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It happened today just as it has every day since I was a child. This time it hit me in the morning. The racing.
When does it stop? For years, my mind has been an endless carousel of visions and thoughts. A constant stream of ideas, bad memories, and negative self-talk. Daily, I stand in front of this ride watching it whiz by, absorbing the anxiety and despair that blows off of it.
When I was younger, drinking was a way to shut the carousel down. I couldn’t think bad thoughts if I couldn’t think straight at all. As you can imagine, that comes with a whole new set of problems. Thankfully, that is now part of my past.
In my years battling depression, anxiety, and this crazy brain, only two non-alcoholic things have consistently stopped my mind from racing. The first is running. I know a lot of people run because it helps them think but running is such a difficult thing for me that, when I run, my footfalls and breathing are all that fill my mind. It’s a glorious escape for which I am deeply thankful.
The second activity I’ve found to stop my mind from racing is journaling. Now, let’s get something straight, I hate journaling. I’m not promoting this because I love it. I’m promoting it because it works. I don’t think anything has led to my personal development more than journaling. Anytime I’m stuck or frustrated or sad, if I force myself to journal then I will get some relief. Even more, journaling through depression has made positive shifts in my mental health.
If you are struggling with any mental illness, then you know you need to get out of your head. So much of our problems are between our ears and we don’t realize that getting them out is a healthy thing. Think of those thoughts as extra weight on your body. Wouldn’t you rather have that weight out on the table, so you don’t have to carry it around?
I’m lucky. I have supportive and encouraging people surrounding me. However, even the most encouraging of my friends don’t get it. Even more, if they knew everything that went on in my head they’d change their addresses and unfriend me faster than it takes me to log on to Facebook.
For many, the trusted person we tell everything to is a therapist. I don’t know about you, but my therapist keeps pretty strict business hours. My journal is another person I can talk to during those odd times when I need to bounce some thoughts off someone.
We learn a lot about ourselves from talking things out. Many of the things we absorb have to be expressed somehow for them to stick. Journaling is a way to express those thoughts and feelings so that you can understand what you are experiencing.
Journaling doesn’t have to be formal. You don’t need to light candles. You don’t need to have nice stationery. You don’t even need to capitalize your letters. Or heck, capitalize all of them. Who cares, it’s your journal.
Perfection is not necessary. I’m a perfectionist, and I’m constantly trying to put constraints on my journaling because I think it should be a certain way. I should journal every day. I should write at least this many words. I have to write it in this nice overpriced notebook. All of these things are just distractions, obstacles that keep me from getting this crap out of my head.
Just write. No rules, no directions on where your writing is going to go, just write. Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and just get some words out of your brain and into your journal.
Do it in a way that is comfortable for you. Are you tired of staring at a keyboard? Grab a pen and some paper. Hate your handwriting? Open up a new document on your computer. Your journal is yours so write in the format that is most comfortable for you.
One thing that skyrocketed my journaling was when I realized that I didn’t need to write these long deep paragraphs every time. Not every journal entry had to be an exercise in cognitive behavioral therapy. I started by simply “tweeting to myself.” I would write down a sentence or two in my journal next to the date and the time, and that was it. I didn’t need a topic sentence or a thesis statement I just was “tweeting” my thoughts to myself as they occurred.
Something amazing happened. Even though I wasn’t journaling in the traditional sense, the thoughts were still getting out of my head, and I could finally breathe again. I found some depression relief and my anxiety lessened considerably.
Years ago I became frustrated in therapy. In therapy, you’re limited to how you feel the day of your appointment. If things are going well, then you may slant things a bit more positively. I grew annoyed that my appointment day would go fine, but I would have a breakdown later in the week, and I could not give that insight to my therapist because she wasn’t there.
I began sharing some (and ultimately all) of my journal entries with my therapist. It was a way for her to be with me the other days of the week and get a sense for what I was like and how I was handling my illness.
I’ve since made this common practice. It provides my mental health team with raw, unfiltered data about me. They appreciate my journal entries and get a lot of use out of them.
Journaling can be a cleansing experience. You get all this stuff out of your head, and you feel like you can finally move. I’ve found journaling to be a valuable tool for fighting my depression and anxiety, and I invite you to try it.
Whether you’re writing in a fancy book or just making little notes in your smartphone getting your thoughts out of your head will make a huge difference in your life.