I can’t remember what inspired me to start journaling, but I’m grateful for whatever did. I’ve kept a journal for the past seven years, and I’ve filled twelve notebooks of varying size with writing and art. When I first started, a lot of what I wrote was boring and superficial. I detailed conversations I had with my friends and teachers, and the highs and lows of middle school drama. After about a year, I had established a rhythm and felt comfortable enough with my pen and paper to start writing about what I was feeling, not what I was doing.
As my anorexia and depression manifested, my journal became a barrage of negativity. I cataloged every disordered, self-loathing thought. My parents and therapist encouraged me to stop writing down these thoughts, but I wouldn’t. I have entire volumes of put-downs and self-hate. At the time, it was detrimental to my recovery to put so much time and energy into negativity, but I had nowhere else to let the anger and depression I was feeling run free. I felt like I would explode if I didn’t voice it or write it down. Eventually, I put those feelings into poems. I was proud of my writing, and showed them to my English teacher. If I had had a different English teacher, one who didn’t care about encouraging her students to do out-of-class writing, or didn’t have the time to read papers she wasn’t grading, I may not have been as prolific a poet as I was. But, I was lucky, and my teacher did care. She told me to keep writing, and she listened to what I couldn’t say out loud or in prose. She genuinely cared about me, and fueled my passion for writing. Objectively, the poems were terrible and I would never reread them, let alone submit them for publication, but they were a stepping stone for me as a writer and as a person.
As I ventured into recovery, I started using my journal as a tool. I made gratitude lists, a tremendously helpful tool for anyone dealing with depression. I used it to track my moods and behaviors. Eventually, I started writing about things besides my mental illnesses.
Sometimes, there were things I couldn’t express in poetry or prose. I’ve never been too good at drawing, so I started making collages. Often, they were about things I was scared to talk about, but having a tangible result of that fear was relieving and empowering. Instead of hiding from my fears, I turned them into art.
Today, I carry my journal everywhere with me. Just knowing that it’s in my bag with the rest of my school supplies is comforting. My journal is my safe place where I am never judged, criticized, or ridiculed. No thought is too insignificant or embarrassing to write down. I will probably never share the majority of my hundreds of handwritten pages with anyone, but that’s not the point. I feel a huge sense of relief when I write a nagging thought down in my journal. Once it’s on the page, I’m one step closer to taming it. I have complete control in my journal. A notebook will never interrupt you. It will never try to one-up you and say it’s worse off than you are. It will never say you shouldn’t feel the way you do, and it will never offer unwelcome advice.
I’m proud of my twelve-year-old self for picking up that first notebook that became my journal. I may not always make the best decisions, but starting a journal is one thing I’ll never regret.