When I’m in the mood or just when I run across them on the shelf in my bedroom, I love to pull out one of my old diaries and read a few entries. It’s a portal to a different time. A different me. Rich in the most absurd details, I’m taken back to random times in my life. And it makes me smile. Or cringe. Or roll my eyes. Or tear up.
I’ve journaled since I was a teen. Back in high school my long-lost diaries were scribbled out on steno pads with their smashed wiry bindings and yellow pages cut perfectly in half by the vertical line down the middle. When I graduated college, a close friend gave me a beautiful hardbound journal (far left in the pic) to fill up with post-college angst. The first entry is dated August 16, 1990. And, boy, is it angsty! I’ve kept a pretty consistent journal ever since. The last quarter century of my life has been well documented within the pages of my journals—be them on paper or a glowing computer screen.
Unlike blogging, my diary isn’t for public consumption. It contains my cruelest thoughts and darkest contemplations—somehow untethering me from them. As well as my sweetest moments and greatest expectations–doing the complete opposite: binding me to them. Both extremes remind me of who I am…er…was, freeing me to live somewhere comfortably in the middle of both.
In happy times, there aren’t many entries. It’s only been in the last five years that I’ve learned to scribble out a thought or two when I’m happy or grateful. But in sadder ones when I was dealing with challenges of one kind or another, entries are fierce and frequent. My first year in Chicago saw me fill up two bound journals, writing every day in great detail about the minutiae of my misery. No, Chicago didn’t embrace me immediately. It took a couple of brutal years of self-discovery and pushing myself out of my comfort zone to figure out this is where I belonged.
I love looking back through those early volumes. The handwriting. The drama. The problems I had all seem so far away and insignificant. Almost as if written by a different person. But it wasn’t. It was me. An earlier version. I want to reach out to those versions writing about feeling alone or wondering about love and touch his hand and tell him everything will be alright. (Not that he would have listened.)
The scratching of the tip of a pen feeding the hungry blank pages of a journal releases dopamine in my brain, I think. It’s love. Of a kind. And it’s catharsis. It’s special. But ultimately for me, it’s also less efficient. I had to give up handwriting my journal in the mid-2000s in favor of a digital one on my computer because I was usually near it or my iPhone or iPad. I can type faster than I can handwrite—keeping up with my thoughts—and I can tag and index my entries or search for a key word. Granted, not nearly as much fun as pulling out a handwritten volume.
I’ve learned to enjoy the catharsis hearing the chiklet keys on my MacBook tick away to varying degrees as I tap some keys and pound others. Watching the cursor dance across the screen—mostly to the right, but sometimes quite often to the left—has become satiating for me. The uniformity of the characters make it seem polished and professional.
I used MacJournal for many years. Not only were there few options to pick from when I decided to switch, but it did have a lot of the features I wanted, and it seemed well supported. (And it is! I got locked out of my journal one time and had to email support to assist. I was able to get back in after they replied. But the sweating I did, thinking I would lose all my thoughts over the past few previous years kept me awake at night!)
Not surprisingly, I journaled significantly during Ken’s cancer diagnosis. See? In challenging times, I feel the pull to my journal, and relish the safety in documenting my feelings much more frequently. It offered—offers—a kind of judgement- and sympathy-free solace—indifference—I can’t find anywhere else. I named my journal “The Therapist” in 2010 and doubled the number of entries I’d made in 2011. They were two incredibly challenging years. Part of my sanity and strength was brought to me by “The Therapist.”
In 2013, I changed to Day One which saw the year end with 302 entries. I like MacJournal a lot, but I just needed someplace new to journal. A change to something else that wasn’t the same as before. Some cool things about this app are that it syncs across devices and captures information (if you allow it) like your location and the weather, and offers great ways to send photos to it to capture the vision of something in the moment.
I recently wrote about the 5th anniversary of this blog and how it kept me sane during Ken’s illness. If that’s true (and it is), it’s my diaries that have done the same for me the last quarter century.
Also published on Medium.