Journaling as a tool for self-discovery

I, Dee

DEE LONGHURST examines journaling as a tool for self-discovery

‘I want to write but, more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried in my heart.’ Anne Frank

EVERY JANUARY, I choose the perfect diary and tell myself this will be the year that I keep a daily account of my life. I buy a new pen too, because no pen I already own could be good enough for this important task. Yet, by the spring of each year, I dust off the cover and stare despondently at the blank pages, wondering where I went wrong.
I started 2019 differently. Last year I made a breakthrough, and it wasn’t from writing daily. Far from it. Mid-year, I bought myself a beautiful undated journal (and matching pen!) and decided I would write only when I wanted to. I put no pressure on myself to capture mundane moments. I now capture just what is most important to me.
I give myself permission to write as much or as little as I want, and in whatever format I want. Free from rules, I scribble, doodle, write poems, capture quotes and draw mind maps. I use prompts such as those suggested in Kathleen Adams’ wonderful book Journal to the Self.
I delve inside and bring out things buried deep in my heart. I capture moments of hope, despair, joy and gratitude. I jot down positive strokes and particular moments I have felt impacted by. I allow my Inner Child to speak, completely uncensored and free of judgment.
In my journal I can be honest with myself, safe in the knowledge that I don’t have to share my writing with anyone. By capturing these uncensored feelings and thoughts, I have improved my self-awareness and emotional literacy. I have also developed a sense of OK- ness. I have developed more clarity of thought. Seeing my own words on the page prompts me to reflect on my own process at a deeper level. In these ways, my journal has become a very helpful aid to my therapeutic journey.
I am often surprised by what emerges when I write without censoring. I remind myself that there is no right or wrong way to feel, and that although my writing is private, I have the safety net of my therapist to fall upon, should feelings arise that I want to explore further or need support with. Reflecting on my own written words, with or without my therapist, I often realise I have the power to challenge my own decisions and ultimately choose my own destiny.
Keeping a journal can be especially helpful in times of crisis. Shortly after ending a toxic relationship at 23 years old, I read Marion Milner’s A Life of One’s Own. Talking about her own journey, Milner wrote, ‘I thought the best way to begin was to keep a diary, noting in it every day when I had been particularly happy and anything that I wanted. At the same time, I would note anything else that seemed important so that if it should turn out that happiness did not matter, I should have a chance of finding out what was more important.’ (1934)
Milner’s words impacted me because I desperately needed to rediscover the parts of myself that had been stifled for so long. I re-discovered my capacity to think for myself and worked out what I wanted and needed. Years later, as a mother and wife, I can once again relate to the sense of lost identity I felt.
In my journal I give myself permission to rediscover who I am. It has become my identity, my ID, my ‘I, Dee’. It is my unique and personal story that I can call my own. Like a Polaroid picture slowly developing, an outline of a woman is beginning to emerge on the paper. I am beginning to recognise a new version of myself on the page, and I am growing to truly appreciate what is buried within my heart.
I wish you all a happy year of writing and journaling. In the words of William Wordsworth, ‘fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.’

References
Adams, K. (1990) Journal to the Self. New York: Warner Books
Darlinton, B. The Love Letters of William and Mary Wordsworth. New York: Cornell University Press.
Field, Joanna (Marion Milner)(1934). A Life of One’s Own. London: Virago
Frank, A. (1952). The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Doubleday

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