How Does Journaling Help?

There is, of course, a myriad of choices for support for the anxious person of today. Any Google search will give you a list of things to do, symptoms, prescribed and not-prescribed help. While no academic expert, I can give a story and some personal advice as to what kept me sane.

The journals I kept through High School

High school was far-and-away one of the most stressful experiences of my life, and not for the usual reasons. During the economic crash of 2008, my family lost our job and our house just before I started 9th grade. We lived in the homes of church families for a year.

The first house was with the Anderson family. Their family of six was accommodating and gave us spots within their house to sleep. My parents took the teenage girl’s basement bedroom, while she moved in with her littlest sister. The youngest boy slept with his parents and the middle daughter and I shared a room. My little brother set up a bed in the open basement. There we lived for three tension-filled months.

The four of us then moved in with a foster mom with experience in sharing her space. I shared with two daughters my age, my brother slept in their homeschool bedroom, and my parents took the master. The foster mom slept on the couch where she was already sleeping to keep an ear on the babies in the nursery. We shared that space with several foster kids in our nine months there. One was a small baby who had partially drowned and remained in a coma through her short month stay with us. One a twelve-year-old boy with severe autism and clubbed feet and hands.

Two babies came through that the foster mom adopted: a tiny baby with primordial dwarfism that looked like a doll, and a baby who was left in a hotel room and rolled off the bed, ending up with a severe brain bleed. The baby with dwarfism has since grown into an active girl who speaks using sign language, and the baby who had the brain bleed is now a prodigy elementary school boy.

Our divorced family was also going through some very personal drama, and all the while the undercurrent of stress about money lived in our minds. Meanwhile, I also turned 15 and was learning to cope with a measure of adulthood, feeling lonely beyond belief in my seemingly more mature problems and pretending it didn’t exist to family and friends. We moved out into a house my grandparents bought in 2009.

Luckily for me, just a week before we lost our house I was on a trip to Montana where I bought a composition notebook on an impulse and began to write everything that was going on during my day and my thoughts about it all. During that year of homelessness, I went through four notebooks. I rarely wrote about the real problems: hearing fights, wearing socks with holes in them because I didn’t want to be a burden, feeling like I was no matter what I did. I wrote about church drama. I wrote when I was scared or felt neglected. I learned to channel my energy to things that were easier to grasp. I’d write long soliloquys about the petty stuff and would graze over the big stuff, barely touching it.

I kept the habit up until 11th grade, when my loneliness threatened to overwhelm me and I felt that what used to be petty stuff had become big stuff. I was afraid that writing it all down would make me feel it more. I felt ostracized by my homeschooling and lost in the house we lived in. I had learned to bottle it up to keep from being a burden, so when I acted out, it always took everyone by surprise.

I now wish I had never stopped writing. Writing gave me a voice when I felt like I couldn’t talk. I’d complain about my roommates during homelessness and bemoan that I felt unworthy of friends or crushes, and it made me feel better to get it out to something that wouldn’t immediately say “That’s ridiculous, everything’s fine.” It felt like I could be me on the paper, even if I felt I couldn’t be me anywhere else. It’s a habit I’m trying to find again.

So this is me, 8 years later, trying again to get my feelings and myself down on paper. To stop feeling held back by what I “should” feel and just say how I really feel.

Here are some journaling prompts that I will use and I hope you’ll use them, too. Let me know how they go in the comments.

Journaling Prompts:

  • What happened today that made me feel sad?
  • What happened today that made me feel happy?
  • What parts of today did I have no control over?
  • What parts of the day did I mess up?
  • What do I really feel about what today was like and how would I rate it on a scale of 1-10?
  • Did today affect what I think of my future?
  • If I look back on today, will I feel like it was a good/bad day still?
  • Can I do anything about the situation I am in now?
  • What do I wish had turned out differently about today?
  • If I could make someone see one thing about how I really felt, what would I choose and how would it have changed anything?
  • If I could go back and change something about the day, what would I change?
  • If I was angry today, what do I wish I could have or would have said?

Stirring Up

What a week I’ve had… and it’s only Tuesday.

I have felt insanely anxious and on edge since the middle of last week, and I think it started with having to cancel on a friend and I’s walk on Thursday. I had completely forgotten that I was leaving work early for a DMV appointment and that I wouldn’t be able to walk with her at 5pm. Even now, I’m staring at the big red X on my planner across it and feeling that familiar pang of guilt.

I took on the troubles of a dear friend as if they were mine that same night. Then I forgot to call someone about an opportunity for writing. I skipped my workout on Friday, I forgot to listen to a podcast over the weekend, and I binged on cereal on Sunday.

My anxiety comes out as guilt (this is a new revelation for me). I blame myself for ev-er-y-thing. You can imagine how this last week has felt for me. Only now, my therapist has pointed it out. The glass has shattered, and now I see it.

