"Write it down," I tell them. "Get yourself a journal, a notebook or a napkin, if that's all you can afford, and get that stuff out of your head."
Write it down.
It's what I've been doing since I was a little girl. I've kept a journal since long before junior high school. I think I developed the habit in 4th grade. That was the year my teacher had us write our own life story. It was, essentially, my very first book. Not like the real one I have coming out this year, but it was a compilation of my thoughts and dreams. I still have a copy of it.
In junior high, I kept journals to deal with some tough stuff going on at home. Later, when I married the first time, my then-husband made me throw them all out. I couldn't tell you why, other than he must have felt threatened by them. I had made mention of my first boyfriend in them; I was 12, for goodness sakes. But, since that was only four years earlier, I guess, in his mind, it was a threat. Out they went. I remember telling him in tears, "Fine! You can make me throw these out, but you can't erase my memories." I was heartbroken. The written word has always been important in my world.
For a while afterward, I stopped keeping journals. I wrote poetry, instead. It's sort of the same. My poems were just shortened versions of my thoughts and fears. Since I married young--I was still in high school--I could tell him that I was doing homework. It really helped to have a way and a place to express thoughts that made me feel too vulnerable to share with anyone out loud. When I was 21, we divorced, and I resumed my journal writing habit. I felt empowered by the process, and I needed the mental escape.
That's why I suggest it to anyone I think might find this writing process beneficial, no matter the stressor. Journal writing, or journaling, as it's sometimes called, offers the writer the opportunity to build on three things:
- your creativity.
- your spirituality.
- your inner wisdom.
In my view, it's another way to find your BIKE. As you write down your thoughts, you begin to develop an awareness. The words on paper challenge you to seek solutions. All you have to do is keep writing regularly and trust in the process.
I have kept travel journals, food journals, journals where I did nothing more than doodle, and diaries where I wrote about all that was wrong in my world at the time. I especially relied on my journals after my second husband died; we'd only been married 7 weeks. And when my third husband left me for his secretary, I not only rode my bike but I wrote in my journal daily to deal. Nowadays, I especially like to keep a thankful journal. That's the one where nothing goes on the page except passages that describe what I'm thankful for--I do this especially when I'm NOT feeling very grateful. Then, it's just a matter of days before my attitude relaxes. Journaling is a very healthy way to squash mental anguish.
After suggesting this coping mechanism, I'll often hear, "But I don't know how to write like that." Even writers will say this. Well, the good news is you don't have to know. There's nothing to it. It's just like in a college composition class where you learned free writing. That's all it is. Just stream of consciousness writing. Put down whatever's on your mind. It doesn't have to make sense or be in compete sentences. There are no rules, though, Julia Cameron, one of the more famous advocates of journal writing (She calls it writing in your Morning Pages.), suggests doing the exercise first thing in the morning. Still, if you're really in turmoil, I wouldn't skip it just because it's already afternoon.
If you're at all resistant, look for a journal writing class. I've seen them listed in almost every city I've ever visited. I bet you can find one near you. Check with your local community center or college.
Before you know it, you'll see things more clearly, find the solutions to your problems, and become an advocate yourself.
What do you think? Do you journal? Tell us your story. We'd love to read it.