When I was a kid, about eight or nine, my nan gave me my first diary. A simple weekly spread to manage the supposedly hectic life of a primary school pupil. I began to use it as a way of documenting the little things I had done during the day; woke up, brushed my teeth, watched Pokemon, annoyed little sister etc. I kept things very simple. As I grew up my diary morphed, changed. It grew with me. As I became a teenager dealing with my parents separation, puberty, first ‘loves’ and being unpopular at school, my diary became incredibly important to me. I took it everywhere. As a teen I was so angry at the world and writing all of that down helped me to process my emotions. Of course, this didn’t suddenly make me a better person. I was still a terrible daughter, sister, friend but slightly less so. I felt so very alone growing up, as I am sure we all did but my diary was the only thing I could be truly honest with. I would pour my heart out to it. No holds barred. The great thing was, it never judged me.
As I ventured into adulthood, as I began my journey into serious relationships and discovered my own ideas of womanhood, my diary changed again. I started to include pictures, memories. Growing up my diary was a place to vent, rant, a place to be angry and sad. Now it had become a place of love and happiness. I had made it a document of the good times. Naturally, being only eighteen/nineteen it didn’t last long. Yet I knew that when I was in a better place, it would be something I could look back at with a smile.
Move into my early twenties and my diary (now a proper notebook, with lined pages and referred to as a journal because that’s more grown up) it went through one of its darkest phases. The anger I had felt as a teenager was nothing compared to what was happening to my mind at this point. I had gone from updating it a few times a week to writing in it daily, sometimes several times a day. I would write page after page about how low I was, what (or who) was causing it. It was a very negative place. I knew this would not be a thing that I would want to look back on. It often took me into a darker place as I became overwhelmed with emotions and as I processed the person I was becoming, hurtful, unfaithful, nasty. I no longer recognised myself. However, being able to express myself through writing, during this darkest phase is probably what saved my life.
The journey to recovery was not easy. It took years. A part of that recovery was during an emotionally abusive relationship where I allowed him to strip me back, to break me down and uncover this horrible woman I had become until I was no longer that person and unfortunately, I was no longer a version of me that I recognised. Despite of all that, it was writing at this point which allowed me to re-evaluate who I was and who I wanted to be. At my lowest point, it was my diary that was my salvation.
Then I met my hubby, my light at the end of the tunnel, my knight in shining armour. It wasn’t long before I didn’t need to write things down. I didn’t feel like I needed to furiously scribble down every emotion or vet the things I wanted to say. I could be myself again. Slowly (although he may not realise it) he allowed me to rebuild myself as the person I am today. After a while, I no longer needed the diary and I stopped writing. This isn’t a negative thing. Not needing to write has been refreshing after so long. I still write today but not because I need to. I write because I want to. I write to keep myself and my family organised and to process events out of my control. I write to vent things around the world that upset me but it is no longer so personal. But why did I start in the first place? Why did I feel that need, the need that at points felt so desperate? Personally, I think it was out of frustration, desperation and possible even self-preservation. To save my sanity, to minimise damage.
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” – Oscar Wilde
Keeping a diary or a journal to document the good, bad and the ugly is no new thing. As early as human kind could write, they would document their daily life, the things they had learnt, seen, done etc. There is research from the University of Lancaster that suggests keeping a journal of your experiences can help keep your mind healthier as you get older. Expressive writing can be a way to get a clear perspective as you take time to reflect on something. It stops to obsessive loops we can get ourselves into when dealing with negative situations. It can make us happier and more successful. With this in mind I have come up with some of the benefits of keeping a journal and why you should be using expressive writing to help improve your mental well-being.
1. It Doesn’t Have to be Articulate:
It doesn’t matter if the spellings are correct or the grammar is perfect. Nobody is going to read it but you, and even you don’t have to read it once you’ve finished it. It doesn’t have to even make sense so long as it allows you to deal with things in your own time. You could try making a mind map if that helps you.
2. Offload the Negative:
You can use it as a brain dump, a way to empty out all of the negative stuff we have to deal with on a daily basis. You are quite literally just offloading some of the things that you either don’t have time to deal with or the things that need more of your attention. You can write the basics down for now and move on. Come back to it when you are ready to deal with it.
3. No Regrets:
Too often do we react on impulse to a negative situation and too often do we fell like crap after. We know we have said things we now regret and we continue to let the loop go round and round in our head. By writing it down, you can say all the things that are bothering you without fear of repercussion and free from the worry of upsetting someone. Once you have all of that out of your system you have time to re-evaluate the situation and approach it in a calm manner. Pouring your heart out on paper can help you to form rational responses to negativity.
4. Don’t Just Focus on the Negative:
The process of writing things down, doesn’t have to be solely about the negativity in your life. I use a bullet journal to not only help organise my life but to help me regain control. Yes, there are times when you need to offload the negative but there are also times when you need to remind yourself of the positive. I have often kept a page in my journal to help me focus on the things I am thankful for and keeping a gratitude log is a great way to help you can a little perspective. I made a page about all the things I love about my husband so that I can focus on that when he is driving me mad.
5. Change a Habit of a Lifetime:
You can use your journal as a way to help change some of those habits which are leading to these negative emotions. Tracking habits and moods allows you to see what it is holding you back and means you can find ways to help you move on. Whether you are tracking how many times in a month you have exercised or how many days you have felt sad, you will be able to see what is happening and hopefully address any triggers.
6. Achieve your Goals:
By using a tracker like above, you can begin to work on achieving your goals. Documenting what you want to achieve, whether it be today, this week, this year or even in your lifetime is a great way to help you to actually achieve your goals. Writing the goals down makes them real and thus you feel more accountable for them. Achieving the goals you set yourself allows you to feel more successful, no matter how small the goal was.
7. Unleash your Creative Side:
Writing of any kind is a creative outlet, but why stop there? Using a bullet journal is not just a better way to get organised or even to improve your mental health but it is a great way to brush up on other creative skills. I am not just talking about our drawing or painting etc. We also begin to learn a more creative approach to dealing with the pain, disappointment and difficult relationships. Plus you can have a good doodle.
8. Because it Feels Good:
Using expressive writing to help us process life can really make us happier and achieve positivity in our lives. As we go on this journey of self-discovery we can begin our personal transformation. We can manage stress better, we have a feeling of fullfilment. The less stressed we are, the happier we are. The happier we are, the better our mental health is. The better our mental health, the more successful we can be. It sounds quite obvious when you put it like that.
I am by no means an expert on this topic. I am merely sharing what has worked for me in the hope that it can help you. We all know that improving our mental health in todays often chaotic and stressful world is so important. If you ever feel like life is just too much to bare please remember that there are a number of channels out there willing to help you through the dark days. You are not alone. Nor do you have to suffer alone.
If you have any other tips to help with expressive writing or keeping a journal, or if you have used this method to help you during a difficult time, let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading,
Peace and Love