Yesterday, I was overwhelming myself:

  • I pushed a walk with a friend to the weekend to give myself space and then she responded that she would be out of town for the weekend. Immediately, I felt guilty and rude for assuming she’d be free.
  • I left work at 5:02pm and felt guilty for leaving so quickly every day.
  • I realized that a friend and I haven’t talked for four months (since before quarantine) and felt guilty that I hadn’t reached out again (even though the last text was a question from me that she didn’t respond to).
  • I sent an email to the woman I was going to have that call with about writing and she never responded, so I felt guilty and stupid for forgetting to call last Friday.
  • I felt guilty that I asked my brother to do all the dishes when I knew about half of them were mine, but I had been feeling overwhelmed at the time.
  • I felt guilty and sick because of all the cereal I had eaten the day before.
  • I felt guilty that I was already imagining finishing the bag of pasta that I had made (which easily had three servings in it).
  • I berated myself for not apologizing to someone when I know I had nothing to apologize for.

On and on.

So I worked out yesterday, hard. Then I sat in the hot tub at the gym with my husband. I went home and ate the whole bag of pasta (because imagining myself doing it made me do it, I’m sure). I felt anxious and guilty so I took a hot bath, read a self-help book – and then tossed and turned in bed until almost 12:30am.

I finally sat up and told my husband that I was anxious. That all this stuff was getting stirred up and I didn’t know what to do. He asked what he could do and I realized that the dumbest thing was bothering me… my watch.

My Fitbit Versa 2 is a dream, I swear. I love it for my workouts, for my heartrate, for my steps… the problem was that it was at 20% battery. Meaning it had enough charge to last the next day, but it was close enough to dying that I kept thinking about it dying on me. The band was wrapped around my wrist and bothering me, but I knew I should wear it to track my sleep. I told my husband all of this, and he went and got the watch charger from the living room and put it by my bedside. I took the watch off and fell asleep in five minutes.

I found the best stock photo site, y’all. I have not been photogenic this week, so this is what you get. Lol

I can tell I have a long way to go. This stuff is so ingrained in me, and all this change is stirring it up, bringing all that gunk that’s been sitting at the bottom of my tank to the surface. Let’s hope I can siphon it out.

Do you guys experience this? That things get worse before they get better? Let me know in the comments here or on Instagram so I don’t feel so crazy!

The Tortoise Wins Again

Why must we learn the same lessons over and over again? Why do silly moral stories stay so important through generations? I’d say we just need reminding again and again.

When the heat of quarantine was going on, I remember seeing post after post about how we’d learn to slow down like we had been during quarantine and we’d learn to spend some time for ourselves, our hobbies, and our families. Yet, now, I feel I’ve filled my time and my capacity back to its limits – and I’m not the only one.

Life has done yet another number on my family. While we figure out our finances and make plans for the future, I’ve left my blog and my Instagram nearly to rot. See, I’m doing that thing I always do – trying to make Superman leaps and bounds instead of little pieces at a time. I’m trying to grow a community on Instagram in a few weeks, I’m trying to make myself write a personal blog once or twice a week!

It’s a constant flaw of mine to try and go the entire distance as quickly as possible. See, I tell my bosses this – but I expect such perfection out of myself that it comes off like I can’t take correction from my bosses. Truly, it’s that I can’t take the correction because I expect my first try to be the only try. This is an anxious flaw of mine (probably tied to the way I manifest my 2-ness and how I think I need to earn love and respect).

So a blog and an Instagram? I wanted everything to be perfect right from the start.

So here’s to breathing and scaling back. Learning that not everything has to be perfect right away. That only half a pound of difference is okay. That meditating only once a week is okay. That posting only once every 2 or 3 days is okay. That making a blog only once every week or two is okay.

Yes, I know scaling back means that progress and growth will happen at a slower rate, but to be honest, I know myself by now. If I don’t take it slow, then it won’t happen at all. So if I have to choose between inching-by progress and not changing at all, I choose the tortoise.

So deep breath, my friends. Keep your head up. Remember to forgive yourself for mistakes. Remember that small changes are better than none. Remember that life isn’t always going to go the way you imagined it. Remember that everything really will turn out okay.

Onto the second half of 2020, what do y’all think?

Shoot me an email if this speaks to you, or comment and let me know what techniques you use on your perfection to allow yourself space. How do you keep margin in your life?

You Are Your Own Charge

Sometimes I feel like I’m babysitting myself.

“Jessica, remember to wash your face again before bed.” “Jessica, you have to go workout, it’s good for you, you feel better when you do it.” “Jessica, there isn’t time to play a game of Apex, you need to prep some food so you don’t run out of time tomorrow.” “Jessica, you’ve been doing so good today, don’t mess it up.” “Jessica, you can have that avocado toast but that is it until tomorrow.”

It’s exhausting! I feel like I hardly have any time to just relax and enjoy myself. I keep telling these coaches who reach out on Instagram that all I want is for healthy Jessica to be normal Jessica, and that process of change is so stinking hard. I feel like I’m constantly trying to put myself back on the right path.

Lenexa City Center – pretending that being out of focus is trendy.

One of my favorite lines in Bojack Horseman (y’all that show is a miracle, you gotta watch it) is when this runner passes by the titular character and stops to help him up. He says,

“It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part… but it does get easier.”

