Numb is Not the Opposite of Pain
: Ways in which creative writing can help to reintegrate a disconnected sense of self

  • Eve Darwood

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the themes of connection and disconnection through a memoir, Numb is
Not the Opposite of Pain, and a critical-reflective commentary. Drawing upon theories of
shame, trauma and narrative structure, I explore and reflect on my own creative and critical
practice-based research.
My process involved:
❖ The development of a creative nonfiction memoir which narrates the use of emotional
numbing to cope with both family trauma and the somatic numbness that is a
symptom of multiple sclerosis.
❖ Reflections on my process, through private journaling and dialogue with others.
❖ Reading of creative and critical texts.
Using the themes of connection and disconnection to narrate multiple strands of lived
experience, my creative work challenges illness narratives in which, too often, one single
story of experience is explored. It offers a narrative which encompasses both illness and
trauma, seeking to create connection between seemingly disparate life events by threading
them together cohesively, but without succumbing to a neat resolution.
My critical work builds upon research in ‘expressive writing’ (Pennebaker and Beall, 1986) to
suggest that writing can bring about emotional, cognitive, social and physical benefits. It
explores how writing helped me to move from a fragmentary to a more cohesive form and
from disconnected to reconnected experience. It argues that creative writing can create an
opportunity to safely disconnect from difficult experiences and then to gradually reconnect
with them in new ways.
I conclude that fragmenting experience through writing can be a helpful step in being made
whole again.
Date of Award7 May 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorSophie Nicholls (Supervisor) & Jenna Clake (Supervisor)

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