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?

Creativity and Anxiety

High School Journals, starting June 22, 2009.

Say hello to my sanity from High School. These journals are filled with tears, with ripped pages, with pen and pencil, with history, with frustrations, with pretending, with texts, with passed notes… and so much more.

My first journal started when I was about to be a freshman. I had gone on a mission trip to Montana and was in a small town writing about the stars and how they made me feel small. I wrote about how home didn’t feel real when I was out there, and while I knew there was drama going on, I didn’t have to be apart of it there. I wanted to stay there forever and escape it all and I wrote and wrote about that.

Then about an hour later, a friend had some drama about a boy that we both liked and I had to write about that. Then the rest of the mission trip (and hence the journal for that week) was filled with petty B.S. – focus on boys and girl drama. A game of hot seat. Seating in the car rides. Just goofy stuff.

Then I got home and *ish* hit the fan. Family drama and fights that happened while I was gone. In the aftermath of 2008, my step-dad had lost his job. We were evicted around a week later and lived with a family from our church for three months. When those three months had finished, we moved in with another family from our church, a foster mom and her adopted kids – running the total number of people in her house to 12. I turned 15 while we were in that house.

It’s hard to talk about that time because there were some fun days, and it wasn’t all terrible. It’s also hard to talk about without feeling ungrateful or feeling like I’m airing dirty laundry. The screaming fighting of our family (and families), the tears, the constant fear, the anger I still harbor… it’s all almost too fresh to talk about. I dreaded going home. I hated being around the people in that house. I hid in the closet more than once. The one month where I self-harmed was in my most desperate time of living there.

On top of the fear, the lack of security, feeling the need to be strong for my parents, and so on – I was 14, going on 15. I had enough struggles just figuring out my place. Figuring out how to be a friend, how to like boys. I had some of the most serious family struggles among my friends, who had no idea how to talk to me about them. So I ignored them with my friends. I focused on whatever boy I liked at the time or the drama that my friends were having with the “other side” of the youth group. I know at times I came off boy-crazy or obsessed (sorry about that, by the way!), but it was my coping mechanism. I pretended. It was the only way I knew how to survive.

What got me through the hardest year of my life and the hardest years of growing up were these journals. For perspective, 3 and 1/2 of the 8 composition notebooks I used as journals I made in high school, covered that one year.

More than once I would cover pages in scribbles, incoherent rambling, or screams.

When I went to college, I started seeing the on-campus therapist. I originally went because I had learned some new information about my dad who had passed when I was 10. The new information had messed with the image I had of him so much that I felt like I was re-grieving, bursting into tears at the oddest moments for example, and I needed someone to process with. However, the experience, of course, became much more than just about my father.

We talked about growing up and the loneliness I had. We talked about the insecurity of my age in high school and the need to hide the problems I was having. Sometimes I would tell her things that would make her eyes go wide. She would marvel and say a comment like, “I’m impressed you are who you are today.” Eventually, I mentioned the journals. She dug in, and asked how many, how often.

Everything seemed to click for her. “Those journals might have saved your life,” she said. Then she told me the importance of a safe space where you feel you can be yourself, even if no one reads it. Even if you are completely vulnerable and it’s embarrassing to read later, the honesty can be so cathartic. What was hidden and unknown and unclear… is now on paper and can be judged to be serious or not immediately.

A friend of mine has been super encouraging through the last month of starting this blog and the Instagram. She sent me a message today reminding me that being as raw and real as I am is important because people need to know they aren’t alone. Even if it comes off like you’re looking for sympathy or if it’s a little **too** real sometimes, it’s important.

Both she and a reader/commenter on a previous post agree: writing is good for us. you can diminish the fear of the thing. You can see an old thought pattern and change it. If you publicly blog, you get the feedback, the reminder that you’re not alone. Just knowing there is someone out there who might be reading what you’re writing can be comforting by itself.

A writing/drawing space in my house, with a sneak-peek kitty in the hallway.

And if writing isn’t your thing? That’s okay. There are so many other ways to be real, to release emotions in a positive way. Something I did in college was doodle – I would cover full pages with doodles and really try to find the right symbol or shape to express an emotion. I then covered the pencil in sharpie as a focus technique. I would make sharp lines to express anger or passion, and swirls for confusion. Curling shapes took the place of thinking and pondering. I took peace in knowing the pages meant nothing to anyone else.

Most here are from January 2015.

I also sometimes use crafting as a way to simply ignore the world. The world fades away during a DIY. You spend too much time considering how a thing looks or what to do next to ponder and sink. Sometimes all we need is a distraction.

Whatever you choose to do to cope with the world around us, make it a healthy habit. Scribbling can be a healthy habit. Crafting can be. Painting… building a house. Drawing. All of these are habits that let you feel like something is being created. Something is coming into form. Don’t let your life waste away while you cope with the problems around you.

Feels a bit hypocritical, coming from the girl who ate two bowls of cereal after a stressful day at work this week. I have not learned this lesson. But I am trying to take my own advice.

Love y’all. Hope this finds you well. Thanks for reading.

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