How journalling became my therapy
Imagery: Joao Silas // Unsplash
Evie Shaffer // Unsplash
Words: Penny Langton // @thirtyoddblondes
Just this morning, I took an exquisite (and expensive) Rollbahn notebook and threw it in our foul-smelling wheelie bin. I didn’t hesitate. It had served its purpose and I wanted it out of my life. Besides, I had a pretty new journal to crack. If you’d looked inside the old one, you’d have seen it was densely packed with an illegible madwoman’s scrawl. Mine!
It’s not that I’m frivolous or don’t care about my things. It’s just that this is part of my journalling ritual. It’s the end chapter.
The word purge
Since 2013, I’ve been sitting down every day and doing three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing. It’s like therapy and meditation rolled into one, and more than that is a really satisfying brain dump. Ideally first thing in the morning my ritual starts and I sit down and write whatever I’m thinking, safe in the knowledge that no one could read my terrible handwriting even if they tried. I also keep a black tourmaline crystal by my side because it’s grounding for meditative practices and allows you to safely explore the spiritual world.
My preference is to use the most beautiful spiral notebooks I can find (book shops have the best ones), because you don’t have that distracting thing where you have to use your arm to hold the book open. Eliminating distractions while journalling for me is key because I don’t want anything material to interrupt my ‘flow’ while you’re channelling the spiritual.
When I have nothing to say in the journal, it doesn’t matter. I just write “I have nothing to say” over and over until some fragment of a dream, insight about a relationship, idea for a client, or childhood memory takes the wheel. It always does. Before I know it, the pages are done and I can begin my day with a fresh brain. I write about what’s worrying me, what’s funny, what I’ve observed, all sorts of things.
Journalling is definitely not just for writers. I think anyone can benefit from this clarifying practice. My theory is that it especially suits people who find it difficult to meditate because their mind incessantly jumps all over the place (hand up). You get all those thoughts down and out. Personally, my journal is where I solve all my problems and exorcise my anxieties. I don’t do it to keep any kind of record for the future – I would be mortified to ever read it again. When I have occasionally caught a glimpse of my old ramblings, I feel so embarrassed and think, “Who even wrote that?” It’s more to get this shit out of my brain and onto the page/into the bin. This type of journalling is called ‘Morning Pages’, and it was made popular by creativity guru Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way.
In Julia’s words: “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages. They are not high art. They are not even ‘writing’. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only.”
“My journal is where I solve all my problems and exorcise my anxieties”
By far the most magical thing about this ritual is that sometimes I write little vignettes about how I want my life to be – and they end up coming true! The most memorable is when I wrote a little story about my future husband would be like… two or three years before I met him. One Friday evening maybe four years ago I was in my little studio apartment journalling over a glass of wine. Out came this narrative about my life with a man with velvety brown eyes and the stimulating conversations we’d have and the love and laughs we’d enjoy. It perfectly described the dynamic my husband and I have today. Back then I thought it was wishful-thinking writing about the guy I was going out with at the time – who was a lawyer with brown eyes. But, my velvety-brown-eyed husband (also a lawyer) didn’t show up until years later. That’s the one journal I wish I’d kept. I think journalling can be like manifestation process where you effectively design your life on the page, planting the seed in your subconscious.
THE LIFE CHanging magic of journalling
Not long ago, I had a conversation with my brother that made me wish everyone else in the room would stop talking. “You’ve changed,” he said. “And it’s only happened in the last few years.” I braced myself for something negative… but it wasn’t that at all. Apparently I was now calmer, more rational and far less moody. I could only put it down to journalling.
As I thought about it, I realised he’s right too. This self-reflection has helped make me become 1000 times less reactive, worry less about what people think and generally be more fun to be around. Somehow it’s also removed most of my (many) old triggers! For instance, I used to stew a lot about silly work things and indulge in plenty of catastrophising (where your brain immediately takes you to the worst case scenario – “That person was short with me. They clearly hate me.”). My thinking was usually along the lines of: “As soon as X happens, I’ll be happy” instead of enjoying my life as it was. It’s something to do with the self-reflection I think. It forces you to face up to yourself.
My daily journalling practice has also eliminated the old self-consciousness and hesitation I used to feel when sitting down to write anything, fearing it had to be perfect. Now I treat any important piece like an unimportant brain dump, which sounds bad but is actually fantastic because I write like I have nothing to lose and no one to please. Even with something scary when there are actually a lot of people to please, like a big corporate website! Journalling has helped me detach and just go for it. That’s the real beauty of this practice.