For many years now I have kept a daily journal, as so many of us do.
Sometimes I wonder what it is all for. All these notebooks lying around gathering dust.
They have travelled with me from home to home. One time I had a massive bonfire and burned a load of them, most where only half filled but some, as I look back now, where full of my thoughts and dreams and drawings and memories. Was I wrong to burn them?
Journalling has always been my secret escape into myself. It sets me on a journey beyond time and place. I enter another world that is not visible to anyone else. The words sometimes just come tumbling out at other times they have to be teased, coaxed, demanded. It is always an adventure into the unknown.
I have often wondered about this need to put things down in writing that only I ever see. Everyday, more or less, I sit in front of the blank page and let go and write. I have imagined a great novel emerging out of the plethora of syllables, but no, just my thoughts, my feelings, my hopes etc. What is the point of it all? Does there need to be a point? Can the exercise itself have its own purpose?
“I don’t want to live a hand-me-down world of others’ experiences. I want to write about me, my discoveries, my fears, my feelings about me.” (Helen Keller).
So why do we write? Why do we keep journals? some are about storing memories, some are a way of making sense of our feelings, some are the record of events. My mother kept a daily journal full of our appointments to dentists and doctors etc. She wrote about her world of family, shopping on a budget, little things we may have said to her, telephone calls when we had left home, dates of special events. All the minutiae of life through the 50’s/60’s/70’s/80’s/90’s. Even as she became weaker and her Parkinsons’ disease made it harder to write she would jot things down in a little notebook she kept in her bag. Writing was important to her, I think it made her feel that she existed, it gave her a focal point something to look back at and know that she had lived.
Freud recognised the importance of the journal as the key to the psyche and Jungian therapists ask their clients to keep a dream diary, which I have done from time to time. For me journaling is a form of self-therapy. When I feel uncertain, confused I turn to my journal and I talk to myself. I will sometimes feel an overwhelming urge to write, a deep inner prompting that cannot be ignored. Sometimes the writing itself comes from another place, a higher self that supports me and reminds me of greater truths.
There are times when I have no choice but to write and the words are put down as they are given without judgement. It is in these times that I feel most at peace with my writing and feel a purposefulness that I do not always experience in my daily format.
Journal writing has been my greatest ally when I have gone through difficult times. My journal has been the constant friend always waiting and ready to accept anything I want to share; through tears the words have splashed onto the pages and slowly the pages have absorbed the hurt, the anger, the confusion, the loneliness and they have given back a feeling of calm, peace, understanding and hope.
Writing out our traumas, our pain, our grief has been shown to have real health benefits.
“In 1986 the psychology professor James Pennebaker discovered something extraordinary, something which would inspire a generation of researchers to conduct several hundred studies. He asked students to spend 15 minutes writing about the biggest trauma of their lives or, if they hadn’t experienced a trauma, their most difficult time. … Meanwhile a control group spent the same number of sessions writing a description of something neutral such a tree or their dorm room…Then he waited for six months while monitoring how often the students visited the health centre. The day he saw the results, he left the lab, walked to his friend who was waiting for him in a car and told him he’d found something big. Remarkably, the students who had written about their secret feelings had made significantly fewer trips to the doctor in the subsequent months.” (taken from an article in the BBC news June 2017)
So there is scientific evidence for what I have instinctively known. Journal writing is an aid to health both mental and physical.
“A personal journal is an ideal environment in which to “become”. It is a perfect place for you to think, feel, discover, expand, remember, and dream.” (Brad Wilcox)