When I talk or present about journaling, one of the most common questions people ask is: how and why did you start?
I understand why they ask: they want to know how this nearly two-decade passion began, how it grew, where that first creative spark came from, and why I care about it enough to spend part of my career sharing it with other people.
Perhaps they want to compare my experience to their own relationship with writing and see if they might also have a long-term companion in pen and paper.
But, to me, the most interesting question isn’t how and why did you start, it’s how and why did you continue?
Because, for me, that was the real challenge.
At the time, my journaling shifted from detailed accounts of my day to focusing on what was really meaningful and troubling to me, I was in a place that completely lacked self-acceptance.
I was filled with self-despising thoughts as a young adult and rejected myself accordingly; I couldn’t listen to the sound of my own voice, watch myself on video, listen to myself play music, or even look too long at photos (when I let people take them).
But writing was different.
Sometimes, I could re-read my words, take them to heart, learn from them, and grow with them.
The act of journaling gave me the chance for self-expression that I didn’t have anywhere else in my life. I could explore things I wasn’t able to explore otherwise, say things I wasn’t allowed to say, wish for things I wasn’t allowed to wish for, and just be myself.
In public, I hid, fearing that if anyone discovered what I was really like, they would surely find me to be unacceptable. But yes, writing was different. It was a way for me to start to make sense of a world that didn’t make sense, a way for me to unravel secrets and truths, and a way for me to slowly but surely explore the biggest question of my life: who am I?
It was a way for me to rummage through the different, contradictory messages I received: you’re smart/you’ll never be anybody, you’re likeable/it’s not surprising no one likes you, you’re beautiful/you’re ugly, you’re mature/you’re irresponsible, I love you/I don’t want you… and try to work out the truth. My truth.
It’s a process that still continues today, over 10 years later. Some days I feel my truth in my writing, strong and certain, like a lighthouse. Other days, I stumble. That old question comes up again, and I find myself again asking, “Who am I?”
Through journaling, I’ve realized that I’m in the same camp as Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
And through journaling, I’ve learned to accept it. To love it, even; to appreciate the different shades of myself and my internal life.
I look at my words on a page or screen, and seeing them there in ink or pixel distances me from their weight. It helps me move away from how I think I should be and towards how I actually am. It leaves me more able to look at them, to accept them all as part of me, and to accept that this is where I’m at—right here, right now.
How and why do I continue journaling? Because it keeps part of me alive; it keeps me in touch with what is real. Journaling helps me heal, and will continue to do so as I move forward into the future.
What is your journaling practice? Is it something you have stopped and started again throughout your life? Or has it been a constant companion?