The Best Part of Journaling: Bearing Witness to Your Life

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” ~Anne Frank

“Write in This Book and You’ll Feel Better”

It was my father who encouraged me to “write about it” when he gave me that first pink and turquoise diary when I was 10 years old. You know the kind, the ones with a little lock and key that hold a young girl’s many secrets.

Diaries were simpler then and I don’t remember any glitter or unicorns on the cover but when I unwrapped the box that it came in, I felt very grown up, proud, and important.

Dad suggested that by writing about what was troubling me and journaling what was going on in my life, I would be able to resolve feelings, relive happy moments, and in general, learn from day-to-day entries.

Of course, he didn’t talk to a 10-year-old like that. He probably said, “write in this book and you’ll feel better.” I credit his thoughtful present and excellent advice with everything I have written since.

At First, It Was All About Secrecy and Confidentiality

That diary became my best friend, and it still astounds me that I was able to keep that little key as long as I did – considering that these days I have trouble remembering where I left my glasses, my car keys, or where I dropped the phone on any given day.

The difference is that back then I lived in a house full of people, and now I live alone. The key insured that the only one visiting the pages was myself and not my parents or siblings.

I was the youngest in the family. My sisters and brother were, respectively, 10, 11, and 19 years older than me and had their own separate lives. They probably had no interest in what I was writing in my diary.

At their age, they had bigger and probably more interesting things to be curious about than a young girls’ silly musings. My diary became a very loving space that I created for myself; away from judgement or advice from family and teachers.

Nobody checked grammar, punctuation, or content. For my eyes only. I readily compare it to seeing a therapist and making that important decision to tell a total stranger what troubles or delights us about our life. My diary was my impromptu therapist in those days when I hardly knew what a therapist was.

Dear Diary, I’m sorry that I haven’t written for a few days…

When I wrote, I addressed the diary itself, you know, the “Dear Diary” variety of writing. It was always comforting to write in my room just before bedtime. This also ensured that whatever worried me about tomorrow was less troubling after I had written it down in my journal.

Having rid myself of that extra luggage on those pages before slumber, I could go to sleep without worries or anxiety. Good advice for everyone, not just young girls.

Sometimes an entry involved a disagreement with a friend, a happy or sad day at school, growing pains and realizations of day-to-day things that I was experiencing.

I sometimes included jokes or funny stories, little poems, and reminders. My father’s advice to write about what was troubling me, started a life-long habit of putting my feelings and what I was learning about the world down on paper.

I often apologized to it for missing a few days of entries, as if the diary was actually listening to me and caring for what I was writing. Everything that was important to me then was in those pages. It preceded the “best friend” stage, the boys, the competition, and everything that came later.

When I was nearing the end, there was another little book waiting in the wings to be filled with everything that mattered and that I could look forward to – there’s nothing like starting a new page in a new book.

Bearing Witness to Our Own Lives

Journaling is important to me, whether I write in the journal itself or grab a napkin in a coffee shop to jot down a thought, a feeling, or perhaps something funny that I observe while drinking my latte. I then include it in my journal when I get home.

I save random things in my diary, such as cards, notes, theater stubs, boarding passes, the odd photograph, or even a bird’s feather that I find on the street when walking my dog.

As I grew up, my diary entries became like Bridget Jones’ “notes to self,” a more accurate description of what I was actually thinking and wanted to remember at the time.

Since then, I have written journals at every important juncture in my life. When I got married and moved away from Argentina to Colombia, I described my feelings of joy mixed with the sadness of missing my family and friends.

The new adventures that were rocking my life at the time, the experiences that I had of being a “foreigner” for the first time in my life – the freshness mixed with wonder of being a new bride in a strange land.

The comfort that my journal provided was just part of it but certainly an important component of my motivation to keep on writing. When I moved to Spain, and then to London, I carried my journal with me as part of my daily necessities, much like lipstick or tissues.

At the time, I considered myself as one living as far away from home as I could possibly go, but I was wrong. Next came Tokyo. Living on the opposite side of the world in a completely different culture and language gave me enough material to write about. My journal bore witness to my life as I went along from city to city.

Discovering the Joy of Art Journaling

A few years ago, I found a new outlet for my musings, namely, the Art Journal. This can combine writing with drawing, painting, collage, doodling, and making mandalas. Whatever is on my mind gets translated into some form of art. Often, words are not necessary.

I even created an Instagram page where I upload all of my art – and this has been immensely inspiring.

This article originally appeared in Sixty and Me.

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