’m on year three and I have a 4-year-old so it’s fun to read back and see the milestones in his life (and mine.) Even if I don’t get any writing done in a day, I keep up with my five year journal. I think one of the reasons it’s easy to read back is there isn’t a lot of emotion in it. I just write what happened and maybe a “good day,” or “tough day.” Reading it over helps me remember the day-to-day stuff with my son and husband. You can get one at most book stores.

      Thanks for reading!


  2. per me la musica è vita e terapia. Ho sofferto per anni di depressione e l’ascolto della musica mi ha aiutato tantissimo e continua ad accompagnare le mie giornate donandomi calma, serenità, emozioni o sprint vitale secondo i momenti della giornata.

    • Hi notablu,
      Yes, music can be very healing. I think if you got to a point where you didn’t enjoy music, that would not be good. When I was a resident I stopped listening to music but I didn’t even realize it. Part of it was lack of time, but there was another part to it–I just wasn’t enjoying life at that time.

      I hope music continues to inspire you! Thanks for commenting!


      • Thanks, Diane!

        Yes, obviously it’s a pen name: Dysthymia, because that’s part of my story with mental health; and Bree, because it means “life force” or somesuch. Two different elements of my life, twined together!

        I hope tomorrow is a good day for you.

  3. It Makes me intrusting to share my story with my loved one. But still there are some things to which cannot share with anybody. I preferred to reserve this memories in personal dairy.

    • Hi jmsrathbun,
      I feel the same way. And there were times in my life when I didn’t feel I could trust anyone with my story, but luckily I had my journal and was able to express myself there.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  4. Wow what a fascinating and thought provoking post. The last time I sang was 2 weeks ago in a choir concert at the local theatre. Normally I sing every Friday and I love it. I can’t actually remember the last time I danced unless you count jigging about to HAPPY in the same concert!
    As for telling my story I too journal the bits that are too painful to blog! Monday night I stayed up most of the night writing out the latest instalment in tragedy that is my relationship with my brother.

    • Hi heavenhappens,
      Wow! I wish I could sing well enough to sing in a choir. I LOVE to sing but my voice is not great. But I sing anyway. In the car, in church, at home. I sing to my son all the time. He doesn’t seem to mind my voice. 🙂

      I agree, there are so many things I don’t blog about that go into my journal. I’d love to blog about some of the things I avoid, but if it involves another person I don’t think it’s right to tell their story without their permission, so into the journal it goes. I find it therapeutic. Sounds like you do, too.

      Best wishes!


    • Hi cecilia,
      I think of these questions all the time since I first heard them, many years ago. Sometimes I observe other people in my life and wonder to myself how they might answer those questions, even if I don’t feel I can ask them.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  5. Pingback: Writing, French TV, Dragon Age: Redemption and Links (Religion, Feminism, Writing) | Natacha Guyot

  6. Thank you for reminding me why I write in my journal. You are write when I don’t tell my story bad things are happening. Same when I am not singing or dancing.

    • Hi rosereads,
      It’s interesting to notice that, isn’t it? A few months after my son was born my husband asked if I wanted to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert. My response was, “No way!” That wasn’t a bad time but my son had some health issues and I was in mama bear mode. Now my response would be, “Heck, yes!”

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  7. Great story, I may reblog this. It’s funny how even if you ‘force’ yourself to see and dance, once you start you begin to enjoy it and feel happy.

    I started my journal back when I was in my first year of college and my English instructed suggested we start one if we didn’t already have one. I was about 30 at the time, married with two kids, but once I started I couldn’t stop. It is very therapeutic and it helped me get through my roughest times.

    • Hi CindySheaNH,
      I agree, once we get moving and singing, it always feels good. If you can’t enjoy it, I think that’s something to notice, too.

      My journal has been a real lifeline for me. The way you have expressed yourself, I feel the same way.

      Happy journaling!


  8. This is very true. To tell our story… and in doing so show that we believe it to be of value, in spending the time – whatever the outlet – to let it go free… is one of the deepest healing strategies I have found. I now do it through writing, especially in my poetry, and in finding the courage to just say some things out loud. Not doing this for years has led to physical manifestation of pain – a gift for me to go back and heal the old wounds, and set free the pain.
    Wonderful post. 🙂

  9. Thanks so much fellow life traveler for sharing. You articulated the importance of self expression. When I don”t sing, dance or write, it’s like denying my own soul.

  10. That was a thought-provoking post. It isn’t as if I haven’t thought of those three questions and also answered them–but regarding the first and last, not for awhile. I write daily, full-time, but I no longer journal at all as I felt as though it interfered with my writing. I used to daily jurnal and think we can benefit–I found that to be true during my career as a counselor for addicted and mentally ill clients. The same is true of telloing stories to others and singing/dancing–all very healing. When I completed my journals over five decades and felt “done” with the past, out they went!

  11. I think there is a 4 th question to this Native American questionnaire. It is:
    When was the last time you listened to someone else’s story?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s