When I was a schoolgirl, my favorite part of a new school year was opening a brand-new notebook. The white pages were a blank canvas I couldn’t wait to fill.
Every year, I did my best to keep my notebook perfect. I didn’t want a single scratch out. But inevitably, I always made a mistake, and it blemished my beautiful white canvas.
I feel the same way about journals. Through the years, I have purchased journals in all shapes and sizes. Whenever I purchase a new journal, I still have the same feeling of excitement when I open it and look at that first blank page.
That first blank page is a new beginning waiting for me to fill in the words of my story. But just like my notebook at school, something always tarnishes my new beginning. Life becomes complicated, so I toss the journal aside.
When Complications Arise
One of two things always happens when complications arise. I either toss the journal in the trash—so I don’t have to remember the hard parts of my life—or I put it on a shelf.
If you searched my house, you would find five or six partially used journals, and frayed, torn-out pages of journals shoved into other journals.
Pathetic, huh? But when you live with mental illness, there are always difficulties and detours in life. It is easier to tear out the pages and throw them in the trash than to push through and keep writing my story with all its highs and lows.
A few years ago, my husband bought me a beautiful leather-bound refillable journal monogrammed with my nickname. Once you fill the notebook, you remove it and insert a new one.
It was such a thoughtful gift that I didn’t want to treat it as cavalierly as I did my other journals. I have actually filled up several of the notebooks, and I haven’t thrown a single one away. That’s progress!
But I still have the same problem. I faithfully write in the journal for a while and then something happens, or I lose interest, so my beautiful leather-bound journal ends up underneath a stack of books.
If you follow my blog, you already know that I hate traditional therapy. Sharing my innermost thoughts while a therapist silently takes notes leaves me cold. And yet I know therapy is a vital part of managing mental illness.
Journaling is therapeutic. Putting words to your feelings brings clarity to your life. It takes the thoughts out of your head and onto the paper—releasing the power those thoughts hold over you.
But what good does it do for me to journal if I am not willing to chronicle the truth of my life—even the ugliest parts? Journaling is still therapeutic in that moment, but it loses its power as soon as I crumple up the pages and throw them in the trash.
No matter how committed you are, life will always get in the way and you might give up on journaling before it produces a positive impact on your life.
Here are five therapeutic benefits of consistent journaling:
1. Journaling takes your anxious thoughts out of your head, so they lose the power to hurt you.
When you live with mental illness, you often have and an overabundance of thoughts and emotions. There are moments when the thoughts threaten to lock you out of your own mind. You feel the walls of your mind closing in on you, and the troubling, unwanted thoughts lead to fear and worry.
That is the time to pull out your trusty journal and chronicle your most anxious thoughts. A curious thing happens when you take those thoughts out of your mind and put them in writing. It releases you from their control. When you shine a light on those anxious thoughts, they lose the power to hurt you.
2. Journals are a safe place where you can be honest with yourself without fear of ridicule, rejection or judgment.
With even my closest friends, there are pieces of myself that I withhold for fear of ridicule, rejection and judgment. When you live with mental illness, there is always the thought you are too much or not enough. Can you relate?
Your journal is a safe place where you can be your authentic self. It is a place where you are free to be unapologetically yourself. You don’t have to pretend, and if you find out you don’t like who you are, you can take the steps needed to change.
3. Consistent journaling helps identify problematic patterns of behavior.
Journals are a place where you can look unflinchingly at your truth. Your journal may reveal patterns of behavior.
I have thrown away many journals, but the ones I kept all show a theme of recurring behavior. I always write about the same three things: my unhappiness with my weight, my relationship issues, and my unfulfilled writing ambitions.
Recognizing those patterns of behavior over time can help you break the cycle if you dig deep and do the work. Continue chronicling the journey, so you can be proud when you break the chains of unhealthy behavior that stop you from moving forward in life.
4. You can look back at your journals and remind yourself of your victories.
Over the years I have learned that putting one foot in front of the other is the surest way to get to the other side of a problematic season of life. But there is an inclination to not chronicle the most painful stages of your journey—especially when you are managing mental illness.
Resist the impulse to leave the pages blank in your journal during your most challenging episodes. Instead, write honestly about them. Document the whole ugly truth.
Years later—when you have survived the worst—you can look back in your journal and recognize how resilient you are. You realize if you endured that difficult season, you can get through another one.
5. Journaling helps you cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
When you are mentally ill, cultivating a positive attitude is challenging. Mental illness often comes with a side of pessimism, which is understandable.
On your bleakest days, pull out your journal and write about every positive thing in your life—no matter how big or small. Write about your pet, your favorite book, a treasured keepsake or a song that moves you.
Putting what is right on paper helps you look beyond what is wrong. It comforts you and encourages you to continue on when you are weary.
Setting a Realistic Goal
Journaling consistently does not mean spending an hour every day writing about the truth of your life. While that would be beneficial, it is not a realistic timeframe for most people—myself included.
Start with a small achievable goal. A great starting point would be to pencil in one block of time a week to sit down and journal. I have chosen Monday as my day to reflect on my life and plan for my future.
Journaling is a conversation with yourself, so your journal can be whatever you want it to be—a place to chronicle your triumphs and failures, share your prayer requests with God, set goals or remind yourself what is right in your world.
Are you ready to commit to consistent journaling? In the comments, share what you hope to achieve from journaling and how much time you will devote to journaling each week.