As a dedicated journal writer through my teenage years, I can attest to the therapeutic power of recording daily events (as well as incoherent ramblings). I have dozens of journals filled with my insecurities, my dreams, my frustrations, my life. Most entries are probably Ambien in print. Some are probably heartbreaking. But throughout those years, they helped me unravel my complicated and contradictory emotions, and give words to my unspeakably ambitious hopes — and then put them on a shelf so I could finish my homework and get some sleep.
As someone who continues to hand-write a journal, I find the practice helps me not only release the frustration I feel at my daily failings and struggles, but allows me to see my own personal progress and my children’s progress as well. As I sit and write at the end of the day, I’m able to smooth the day’s chaos and tears and silliness into a story, and to see the funny and the tender in what, in the moment, was nearly cause for tears. It lightens the load I feel as I raise my children, to be able to write down my concerns as I make decisions for them, teach them, and help them conquer their own struggles even if those struggles are as simple as not clobbering their sister just because she is there.
Several years ago as my older brother was in the hospital beginning his long road to recovery after suffering a stroke, the nurses recommended we keep a record of his progress — both for ourselves, and for the many friends and family members who were anxious to know how he was doing. Together my mom and I started a blog, which my parents kept until my brother was well enough to update it himself. It has continued to evolve as he has made progress and changed his focus from “stroke recovery” to progressing in his career. Recent evidence confirms the power of record-keeping in helping trauma victims regain their mental health.
And the journals my husband’s father kept in his adult years have, of course, become a family treasure since he died when my husband was just 4 years old.
Journaling whether it be a daily record kept of mostly mundane moments, an intense examination of a specific period of life, or a thoughtful review of a life mostly lived has, obviously, been an important part of my life and the life of my family. The simple act of putting pencil to paper and allowing words and emotions to flow often brings me a release I didn’t know I needed. Reading the records others have kept helps me feel more connected, less alone, and to be more compassionate and understanding.
These days I journal and record and document almost instinctually. Notes tapped out on my phone, blog posts for family members to read, handwritten books for me and my kids (which I update a handful of times a year) all have become a necessary connection to my own mind and heart, to my far away family, and to my children. And while over the years my stage of life and state of mind have changed and evolved, my writing has improved, and my insight has become (marginally) sharper, the one thing that has not changed is my hope that these records will someday be interesting, useful, or at the very least intelligible to my kids, or their kids, or maybe their kids. I hope that among the pages and pages of small events and and tiny frustrations, they are able to pick out my love for them and my attempts to help them and give them the best I had to offer.
But those days are far away. My journals mostly sit on a shelf in my living room, their spines on display but their pages kept closed. I continue to fill them with the thoughts and events of my days, to find the meaning in the mundane, to scribble down the crazy, and then I put down the pen, put the book back on the shelf, and go to sleep with a clearer mind and a lighter heart than I had a few minutes before.