Dear Diary: How Keeping a Journal Can Help You Stay Sane
The Unofficial Histories
The concept of writing down events in everyday life is older than time itself. Cuneiform, one of the earliest forms of writing, consisted of clay slabs with tic-marks that scholars widely agree represent the records of an ancient trader or farmer. Down through the ages the writings of journal keepers among the Greeks and Romans, the medieval chroniclers who preserved history through the dark ages, and countless private parties whose personal writings reflect their lives and times have kept the memory of the past alive by telling us exactly what it was like living in their worlds.
Now like most people I have owned a number of journals in my life. Most of them became notepads which were beaten up and torn to shreds or canvas for childish scribbling. As I grew older and studied history I saw how journals provide such valuable information for the future so I started keeping an actual journal. But looking back at my entries, I only averaged five or six annually.
What really inspired me about journal writing was when I sat down and read the Diary of Anne Frank all the way through. While I was always aware of Anne Frank's story and the desperate situation she and her family lived in for years in hiding, it was not until I read that talented girl's diary as drafted by her brokenhearted father that I realized what an incredible writer she was, and how keeping a diary (or journal, if masculine) can provide a healingly therapeutic venue for keeping one's spirits up and not going insane.
Think about it; Anne was crammed into a tiny space with almost a dozen people who did not always get along and living every day in hiding, knowing any minute could be her last. And yet she wrote stories, learned languages, devoured books, dreamed of boys, made lighthearted jokes and held onto her vast spirit to the end even as she entered adulthood and her ultimate tragic fate.
The whole way through her ordeal, Anne held onto her journal like the best friend every girl needs at that age. Her desires, her fears, her every waking notion of the beauties of life was recorded in her humble notebook which would make her immortal.
Now, none of us live in anything close to the life-or-death situation that Anne Frank bravely faced. But it cannot be denied that the entire world is going through hard times with bills getting ever higher and employment prospects often bleak even after extensive study and hard work. During times like these it is more important than ever to hold onto your beliefs and stay true to yourself. If you do not, it is all too easy to lose your mind or become mentally burnt out in the prime of life. Trust me, I know.
Let me tell you the ways I use my journal to maintain my sanity on a daily basis. I cannot express enough how much help it has been to me.
Vent Your Frustrations
This is an age-old method of stress relief and anger management: writing when you are angry or panicked or just generally upset so you can let the feeling go and be free of the negativity. It is like venting to a friend who listens and listens and agrees with everything you say until you've said enough and you're ready to move on.
Now granted a lot of us want to vent and receive feedback from our audience, be made to feel better. Sadly a journal cannot replace a living, breathing person in that regard. But since it takes more time to write down an angry rant than to say it, you just might be able to cool down in that time and avoid saying something you regret. Let's face it; there are some things that just do not need to be said out loud.
On that note, keep in mind the permanent nature of a journal. Unless you tear out and destroy your recorded angry thoughts, like some people do, you will have a mobile, accessible record of your most negative thoughts which can be picked up and viewed by anyone. Remember Ronald Dahl's Harriet the Spy? That's pretty much what I am talking about here. My journals tend to contain a lot less of my negative thoughts these days after I got in a great deal of trouble years ago with a certain lady friend. It was not pretty, and I never want to go through that again.
The moral of this story? Venting your frustration in your journal is an excellent and very healthy practice. Keeping your frustrations in a journal where the object of your frustration can reach it, be it your wife, your child, or your boss, on the other hand, can be downright detrimental to your mental, emotional and physical well-being!
The Diary that Made Anne Frank Immortal
Sometimes, there's just no way to properly express what you feel in person. It could be a moment of perfect bliss from a holiday, a special occasion, or just daily life that you don't want to let go of. Maybe you want to make the perfect marriage proposal but you're unsure how you want to do it. A journal gives you the perfect place to hold a mental jam session and figure out exactly what you want to get across.
A journal is also the perfect place to find your inner poet. Perhaps you feel like describing a particular experience through poetry or you want to write a song about how much you love your girlfriend. In the soul of every human being lies the heart of a poet. After all, we all love, we all feel joy, we all suffer and we all adapt. These are the tenets of human experience and they also happen to be the foundations for artistic expression. You can even use your journal to make doodles and drawings if it makes you feel good. Just express yourself!
Organize Your Thoughts
Attention deficit disorders are at an all-time high these days, or so it would seem. Between television shows, the internet, work, family, hobbies, obligations and the thousands of other things which we find filling our minds to capacity anymore, it seems incredible we all remember to tie our shoes in the morning!
For me, this is the greatest benefit journaling has provided for me. As I go about my daily life I often find myself coming up with clever ideas and wise words but I often forgot them and thus lost what might have been valuable information for myself. To avoid these thoughts just vanishing into the ether, I write them down at the first available opportunity so I can refer back to them later. Many stories were saved from oblivion by this tactic of information retention.
Your Journal: The Perfect Adventure Story With Yourself as the Hero!
Be Your Own Biographer
For most of us, the only way our lives will ever be recorded into a biography is if we do it ourselves. Journals are the one and only time we can describe our lives as the harrowing, exciting, passionate things that they are. We can be the hero of our own adventure, the main character in our own dramas and comedies. It is our time to shine as the brightest star in the universe, even if nobody knows our names. It is a wonderful confidence booster. On the page all our best jokes, all our bravest moments, all our greatest accomplishments and best times are preserved for the future.
Ever wonder what life was like for your great-grandfather? If he had kept a journal, you just might have been able to have some idea. Journals provide the future with a glimpse into the past that now history book ever could. They tell the story of people and the times they lived in. Face it; we are all mortal. Eventually we will all pass away. But the written word, our written words, can outlast us by millennia. Never underestimate the power of the written word.