The Journal Process That Changed Me

*TW: Mental Health

Journaling isn’t for everyone.

For a long time, I thought that journaling wasn’t for me. I tried over and over throughout the years, but it never stuck. If you had mentioned journaling, I might even have rolled my eyes.

Far too often, I started a journal and then ripped pages out (or tossed it completely). I wouldn’t have treated my other books that way. Journaling brought something out in me. Fear, embarrassment, frustration, you name it.

Now, journaling is an essential component of my self-care routine and Quiet Time. It’s also something that I wield when I am going through hard self-work. It has become a sword and shield when I’m moving through tough times and healing from uncovered trauma.

A big part of why it’s become so important to me is because of how I use it. I want to tell you what I do, not because it’s the “right” way, but because maybe it will help you in the same way that it helped me.

If my process doesn’t resonate with you, toss it out. There might be a better process for you, or journaling might not be for you at all. We don’t all need the same things. But if it does, then consider how you can begin applying it to your life. Consider how to add this to your mental health tool kit.

When I started this process, I was at an incredibly low point in my life. I think that I started because I was looking for any way that I could survive myself. As cheesy as it might sound, that year was also the year that I learned to love myself.

Loving myself changed the way that I responded to everyone around me.

It changed the things that I valued, and it changed my relationships completely. I wish that I had learned to love myself sooner. I might not have burned so many bridges when I was younger.

Journaling this way helped me begin that process. I’m not saying it will fix all of your problems. I’m saying that it helped me to fix some of mine.

One of the first things that helped me was what I decided to stop doing. I removed the things that I didn’t like about journaling. If you want to find your process, then think about what you consistently don’t enjoy about journaling. It might be a place to start.

 What I DON’T do:

  • I don’t use first-person pronouns unless it’s an affirmation. (E.g. “I”)
  • I don’t vent about what’s going wrong. (It tended to make me spiral down and fixate on things that were making me unhappy)
  • I don’t write details or specific incidents of my daily life. (Goals are the exception to this. I mainly disliked diary-style practice.)

*Venting and Diary Style practices have value, but they don’t work for me.

 I don’t limit what the journal needs to be for me, beyond these rules. I let the journal transform. The purpose of your journal will change as you do. When I began my journaling habit, it looked quite different than it does now.

 I was incredibly depressed, hurt, angry, overwhelmed, and bitter. I felt rejected, abandoned, and quite frankly, I had no idea how to be loving to myself. A friend gave me a type of bullet journal, so that was where I started. I hadn’t knowingly bullet journaled before this point. I’m not saying that journaling fixed those things, but it helped me begin the process.

In the beginning, my journaling looked more like this:
  • I wrote a LOT of lists.
  • I wrote down goals that I wanted to accomplish and hopes for the future.
  • I wrote down the things that I did accomplish.
  • Sometimes I wrote down fears, but only if I was also writing why I shouldn’t be afraid.
  • I wrote affirmations.
  • I wrote quotes.
  • I wrote gratitude lists.
  • Sometimes I wrote sentences like “just breathe” over and over until I felt better.

I wish that I had kept that journal. I would love to look back and see how far I’ve come. It was the last journal that I threw away. My journaling looks a bit different now, but I learned what worked for me.

What I DO include in my journaling process, now:

  • I use the second-person pronouns. (E.g. “You”)
  • I write everything to myself. (Before you laugh, I don’t write, “Dear Jessica”) I write, as though I am talking to someone I love. In the beginning, that person wasn’t me.
  • I write about what is going well, although I try to stay general if it’s not a gratitude list.
  • I write things that make me feel better. (For myself, this includes quotes and gratitude lists. It might be different for you.)
  • I write new ideas or personal breakthroughs.
  • I write about stuff that I’m learning, even if it seems irrelevant or unimportant.

It’s a love letter to my future self. I write to a girl that might be heartbroken, or in pain. I write to a girl that might be dealing with intense anxiety or overwhelming sadness. When I use second-person pronouns, I can read the words as though they were from someone else.

When I was already sad and saw a quote that made me feel better, I would add that too. It felt like a knight finding a sword in the middle of battle. I didn’t want to throw that away. I wanted to take it with me. Eventually, I changed and the things that I saw changed with me. Slowly I learned to love myself by practicing loving myself.

