Journaling is my daily exhaust valve for the pressure cooker that is parenting. Well, one of my exhaust valves. I write because it clears out all the mental gunk and lightens my head. I write to lay down all the plates I’m spinning, and by doing that, I usually find a few that I don’t need to pick again, and a few more that I didn’t even notice I was carrying.
People struggle with journaling because they think it should be literary or a thoughtful record of their days – imagining grandchildren reading it as a document of their ancestors’ long-ago lives.
My journals are less Virginia Woolf and more mash-up of tabloid and screed (see: the mixed metaphors in the opening paragraph). They’re a brain dump of all the whining, yelling and circular thinking that gets caught in my filters. The things that aren’t helpful or productive to share, or maybe no one’s available to listen – they just need to get out of my head. Once I write them out, my head feels lighter and I can move on. Certainly, sometimes other people need to hear me. But often, once I vent it all on paper, I quickly realize that my actual anger or frustration had nothing to do with the immediate thing that got me all riled up, and I can act on or tend to the real issue at hand.
If you’re interested in getting started with journaling, or have found yourself stuck, I have a few suggestions:
1. Write your thoughts and then throw it out or delete it. Use a legal pad and pull off the pages after you’ve written them. Clear your computer file before you start the next day’s journal. What would you say if no one was going to read it?
2. Write every thought for 10 minutes. It will certainly feature “this is dumb” or “how will I think of anything to write?” at least once. That’s ok. There are still days where all I can do is move the pen.
3. If I am really drawing a blank, I write a letter to my grandmother. Somehow it just works for me. I tell her about what I want to do today or what I did yesterday or who I’m pissed off at (because I know she’ll take my side).
4. Gratitude is great, but don’t fake your journal – that’s writing for an audience. You can be just as angry or selfish as you feel, and if that is scary, then ask why and write out an answer. Then ask why again and write out the next answer. Trust that you are a good person, and that anger has a place (or might be a placeholder). I know my biggest block is, “What will they think if they read this?” See: suggestion one.