I saw something on television today about how keeping a journal is potentially harmful because it makes you stew in your own feelings and accept negative emotions rather than confronting them and changing it. It was all about how writing about your feelings and emotions doesn’t actually affect them and that there is no advantages of writing about your misfortunes. While I accept that opinion, I don’t agree with it.
I started writing in my first journal when I was 12 years old and I have every journal I’ve ever written in, saved on my bookshelf. At first a journal was just a way for me to express my frustration and feelings during my teenage years and moaning about school and friends, talking about who I had a crush on and how I planned to make them marry me. It was immature fun and it gave me an outlet, I didn’t have many friends as a teenager and my journal was in a way, my best friend.
As I got older my writing became more serious and reflective, it was about expressing feelings that I couldn’t express to people, talking about my worries and fears, and my dreams and hopes. I felt lighter and free after writing about my feelings, it made things easier for me.
Now, reading back through my journals has proved really useful, not only does it remind me of little happy moments I’d forgot about, it showed me how depression entered my life. I was diagnosed with depression at 18 and I’d always believed that it had started at 16 after my parents divorce and after I’d been through some bullying. Looking back at my journals though, I can see now that it affected me long before I realised. When I was 13 years old, I wrote about killing myself for the first time and periodically after that, I mention not wanting to live and wanting to give up on life. I wrote more often between the ages of or 12 and 15, and it was all very depressing and now I’ve come to identify my depressive behaviour, I can see that I was depressed long before I realised. It wasn’t just normal teenage hormones and mood swings, it was a constant feeling of darkness and I described it in my journals as this blackness inside me, that tried to ruin any happiness, I wrote about not enjoying life and feeling not well.
Reading back has helped me, it’s showed me that my depression isn’t because of my parents divorce or being bullied, it doesn’t come from a negative or traumatic experience, it just is. I didn’t believe in depression as a biological illness, I always thought it was triggered by trauma and I felt guilty for having depression when I knew that some people had experiences a loss worse than mine, people have it a lot worse than me. Now I think that maybe depression was just always there in me, maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about feeling the way I do when I have so many good things in my life.
Reading back through my journals has also helped me understand where my anxiety stems from, I was always a shy child and I preferred books to people and I enjoyed learning new things, which made me different to other kids and kids can be cruel to someone who is different. I let classmates walk all over me, I let them say mean things and laugh at me, and I did it because I wanted to fit in. I tried to follow the trends and change myself to be more like my peers but it never worked, I was always still singled out and it caused me to sink into myself and choose to avoid rather than confront. I started to run away from situations instead of standing up for myself and that’s why my anxiety has come to be as bad as it is. One of the things that stands out most to me in my journals is the days I would fake being ill to get out of school because there was a presentation that day or a group project and I was terrified of being humiliated so I did whatever I had to do to fake sickness and get the day off. I wish that I could go back now and just face my fears because by avoiding them, I never gave myself the chance to prove I was good enough, I made it impossible to build my self esteem and confidence because I found it easier to hide away. It’s really sad to think that I was so terrified of my classmates opinions and actions towards me and I wish that I had been stronger and stuck up for who I was instead of hiding and trying to change myself into someone else. I’m 23 now and ever since the age of 12, I’ve avoided any experience which I thought could cause me humiliation, and by doing this, I’ve never given myself the chance to prove my fears wrong. Just because some kids at school laughed and said horrible things, doesn’t mean everyone is going to do the same and even though I can see that logic, it doesn’t help me because I’m too used to thinking that people will dislike me, so I avoid people and situations where I could be vulnerable. Just being in public makes me panic, because I have so little confidence in myself and I see people laughing, and think they’re laughing at me, I see people talking and automatically think they are making comments about the way I look or behave.
My journals have shown me where I went wrong, they’ve shown me that I shouldn’t feel guilty for being depressed when I’ve had a much better life than some. They remind me of better times and make me proud of some of the things I’ve overcome. That’s why I think journals are beneficial, especially when you suffer with a mental illness because you can track your mood and identify triggers and behaviours that may signal a relapse. It’s like writing this blog piece, it lifts a stress from my shoulders and allows me to say what I want to say without that face to face fear of judgement. It allows me to reflect and think clearly which is really helpful. I don’t know how I would have got through most of my life, if I didn’t have a journal to write in.