The Journal Process That Changed Me

"Journaling": "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.

3 Comments

  1. Your post was interesting to me because I’m constantly writing lists and tracking things (e.g. books read, movies seen, games played) in a moleskin notebook, but I’ve never really thought of that as journaling or as something therapeutic. Yet, I look back on these notes occasionally, and they make me feel better about myself when I’m prone to self-criticism.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

      I love that. Lists were the first things I started writing. It calmed me, and I liked to be able to look back at them. I keep an ongoing list of “books read” in my journals too.

      I also loved noting any accomplishment, regardless of how mild. It’s what taught me that we need to give ourselves credit for small accomplishments. Small achievements can lead to bigger ones.

      One thing that has helped with my self-criticism was writing in second-person. My criticism tends to be reserved for myself. Eventually, I realized that I deserved the same grace that I gave to others. I think that you deserve that too.

      Stay Safe, Jessica

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