Why journaling helped:

  • I could see what I wanted to accomplish
  • I could read my gratitude lists and remember that everything was probably okay, even if it didn’t feel that way.
  • I could read my common fears and see beside them, the truth that they weren’t real
  • I could shift my attention away from what appeared not to be working and toward solutions.
  • I learned to be loving to myself.
  • I could read what I was learning and see how far I’d come.
  • Sometimes I would come across an old entry and receive the reminder that I needed at the moment.
  • It re-wired the way that I thought.
Journals overlapping each other.

A journal might not be for everyone because we all need different things. My process might not be for you. But if you’ve been struggling lately and need a new tool for your self-care, I hope that you’ll give it a try. Journaling doesn’t mean that you lay down your other methods of self-care. It means that you add more to your collection.

Maybe my journaling process isn’t for you, but find as many tools as you can. Give yourself a fighting chance. Journaling isn’t a cure-all, but it could be a place to start. I hope that you learn to give yourself all the love that you deserve. It’s always more than you think.


If you liked this article, you might also like Surviving Seasonal Depression in 2020: Routines to help you Cope, on Vocal.

Iridescent Darkness

They were surrounded in impenetrable darkness. It was a physical force that pressed against them. Mark tried, uselessly, to shield Pat. There was no single side that he could defend.

This was a thick entity, an engineered mass. There was a rumble in the depths of the shadows. The darkness deepened somehow, as though it had yawned its mouth, to swallow them. And then it did.

Abstract painting billowing black shapes.

It felt like everything they were, was being torn to pieces. They tried to fight it, but it was only renewed by their vigor. Mark screamed as the black mass ripped his skin and bent his arms. Pat heard a bone break, although she saw nothing.

She felt like she was drowning in a sea of helplessness. There was nothing that she could do, but she didn’t want to stop fighting. She didn’t want them to know that they had won.

Stop struggling. A voice whispered in Pat’s mind. Despite her better judgment, she obeyed. Where a moment before she had been drowning, now it felt like floating. An instant later, something inside of her cracked.

A different kind of darkness exploded from her chest. Even as it streamed from her, it shaped itself into a physical force. It shifted as it moved and billowed outward. It was unlike anything she had seen. It glowed from within, and its surface shimmered, with the iridescence of a fire opal. It didn’t make sense, and yet there it was.

That strange substance covered Mark’s body, knitting him together. Then it flowed toward the shadows, that attacked them. They dissolved entirely, devoured by her energy.

Iridescent Darkness - Watercolor Illustration
Iridescent Darkness

The kids found themselves back in a dirty, bare room. Crouched on her knees, Pat breathed heavily. That iridescent darkness streamed around her like smoke. Mark stared at her, but she stared at the mirror before them.

They were there. They were watching. She didn’t know how long it would be until the Others regrouped. Pat grabbed Mark’s hand, and then she unleashed her power upon that room and the building that imprisoned them.

Confronting Our Shadows

I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends recently, regarding Shadow work. You may already be familiar with this term, or it might be brand new to you. This year, especially, we are being brought face to face with our Shadows.

I doubt that many people would disagree when I say, that 2020 has been hard. There seem to be endless problems cropping up, with little to no breaks. This year has been pretty overwhelming, and it’s only half over. We joke about the year being “canceled,” but Shadow work offers another way to see it.

Shadow Work is about confronting the deep rooted issues.

These are things that have hidden in the dark. Shadow work is the process of going inward and confronting our fears, our guilt, our prejudices, our anger, and our trauma.

When you’re intentionally doing Shadow Work, you begin to see trials as opportunities to “do the work.” Anything that shines a light on your Shadow can be seen as helpful.

I want to be clear, that the pain you have experienced is not invalidated by your healing. Furthermore, bad experiences aren’t made “okay” because something good seems to come out of it later.

You are valid and your feelings are valid. When you’re going through this, you might have a lot of so called “ugly” feelings or responses. This isn’t the time when you shame yourself. This is when you do the work. Everything becomes an opportunity for healing. And it begins with confronting the issues that come up for you, in the moment.

Even if you aren’t planning on doing the work, you will be faced with opportunities to confront your Shadow. Situations will arise, that make you feel like everything you care about is being attacked.

