Last night a journal saved my life

Mine and Adrian Mole’s birthdays are a few months apart and I have always felt a kinship to him, quite apart from being the only person who recognises Adrian as the greatest poet in the English language.

“There’s not a problem that I can’t fix, coz I can do it in the… Filofax.”

True as that may be, we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little. Let’s perform a little DJ backspin trick and rewind the story.

It is true that I started keeping a diary as a confused 13yo, after being introduced to the modern-day Samuel Pepys at school. Mine and Adrian Mole’s birthdays are just a few months apart and I have always felt a certain kinship to him, quite apart from being the only person (other than Adrian himself) who recognises Adrian as the greatest poet in the English language. After reading his first diary I started one of my own, and I kept it semi-religiously for the next decade.

I wasn’t really keeping it for journaling reasons back then, at least not intentionally. Looking back I wonder whether it drifted that way at times, but I think mostly I was keeping track of girls (and records) (mostly records) I really liked at the under 18s disco on a Monday night. Which seems like a good excuse to drop this one, a tune that I chucked out a few shapes to on more than one occasion at said disco:

I didn’t start journaling in earnest until three years ago. I was seeing a therapist over my depression, anxiety, body and gender issues and it was she who suggested it. We talked through the Johari Window exercise and at first I started with that, but then wandered off in true free association style into Whatever The Smeg Was On My Mind. That became the basis of our sessions; I would read back over what I’d written since our last session, pick out parts I felt were important, and that’s what we would talk about. I found it tremendously helpful to be in control of the sessions that way.

I was actually very excited to start writing though. I’d always found it fun when Adrian and I were writing at the same time, I just wasn’t at all prepared for the effect it would have on me in every sense. In many ways, this blog simply became my public journal and it’s no coincidence that the personal entries on the blog were originally categorised as ‘journal’. Some – many – of the thoughts expressed under that heading are sentiments that I first formulated by hand, or rather in handwriting, in the pages of my Filofax Notebook.

So I thought, if it was quite okay with you, I would share three of my tips from that time in case you find yourself in a similar circumstance. I can’t promise they will all work for everyone, because everyone’s experience of therapy and journaling is different and quite right too. But just in case they do, here they are.

Use a refillable notebook

That’s where the Filofax comes in. One of the reasons I’d decided against joining Fetlife was because they don’t have “stationery” as one of their fetishes and seriously, who can resist the allure of a brand new notebook? I bought one of the refillable Filofax Notebooks with an exciting assortment of different refills and never looked back because I discovered this: if you’ve written something you find difficult or triggering, you can quickly move it to a different part of the notebook. You don’t have to tear it out or lose it, you can just move it. You can also, when you run out of space, remove the pages you won’t want to refer to in future and just save the ones you need to. It sounds like a little thing but trust me, they’re the things that can make a difference.

Use the third person

True story; I only really began to know myself in my journal. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, until my hands ached, and a lot of the time I did it in the third person because it was easier to face, to ask the hard questions, to think the hard thoughts. Then at the end when I read it back, I barely recognised or even remembered writing half of the words. But I definitely felt better for writing it. So I guess my tip here would be to write in the third person if you need to. If you think that your truth is going to be difficult, ascribe it to a third party and just write away.

Just get it out

Whatever is inside, just get it out of you and onto the page. Don’t censor yourself (this is very important). Don’t worry about doing multiple drafts, engaging a professional reader, or even making sure that your handwriting is legible to others. If you make a mistake, just put a line through and carry on. The important thing is just to get your thoughts out on paper, because in the writing is where the magic occurs.

And that’s the thought that I want to leave you with. There are plenty of more academic and better written articles available on the web about the scientific process behind journaling. The main thing to say is that journaling works, and whether it’s suggested to you by a professional or something you’ve considered yourself, is worth taking seriously.

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