Journaling has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance of late and is touted as being a useful coping mechanism for managing mental health issues. Keeping a diary is a suggestion which crops up in all manner of self-help manuals and therapy environments, but is it really such a good idea to unleash the contents of your psyche onto the page?
I started keeping a diary as a child and find it most amusing to read back over days that involved watching 'Grange Hill' and eating Extra Strong Mints. My superficial descriptions of the food and telly I'd consumed were gradually replaced by teen angst and boy drama and it really did help to scrawl it all down and then lock it away in my vanity case.
I always made a point of journaling during happy times too, not only to express my feelings, but to be able to look back fondly on events and evoke them into the present with the power of my own words. I enjoyed sticking tickets, photos and receipts of anything connected with good times into my diary to add extra weight to my outpourings.
The problems began when I relied heavily on diary ramblings during the sh*t times. On the one hand, it can be incredibly cathartic to write down exactly how you feel without censorship. There's no way you can regularly dump emotional crap on other people unless they are therapists, even then there will come a time when they will start calling you out over it. Diaries are superb for this kind of self-indulgent venting and expectorating, without inflicting doom on your nearest and dearest.
But once you've written it all down, it's there. Forever. Unless you rip it up or burn it. Having all of your psychological bile in print means it can be read by other people, unless you are very good at keeping it under lock and key. You might find yourself having to answer some very awkward questions to family members you've slagged off. Your spur of the moment outburst could be history for you, but then p*ss someone else off for a very long time. Keeping a diary is great if you write positive stuff, but it's a nightmare PR exercise to pull around if you're caught out. It can also be read by yourself, days, weeks, months or decades later when you don't feel like that anymore and are suddenly transported back to that dodgy emotional state. Reading old diaries is something I used to consider an irresistible pastime, but it always conjured up the exact same feelings I'd had whilst the events were happening, good or bad. Perusing an old diary isn't the same as remembering something from the past. Your brain has all sorts of helpful software installed to stop you feeling and remembering events at the same intensity as the time they happened. But words, thoughts and feelings written down are a very powerful password which can bypass the psychological safety valves in your head which are there to stop you going mad.
Unless you are using a diary to record and identify patterns of feelings and behaviours in an attempt to blitz negative shenanigans, I would view journaling with caution. Think about what you're going to do with the expressed feelings once they are written down. If you're using it as a moaning outlet, cool, but will it re-ignite the moan if you read it back later? Can I be so bold as to suggest writing a balance of both positive and negative summaries of each day, so you don't find yourself engulfed in a vat of ennui when reflecting at a later date?
My words of warning extend also to keeping a diary on the internet, otherwise known as blogging. When I started my blog laurajaneroche.wordpress.com I wanted it to be honest and personal, but also to have boundaries. I wanted to get real about emotional stuff, but only to show the outer crust of my soul rather than the messy and turbulent inner core. It's easy to think that because you can't see people reading stuff online that it's more impersonal than it actually is. Plus, you can't throw away or burn a blog; even if you delete it, some version of it will still be lurking around in cyberspace.
I read lots of blogs before I started mine and was totes shocked at how much people were revealing about their innermost despair. Even though I'd never met these people, I became emotionally affected to the extent that I have now developed a skim-reading technique to check out a new blog for triggery content. Of course, it's an individual decision to share yourself publicly in this way and if it helps, go for it. For me though, it's not helpful to be emotionally nude on the web, or to read other people's graphic emotional nudity.
I've kept all my boxes of diaries and lugged them around eight house moves, but I've realised now that I need to develop a labelling system and put skull and cross-bone warnings on some. This way, I can enjoy a fond trip down memory lane, without wondering if my own past dooms will jump out and give me the heebie jeebies in the future.