I’ve been journaling since I was a child. Many years ago, when my mom was still alive and living with my stepfather, they had a box of my old journals in their garage, from when I was teenager. I had this one journal whose cover was Matisse’s Nu Bleu II, from when I was about thirteen.
I was appalled when I reread that journal as an adult. I’d had it with me when I was a homeless runaway, and it was filled with self-loathing and self-hatred; notes about how ugly I was, how I didn’t deserve good things, and so much (warranted) anger towards my mom and stepfather.
Yet I know now how healthy it is that my journals were filled with so much despair. Those words, and the act of writing them, probably kept me alive. It’s not that writing them made it all better— it didn’t. But the act of writing them externalized my feelings, and writing was the only safe way I could express myself. I wasn’t allowed to express my feelings to my mom and stepdad without the threat of violence, and in many ways I couldn’t fully understand my feelings until I wrote them down.
Today, I journal most mornings. I’ve read the journals of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath and many other writers I admire, and I have to say, my journals are not like those. I don’t often write about literature or films or art, although sometimes I do. I write the things I cannot say out loud, and getting them on the page allows me to gather myself up into one container, so I can see what’s there.
Recently, I’ve been confronted with a living situation that’s turned toxic. There’s a dynamic that’s recognizable to me, and yet I’ve found myself drawn into a loop requiring an excessive amount of energy. I’ve had to stop expressing my feelings in order to keep myself safe, and that’s caused a relapse of my eating disorder. All of it was so unexpected— I moved in and there were immediately issues. When I tried to address them, I was met with defensiveness and anger.
Through it all, I’ve journaled. When I was gaslit about my experiences, I could refer back to my journal and confirm my memories for myself, even though I knew I’d never be able to convince my roommate of my experiences. Along with my friends and my therapist, my journal has been here to receive my words without judgement. My writing has been frustratingly circular, combing over events and conflicts in the hopes of understanding the true dynamic, and how I can make thing better.
Recently, I have stopped asking myself how I can improve or resolve things, and instead I’ve asked myself: how can I take care of myself in the midst of all this? How can I prioritize my comfort instead of the comfort of others?
My journal receives it all, and reflects me back to myself so I can see things clearly. I am not here to hold anyone responsible for anything. I can’t make the invisible visible for someone else. But I can look in my own mirror and ask myself: what is there to learn here? How can I grow from this? Where do my boundaries need reinforcement, and where can they be more flexible?
“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” -The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
So, I am moving again. For a moment, I thought I would leave the entire program, and Tallahassee. But I realized that was my limbic system speaking. I am moving into a plain apartment that’s a little more than I can afford, and I will be broke over the holidays because of it. I will pack all my things again, months after packing them before, and in the midst of revising my book and all the other things pulling my attention.
To think of it all at once is overwhelming. But to write about it in my journal makes it surmountable.
It doesn’t matter what kind of apartment it is, as long as it is my own, and I don’t have to care for anyone who doesn’t care for me.
And now I can think of the mornings I will wake up, with Edna meowing for her wet food, and making my smoothie and coffee and sitting at my desk and writing in my journal about whatever I want, without worrying about someone else’s emotional or physical mess.
The journal I use right now, an Apica C.D. Notebook, has the softest pages, and folds flat on my desk. I wrote in it first thing this morning, in the living-room, as I have the house to myself this week. And in writing, I let everything drift out of me and cohere into something I can let go, and release.
Do you journal? If so, what’s your journaling schedule like? And what kind of journal do you use? Tell me in the comments.
I dabbled in journaling as a teenager, but when my alcoholic dad found and read from it before he beat me, that was the end of that project! Fast-forward to prison - I was 44 years old and spent 240 days locked up. With nothing more than a pencil, I started journaling as soon as I hustled some paper. I created a calendar, wrote a 15K-word book outline, corresponded with loved ones, and wrote down all the shit that happened to me. Upon release, I promptly stuck it under the bed. 3 beds in 3 different houses over 12 years. I was emotionally overwhelmed when I finally pulled it out and read the contents. Reading words that sound as if written by an entirely different human being. I love your vulnerability and had no inkling when I woke up today that I would find comfort in some formerly painful memories.
Thank you for sharing,
So many studies on journaling for pain reprocessing and rewiring the mind. Psychologically speaking...Expressive writing is an exercise that creates this needed space. It creates an awareness of your thoughts, positive or negative, and separates you from them. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated in many research studies.
Associating thoughts with physical sensations forms new neurological connections.
Writing down thoughts creates a space between you and your thoughts on the paper
Your brain associates that space with vision and feel.
You have physically separated from your thoughts.