There will be two posts this week. Both will explore the relationship between keeping a personal journal and therapeutic writing. The posts are for anyone thinking of starting a journal, or are already keeping a journal, and for those folk who wonder if writing a journal will help them work through troubled times.
Journal writing once sustained me through trials and triumphs, losses and gains, endings and new beginnings and the benefits of journal writing were confirmed when I researched therapeutic writing. Documenting what happens to us, and how we react to life, vouchsafes wisdom during the very process of collecting it.
Journal writing is therapeutic for many reasons; a journal is a personal chronicle, a record of who we are and what we believe. It is a kind of witness to how we unfold into selfhood but it also conserves precious moments of our children’s lives or transmits what we know of our parents and friends’ lives. This information can, should we wish, stand against a backdrop of political, social, national and international events.
There are different types of journals: learning journals or professional diaries monitor our career goals and how we plan, prepare and implement our dreams. The pages of these journals are charged with private reflections about our industry, colleagues, the firms we work for, workplace politics, our successes and mistakes and the clients we support.
Journals are a private form of a community commons: we yarn to ourselves about how we play and have fun, our sporting activities and the friends we share them with, our contribution to supporting the underprivileged and under-resourced.
Journals chart concerns about our health, how we lost weight, changed our eating habits, started exercising or playing sport. A journal reminds us of who helped us face the challenge of change and cheered us on when we stumbled.
Journals are the vessels that hold our fears when we face a health crisis, what we felt when we heard the diagnoses, how we endured the treatment and how our health impact on our family and friends. More importantly, a journal is where we can write ourselves back into wellbeing, where we describe what recuperation and recovery will feel like. We can record our gratitude in our journals, give thanks on the page for the family, the friends, the doctors and nurses and the medicine that helped us heal.
A journal celebrates love and the inner and outer dimensions of intimacy. It is where we describe, in ecstatic detail, our lover: what we did together; what happened when we lost our love; how the loss altered our ideas about those desperate, delightful and demanding emotions loving and being loved bring to our lives. Our journal is a repository of early drafts of the letters we sent to our love, and those that remained unsent. Pasting letters from lovers into our journal forever tethers them to our lives.
A journal is a storehouse of ‘what if?’, a place to stow ideas gathered from books, plays, movies and the web. It is a warehouse of quotations, insights and opinions, as well as illuminating conversations with friends that we want to keep and refer to again. Every morning our journal is where we workshop the nocturnal messages sent to us from the phantasmagoria that is our mind.
Our journals help us trace negative and positive patterns and habits, it where we weave the threads of meaning that help us transverse and transcend our ego. A journal is where we register our deepest fears, our anger, bitterness and remorse. It is the warm niche where our wisdom, like dough, can rise and prove. Our journal is where we imagine a descendent, years after we die, turning the pages of our journal, uncovering kernels of insights and weeping, or laughing, with us. This makes a journal the place where we dare dream our suffering and redemption might help another heal from what ails them.
Finally, journal writing nurtures our creativity. It is a cauldron into which we cast the elements of a story, poem or script, a crucible wherein we blend, meld and convert personal insights to images that will enchant the hearts of others.
Whether we bequeath our journals to the future or destroy them, our journals are a version of us. They represent a precious treasure that will, one day, be lost. Our journals, therefore, demand our full and mindful attention, they demand we be true to our self even if we hope, or fear, an inquisitive descendent may one day read our thoughts.
I will always be grateful for the time I spent writing my journals, but what if a journal is also a snare, if journal writing as therapy is a ruse keeping the unwary writer ambushed by their life and how they live it?
The books, websites, blogs and workshops that offer techniques and tips for journal writing insist it can enhance one’s well-being, so surely a blog about therapeutic writing would also claim journal writing is ‘good for us’?
Well, yes and no. Tomorrow’s post will discuss the other side of the story, the problems I believe can be caused by non-reflective journal writing.