Bojack Horseman

I feel like I might need this engraved on my skin… or you know, a watch or something.

Being Intentional

Something I’m finding is that when my margin gets smaller, I have to be more and more intentional about what I do with the rest of my time. If I don’t use it on purpose, then it will get used, but heck-if-I-know what I did. I’ve started to plan my days and my weekends with purpose so I don’t lose the time or spend it wishing to dive head first into a half-gallon of Blue Bell.

Being intentional keeps me from going buck-wild when I have a good reason. If friends are coming over, I put out both chips for them and carrot sticks for me. You’ve gotta plan ahead or there would be no carrot sticks and someone would have to rip that bag of chips out of my hands.

Ready-Made Fun

When you’re babysitting, it can sometimes be helpful to have a go-bag. If you bring coloring books and paint and hula hoops, with a game or two up your sleeve, you can usually avoid cries of boredom (which leads to whining or fighting, usually). When I get bored, I eat. Hence, I should treat myself like a small child and have ready-to-go fun.

Here are some of the things I try to make sure are always have in my go-bag for when I’m bored:

  • A spare canvas or two and paints.
  • Crocheting
  • Bubble Bath and/or Bath Bombs
  • Nail kits
  • A game on my phone I like at least a little
  • A book I have been meaning to read
  • My walking shoes
  • A swimsuit
  • A DIY project I’ve been meaning to get to.
  • Coloring Books & Nice Markers
  • A polaroid camera

Understand that you are in charge. While a disorder or mental health can get in the way, you can always control how you react. React well. Babysit yourself. Be prepared and know your triggers. It’s so important.

Much love as always, and thanks for reading!

When It’s All Too Much?

Written June 2020

I like to think I’m a lot stronger or better or braver than I am. I heard once that we always expect our “tomorrow” selves to do much better than we do today. We expect higher motivation and generally assume that after a night’s rest, we’ll be doing great. Kind of reminds me how it seems like every 20 year old my age is constantly saying “Well, after this one crazy week, everything should slow down.” It doesn’t. It never does.

I expect myself to be more in the mood to workout tomorrow. I assume that after the bowls of cereal I had tonight, that tomorrow I’ll be ready to eat nothing but Kale and pineapples. When someone asks me to do something in a week, I always assume I’ll be ready to hang out with people by then.

I also like to think that I am more in the know than I believe, or that I am tougher than I look. I like to say to myself, “Well, when it comes down to something real, I’ll have the balls to deal with it.” To be honest, after the week I had last week, I’m starting to think I relate more to quitters.

Last week was tumultuous for all of us. We all are slowly coming out of our homes again like Punxsutawney Phil, testing our shadow for COVID’s end. Then we saw some terrible things in the news. We saw some of our population rise up in outrage, and we saw movements begin. We saw all-black instagram posts, and then all of a sudden, we saw Facebook posts. THOSE Facebook posts.

Remember how I thought I was stronger?

On Wednesday, I began experiencing anxiety attack symptoms. I was starting to lose focus, lose sleep, and I had spinning thoughts I couldn’t control. By Friday, I had a tension headache the stretched down my shoulders, tremors I couldn’t control, was dizzy, couldn’t eat, and was sweating profusely. I left work early saying “sick,” because I didn’t know how else to explain what was happening.

This weekend, I deleted Facebook from my phone. I deleted Twitter from my phone. I took a break from it all because I felt like I was losing control.

I hope this is communicated clearly: I believe strongly in the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe that my reprieve from posting on Instagram was important because people need to hear the voices that have been ignored. No one needed to see a post about my Pumpkin Lasagna Rolls this week, they needed to hear and be uncomfortable and it needs to continue happening.

Please understand that as I continue my blog, my self care, and the accountability of making posts on Instagram, I am not ignoring the situation. I am still here for all who need to be heard/seen/understood. I am still signing petitions, donating, and keeping up in the news.

Distractions Needed?

I think we all could use some anxiety-deflecting techniques. As I prepare to go into the fray of another week, I have compiled a list of some calming techniques. Here’s some of the one’s I’ve been doing just this weekend to calm down:

  • Long walks
  • Going to the pool/gym
  • Painting
  • Writing
  • Cleaning
  • Video Games
  • Baking
  • Cooking
  • Inviting friends over
  • Dungeons & Dragons (make fun, I have no pride)
  • Cleaning
  • Taking a bath
  • Coloring
  • Petting/Playing with my cat
  • Painting my nails
  • Getting a smoothie
  • Going on a drive
  • Cleaning (seriously cleaning makes me feel more in control than anything)

Here are a couple of other quick resources with techniques for calming.

18 Ways to Distract from Anxiety

Distraction Techniques for Panic Disorder

12 Ways to Calm Anxiety

15 Ways to Calm Yourself Down

Tips to Manage Anxiety & Stress

The world doesn’t seem to be “getting back to normal” any time soon, but it could be for the best. Let’s continue to fight the good fight, but don’t forget to take care of yourself as well as your neighbor. Remember, put on your own mask before helping others put on theirs.

Love you all, wish you the very best.

Don’t forget to see the Black Lives Matter movement website, here.