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.’

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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