In a way, we are all being confronted by our Shadow, right now.
Shadow Self - Watercolor Illustration

In my experience, the best way to cope isn’t always to run away from it. Your Shadow will always be there waiting, for the next opportunity to show its face. Instead, face it down. Don’t be afraid. Shadows might be illuminated by the light, but they are easily transformed that way, as well.

Remember to practice self-care. Self-care is incredibly important when you are undergoing big changes. Be kind to yourself, while you’re fighting the big battles. Give yourself time to rest, as well as examine. Set yourself up for success.

Confronting your Shadow isn’t about creating or avoiding problems. Problems will happen anyway. It is about deciding for yourself, how they change you. When i’m doing the work, I am choosing to use my experiences for self-examination and growth. I am choosing to use them for healing.

This year is bringing about the kind catalytic experiences, that will alter us entirely. So when you feel like these experiences are pulling you under, remember that you get to choose the person that you’ll be when it’s over. You also get to change your mind.

Don’t be afraid of your Shadow work. It isn’t your destruction. It’s your transformation.


You might also like my article on Vocal: Surviving Seasonal Depression in 2020: Routines to Help You Cope.

Between Two Cliffs

Clara covered her mouth to stifle the noise. She was far enough away to catch her breath, but they weren’t far behind. She didn’t know why they were chasing her, but she knew that she didn’t want to be caught.

As she raced farther into the forest, she tried not to think of Diana, lying dead on the ground. She bit back the tears and focused on surviving. As she burst into a clearing, her fear heightened. She was completely exposed.

She barely registered the multitude of flowers beneath her feet, or the bright sun shining above her. A yellow dress flashed out of the corner of her eye before it disappeared into the forest. She ran toward it. Both her lungs and muscles were aching. Only the adrenaline in her body and the shouts at her back propelled her forward. They’d spotted her!

A moment after she stepped beneath the tree cover, she was running out of it again. There were two cliffs in the distance. They were so close together that they might have been a single slab of stone cleaved into two.

The area between the cliffs tapered narrowly, as she rushed between them. Eventually, the space became so narrow that Clara was forced to halt. She caught her breath for only a moment as she surveyed the crack. It was big enough for her to squeeze through, and there was light on the other side. If it wasn’t a dead end it could be her best escape.

Clara expected the stone to scrape against her as she pressed through. Instead, she was sucked through the opening. Astonishment and wonder filled her senses as she surveyed her surroundings. The gap had widened by a full car length. The cliff walls were smooth and polished, driving straight up to the sky.  Where only moments before, it had been mid-day, now the sun was replaced by a thin, crescent moon and a field of stars.

She turned to face the crevice, but there was only smooth unbroken stone. Clara took a deep breath.  I wasn’t going back, anyway. Facing forward, she walked between the two cliffs.

Small lanterns lit the pathway, and a brighter glow emanated ahead of her. When she reached the source, she was met by an immense stone structure. Everything around it was illuminated.

That was when she saw her. Her breath caught in her throat, at the sight of that yellow dress. It glowed in the shimmering light, but it was nothing compared to her face. Diana stood a moment longer before stepping through an archway and into the darkness.

Clara didn’t hesitate to follow. Something surged through her as she crossed the threshold. At first, it felt like flames, burning and devouring her. Then Diana was beside her. She wrapped her body around Clara and dissolved into her.

The pain was instantly transformed into indescribable joy. Clara held her chest. A light bloomed within her. It grew and expanded, consuming her entire body.  She was momentarily blinded as everything faded to white.

When her sight returned, she was back in the field. The men were rushing toward her, but she could clearly see that they were not men. A dark evil pervaded their eyes. It seemed to ripple beneath their skin.

 She stood still as they charged her. She held out her arms, and a bright light filled the clearing. Something that was not quite flame but more solid than light rushed from her, consuming the creatures. Their roars became a distant echo, before fading into nothing.

The men stared uncertainly around them. Confusion filled their now human eyes. They didn’t know where they were. She decided not to tell them.

Her skin had returned to normal, but the sensation remained. It felt a lot like love. Diana’s voice whispered inside of her, and their purpose ignited within her mind. A spark flashed at Clara’s fingertips as she disappeared into the trees.

Autumn Songs

Josephine stepped out her door, and a crisp wind tugged at her dark curls. The late afternoon sun intensified the trees’ rose gold tones. The forest seemed to hold its breath in anticipation for the night ahead.  

