I decided to change how my handwriting looked when I was around fifteen years old. I remember the moment vividly. One of my friends at school knew a guy who was into handwriting analysis and so she’d had her handwriting done for a laugh. I listened to the interpretation of her idiosyncratic scrawl during a morning break with great interest: a squiggle here meant this and a flourish of a certain length meant that.
My natural writing was quite long and flowing. I felt it was old fashioned and not à la mode; I preferred what I was hearing about what ‘boxy and bulbous’ meant, compared to the psychological profile that my natural scratching suggested.
The whole encounter got me thinking about what my handwriting said about me – and more importantly, whether I liked what a so-called expert, who had never met me, might say about me from looking at it. I therefore set about – quite determinedly – to create a new look for myself through my handwriting.
I practised for hours, perfecting something that I thought presented me in a more compelling fashion. I even asked my father which versions he thought more professional, thinking ahead to job applications and covering letters, in those days always written by hand, so people could assess you from your handwriting, as well as your content… sad, but true.What I came up with fitted the bill, looked good, on-trend, sophisticated, neat and in synch with the zeitgeist. So I just switched. Overnight. A conscious choice, requiring me to shift my hand position, quickly bringing with it a permanent callous I wore on my finger for years.
My natural writing had an angle to the right and it reflected the natural angle my hand lay in as it moved across the page. To make the shift was only a tiny degree or two away, but trying it now I can feel that my hand has to tense up to accommodate the position, my wrist locks and there’s a knock-on effect in my lower arm and right shoulder, such that my torso twists ever so slightly.
I felt nothing of this at fifteen years and continued writing this way for three decades, scribbling through university, through jobs, through meetings, courses and workshops – all in this adopted style. People liked my handwriting: it attracted praise and admiration. So I’d tell myself it had been a good decision. When computers came in and the amount of handwritten work declined considerably, the callous on my finger disappeared. Funny, that.
Soreness, though, became a regular feature. A niggle, but a feature. Writing for lengthy periods or at speed really put a strain on my arm and shoulder, but I totally disregarded it. That ever so slight angle change in my hand to accommodate the upright writing meant I was doing something that inherently altered my body’s natural flow and created related pressure in the front of my shoulder.
I developed a point of ongoing, intermittent soreness there, bad enough to be the subject of a couple of x-rays and specialist consultations over the years. But I never made the connection until now that perhaps the pain could have been introduced, enhanced or exacerbated by the continued daily ‘misuse’ of my natural bio-mechanical flow when writing.
I can’t possibly be sure, but what I do know is that whenever I would be taking notes in a fast-transcribe situation, the pain would come. Persistent, not too painful, so I would do a quick stretch and carry on. I would override it, in other words. It’s sad to think now that a momentary choice from a lack of confidence and appreciation of my own true essence as a teenager might have been the set-up for this future shoulder affliction.
Often when writing in this ‘rapid-transcribe mode’ and overriding the pain in an endeavour to capture every spoken morsel down on the page, my old natural sloping writing would kick back in at the point when the adopted form couldn’t keep up. An unconscious, automatic thing, but a default back to my original nonetheless, bringing more ease and flow, entirely legible afterwards, not looking like I’d just run the written marathon it had in fact been. I used to joke with myself that I had a split personality because it looked as if two entirely different people had been taking my notes.
The mere fact that I continued to use the adopted style, regardless of its limitations and disadvantages, was a reflection of just how much more important I held the outside assessment of my handwriting – and how people might judge me from it – and how I didn’t accept the natural, graceful flow that was my own exquisite representation of my true self.
I happened to be at a series of events over several days, scribbling away, and I clocked myself switching writing modes as usual whenever the pace picked up. But I also noticed a calmness come over my whole body. I felt totally aligned – ears and hand working in perfect harmony. It flowed, I caught what I wanted, it was legible, and at the end my hand, arm and shoulder did not feel abused or in any pain. Fascinated, I decided to continue using my natural, ‘original’ handwriting for the remaining days’ events. I found it easier on my arm and kinder to my body. My calmness continued, the flow remained and it began to dawn on me that I had missed a great trick here over the years.
I’ve now reverted back full time to my natural way of writing, out of choice and out of respect for my body. I’ve also accepted it as the true reflection of my personality and essence and can now appreciate the flourish and flair it brings to the page and the softness and grace it carries. I marvel that it’s always been there for me, a dormant part of myself that I denied, just waiting in the wings in case I ever wanted to pick it back up. It feels good and true when I am writing now. Gliding and not tense, not holding myself to be in a certain way. And my shoulder is pretty quiet too.
Handwriting is one of the ways we naturally express our unique essence and I can now appreciate it was my lack of self-acceptance and self-confidence at fifteen that led me to change my handwriting, to negate and devalue what was so individual to me, the true essence of me. I denied my true expression all those years.
I overrode the pain it brought to the part of my body that bore the brunt of an unnatural way, adopting instead an external stereotype that I hoped would do it all for me, when in fact ‘it’ was there all the time. All because of not feeling good enough, not accepting my own true amazingness and the unique way in which I express.
I now know that appreciating me for who I really am means I am supporting the natural flow of my body, not just in the way I write, but in all forms of expression. And any decisions I make to override my natural flow and my natural essence might just have a long-term impact on my body and its wellbeing. That brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘Go with the flow’ for me these days.
By Cathy Hackett