Well Over a Decade Later, I Realized I Can't Journal Like I Used to – and That's OK

Getty / Carol Yepes

My first diary had a yin and yang symbol on the cover and was filled with details about my baby doll, my first- and second-grade classmates, and stories that I’d dictate to my mom – we’d sit on her bedroom floor, and I’d spitball about Pokémon or a magical princess with no friends. Two years later I graduated to a furry black journal marked with a pink sequin “S.” These pages documented my crushes, fights with my sister, flag football at recess, gymnastics practice, and really bad poetry.

I’d go through periods growing up, especially in elementary and middle school, where I’d write consistently in whatever iteration of journal I had in my hands. It was easy for me. Fast forward, I’m now in my mid-twenties, and though I still write (much better) poetry in my free time to either post on social media or keep in my iPhone notes, I haven’t picked up a pen to scribble diary-style in more than a decade at least.

So, I unearthed a composition notebook from the depths of my supply drawer and decided to give it a try for three weeks straight to see if it helped with the intrusive thoughts and anxiety I often experience before bed. As it turns out, I haven’t seen my therapist in over a month, which also convinced me this experiment would be a good idea; if I wasn’t going to talk out my problems, maybe I could find solace in writing them down with no rules. The results weren’t spectacular, but they weren’t horrible either. Here’s why that’s OK with me.

Where I Went Wrong

Forcing myself to write for three weeks (minus a day or two that I fell asleep or wasn’t feeling well), deemed, for lack of better words, annoying. Sure, forming habits is “annoying” – it can take weeks at a time, and you might not enjoy the process – but I found myself struggling to even extract a sentence or fragments of sentences for some entries.

Therapists POPSUGAR spoke with in a past interview about how to start journaling said that you shouldn’t be too focused on time limits or the length of your entries, and I think that’s where I struggled. I put too much pressure on myself. The therapists also classified journaling as a tool that allows for the release of feelings. It’s an outlet that’s meant to be calming, but I didn’t find it as regularly calming as I wanted to.

I was overall too tired from work to journal. My job in journalism is to write (it’s what I’m doing right now), which meant I wasn’t so keen on jotting down my thoughts daily. I also journaled before bed, so it kept me up later if I actually managed to get into a flow and write paragraphs.

Where I Went Right

There were definitely times when I found that writing down my negative emotions or fears made me feel a little more distant from them – and that aspect I liked. On those nights, going to bed wasn’t necessarily an easier process, but I felt detached from my worries even though they were still there. I also had the most success when writing affirmations or things I’d learned that day, so I might consider continuing those practices.

Journaling, in addition, helped inspire ideas for poems, and I realized that poetry, to me, has been cathartic in the way that freeform journaling might be cathartic for others. I explore the intrusive thoughts I have, toxic relationships, and self-doubt. Moving forward, I’m not going to push myself to journal about those topics if I’m expressing them in my poetry as it is, but I will be open to penning my feelings when I’m especially overwhelmed. I don’t want to be pressured to write, so I’ll listen to my mind, body, and schedule.

I’m not the same little girl who couldn’t wait to tell her diary her opinions and secrets, her dreams and wild ideas. How I foster my wellbeing will change as I change – and that’s just fine.

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