The entire town of clover took part, but the seniors were always in charge of preparations. It was a rite of passage. This year it was Josephine’s turn. She quickened her pace when she remembered how late she was.

“Jo, over here!” Josephine turned her head in time to see her best friend, Kelsey, running ahead. She laughed and followed after her.

The dappled light shifted quickly. When did she get so fast? She’s so far ahead. She pushed herself to run faster, but Josephine couldn’t seem to catch up with her. She halted only a moment to catch her breath. When she looked up, Kelsey was long gone, and so was the path.

She didn’t bother searching for the luminaries lining the pathway. They wouldn’t be lit for hours. Turning around, she began retracing her steps.

Her mind wandered as she did. It became a haven for plans and a flurry of thoughts. When she finally turned her attention back to the present, she was more lost than ever. Her fingers were growing numb, and the forest was quickly growing dark.

An uncharacteristic rage overcame her. She screamed. She screamed louder than she ever had before. It wasn’t a call for help. It was pure frustration.

When she realized what she’d done, she clamped her mouth shut. Josephine glanced around, but there was no one there to offend. It had felt really good, so she did it again. She felt a lot better until she heard the crackling and crunch of leaves behind her.

She turned quickly. Standing there was a thin man. He was covered head to toe with mud. It seemed to be caked-on him in sections. Random leaves and twigs, stuck to the mud, and twisted in his hair. Pale skin peeked out, from beneath the dirt. He cackled loudly before charging at her.

Something shifted inside of her and reverberated outward. It echoed beyond her body. Before he could reach her, the man burst into countless embers, their light crackling and drifting toward the sky. With no consideration for direction anymore, Josephine ran. She ran and ran until light began to show in the distance. She hoped it was the clearing.

Josephine pressed through the tree line and found herself standing before a large bonfire. It was ten times larger than the bonfire that they built for the Singing. It billowed, as a thick branch collapsed into the scorching flames. Josephine stared at it, hypnotized.

“So you killed him, then? Well, that’s lucky for you.” She was instantly dis-enthralled. For the second time that night, she whirled around to confront a stranger. “No need to get defensive with me. I don’t mind that he’s dead. He’s not really dead. Nothing really dies, now does it?”

Josephine didn’t know what she meant but was far too overwhelmed to ask. “I just want to go home. The Singing is bound to start before long, and I haven’t even dressed yet.” As the words left her mouth, Josephine considered how trivial she sounded.

The woman cocked an eyebrow and smiled as if she knew. “Well, you’ve done your part for the night, and the autumn songs must be sung. Follow me.” Josephine looked at her hesitantly, but the lady only laughed and walked into the night.

Despite her reservations, Josephine walked back into the darkness. The lady’s dress seemed to twinkle in the dark. It was a subtle beacon, leading her forward. Josephine wondered if she should feel regret for whatever she’d done, but didn’t feel anything at all. She said he isn’t really dead. Whatever that means. A shiver ran through her as she walked onward.

They stopped after a time, and the woman turned toward her, holding a slip of fabric in her hands. “You’ll need this.”

Josephine reached out and caught a pale dress. Warily, with an eye on the stranger, she changed out of her clothes. The dress slid over her body in one smooth movement. It shimmered, even in the darkness. It was paper-thin, yet warmed her better than the layers she’d worn all day.

She reached to pick up her jeans and realized that all of her other clothes had disappeared. “What the…?” She swept her hands over the ground desperately, but the woman only sighed.

“Don’t worry. It’s all back at your house. It’s the least that I could do, since you did my job for me tonight. Come along.” She walked forward with purpose.

Josephine seethed until the lights began to show through the trees. The town bonfire came into view. She turned to thank the stranger but found herself alone. The drums were already beating a steady rhythm. She took a deep breath and entered the fold. She quickly found her friends.

“Where have you been? We did everything already, and it’s about to start.” Lara hissed angrily.

 “I got lost in the woods.” Lara rolled her eyes and motioned for Josephine to take her place. “Where’s Kelsey?” She whispered as she scooted next to Lara.

“She’s checking on the feast preparations. She’ll be right back. She’s been here since noon.” Josephine felt her body run cold, with those words.

She remained paralyzed until everyone was assembled. Then something in the air shifted, and she with it. As one, they lifted their faces to the bonfire and to the sky.


If you enjoyed “Autumn Songs” and you want to read my recent work, try one of the links below.