The Irrational Mind

The Power of Journaling

JournalingI used to journal when I was younger. I had really cool diaries with locks on them and catchphrases like “Top Secret!” written all over the pink covers. My favorite color has always been blue, but if I wanted to have the hippest new diaries I had to buy them in pink. It was the 90s way.

I threw away most of my journals. Not as an adult, but as a child.

I knew I’d put a lot of emotion into the writing, and I was embarrassed by the thought that someone would read the information, even if it was just an older version of myself. So I tore up the pages into tiny pieces and threw them into the trash.

Then I continued writing.

As I got older I repressed the instinct to throw everything I wrote away. People started complimenting my poetry that I was forced to read aloud in class. It was symbolic and dark in my head, but I kept the metaphors light enough to prevent any teachers from thinking I needed to see a counselor.

I assumed seeing a counselor would mean I had failed somehow, and I avoided going even at my lowest of lows in eighth grade, struggling with what I now know are classic signs of OCD, which, in turn, led me straight into a valley of depression.

When I finally started seeing a therapist in 2011 she asked me if I kept a journal.

“I used to.”

She encouraged me to start again, but not at random. Whenever my OCD was acting up, she said, put everything down on paper. Sometimes talking through everything mentally is not enough, and writing takes it all out of your head and stores it on paper (or Word document, as it were).

I was struggling immensely with binge eating at the time, eating entire bags of chocolate bars in one sitting, then getting up and going to the store to buy another bag. Repeat.

I got the strong urge (the compulsion) to go buy food one evening. I knew I shouldn’t, but I began sweating and shaking as I thought about not buying more food.

For those of you unfamiliar, the “easy” thing to do is to give into the compulsion. You know that the action calms your nerves without ever having to deal with the obsessive thought that spawned the compulsion.

I took the hard route this time. I sat down and started writing what was going on in my head. I typed hard on my keyboard, and I ended up with a page of writing.

I’m going to open my soul a bit here and share an excerpt from a post I wrote on 09/09/11 at 8:30 p.m.:

We were required to do assignments like this in English
classes in high school, just to get our “brains flowing.” It certainly works, but I’m never quite
sure how to turn it off afterwards. Same with everything. I never know quite when to stop
talking. If I stop talking, I’m left alone, thinking, again. But thinking is good, right? I’m on my
way to becoming an academic, I hope, or I think I hope, so this obsessive tendency should be
beneficial to my work, right? But it’s not, it’s really not, because these types of thoughts
interfere when I’m writing a paper, or even having a professional conversation, or especially
when I am giving a talk. It is horrible when I am giving a talk or a lecture! The voice of myself
in my head is either still chatty or I can feel it sitting back and watching me, as a third party
observer, having a conversation about how my talk is going while I’m giving it. I’ve learned,
mostly, to work around this, but it sometimes causes me to lose my place. I reach a point where
I realize everyone is actually watching me have a conversation with myself, while they think I’m
talking to them, even though the dominant thought process is not what I’m saying, but my
judgment of what I’m saying. Even as I type this, which is supposedly the nonstop voice in my
head, there is a second (third?) voice behind this one, watching as I type, wondering why I’m
typing it, ready to make comments about it. Thinking about the packet of red hots next to me, wondering if I just ate the last one or if others are in there. Seeing each of the squiggly red and
green lines and wondering if when I re-read this I’ll be more embarrassed by the spelling and
grammar or by the actual stream of consciousness. Realizing that normal me will, eventually,
read this out loud, thinking “How is this me? Is this me? Do I want this for myself, or am I
someone else?”

I nearly deleted this document. Like the rest of my journal entries, it’s embarrassing. As seen in-text, I anticipated it being embarrassing. But once every 5 months or so, I read it again. I see how far I have come. I see the thought processes that I have been able to rewrite (kind of) and those that I still struggle with.

Try it yourself. The next time you are struggling with anxiety or depression and talking to yourself and meditating aren’t working, just write.

If you feel comfortable, I’d love to see some of your own journaling excerpts in the comments.

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