A little over 23 years ago, I found myself sitting in the back of the school bus on my way home. We arrived on the corner of my street so I stood up and started making my way towards the front. There was a long line of kids in front of me and behind me but the only person I was paying attention to was the boy in front of me, Jake. I remember thinking he was the coolest kid I ever met.
I was in the fourth grade and recently moved to a new town. We had moved from a small apartment in Highland Park, NJ where I slept on a fold-out couch in the living room to a bigger house where I had my own room. My own room. I was so happy. This was a new beginning for my family and I was excited for all the good things to come.
I continued inching my way off the bus when Jake turned around, looked me in the eyes and very calmly said, “you are ugly.” For a moment, I had trouble processing and thought I had misheard him. Was he talking to me? I had grown up with my entire family telling me how special and beautiful I was. Maybe they were just saying that because they felt they had to? If my classmate was telling me I was ugly, it was likely that he knew something my family didn’t.
There were so many things I could have said to him, things I thought of after I got off the bus that I wish I had said in the moment. Instead, I just looked away and held back tears. I didn’t understand what was happening or why he would say that but I knew I didn’t want him seeing me cry. Looking back, I now understand how horrible he must have felt inside himself to say something so cruel to another person but I didn’t know it at the time.
You are ugly.
I had a tough time fitting in that year and for years after that. It had seemed as though everyone I met had their own set of friends that they knew since preschool. I felt lost and couldn’t find my place. As the new girl, that would be the first of many times I was bullied. People would say awful things to me in person or behind my back. A group of girls I was friends with one day told me I was no longer part of the group with the obligatory, “you can’t sit with us.”
I was chasing female friendships and a safe place that I wasn’t able to find for a long time. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. As I walked home, I made my way to my room where a journal stood on my desk. Something in me felt the need to write it all down. I started writing almost every day because it was the only thing that brought me joy and internal peace. Looking back, my journal is probably what saved me.
Things in my life have completely shifted since then. I have supportive female friendships, a strong marriage, and a loving family. Thankfully, I no longer feel alone like I did when I was eight years old and I feel much stronger with my own sense of self. I can’t say it’s all due to journaling but if I look back over the years, the one constant I have always turned to has been my journal. Eventually, I stopped beginning each entry with “Dear Diary” and moved away from writing to an inanimate object to free-form writing with whatever came to mind. I continued to write about my hopes, thoughts, feelings, and updates on whatever was going on in my life. There was never any structure or goal in mind. It was really just a way to get it all out and attempt to make sense of things.
There has always been a journal in my life, hidden under a mattress or behind a bookshelf. You can see in this photo my first diary with the pages falling out and several ones that came later. For a long time, I wrote as though no one would ever read my words, unfiltered and uninhibited. Although I’d like to say that I journal on a daily basis, I admit that there are days and weeks that pass by, sometimes even months, where I don’t practice what I preach. Then something will happen that I need to write through and my trusty notebook is always there.
I put down my phone and picked up a pen and notebook.
One of the most important things I do for myself now is put down my phone and pick up a pen and notebook. From the moment we wake up, we are constantly checking our phones for the latest texts, phone calls, and news updates. It’s almost like we’re addicted to newness- new information, new things, new input. I sometimes intend to read one article on Facebook and 45 minute later, I’m still in Facebook land reading something completely unrelated to why I went on there in the first place. All of this mindless activity takes me away from things I actually want to read and learn about. Looking back, an article from my friend’s ex-boyfriend on “20 ways you know you grew up in the 90s” isn’t going to do much for my goals and aspirations. Sitting down with a good book or a blank journal will.
Instead of going to bed with my phone and falling asleep while checking the latest updates, I started writing for ten minutes every night. In converting a really bad habit to a good habit that helps me become a better version of myself, I feel like I have a focus and a quiet way to close out the day. Rather than continuing to consume content up until the moment you close your eyes at the end of the day, journaling gives you the ability to create something, which can positively affect every area of your life.
By making a conscious choice to put down my phone, I now feel like I’m doing something intentionally rather than constantly reacting. Imagine how you would feel if you wrote down, “I had a really great day today” or “I am beautiful” before going to bed instead of reading about the GOP.
Journaling helps put things into perspective for me and make sense of it all. It’s like a personal therapy session, but less expensive. If you’re obsessing over your thoughts and need a way to get them out of you, journaling is the answer. I typically write about my day or something that has been bothering me. If I’m ever stuck, I use writing prompts to get into a flow. I highly suggest a pen and paper instead of typing. There’s just something about the feeling of a pen in your hands. Here are a few prompts that I use:
What is worth remembering?
♥ What was worth remembering about today? ♥ Who is someone you really admire? What do you admire most about them? ♥ What are three goals you have for yourself? ♥ How do you want others to describe you? ♥ What is one thing you wish you did differently today? ♥ When do you feel the happiest? ♥ What did you really enjoy doing as a child? ♥ What are you most looking forward to? ♥ Is there a relationship in your life you would like to improve? What is one tangible thing you can do to make it better? ♥
Don’t worry about correct grammar or complete sentences. Just write whatever comes to mind. Do as the millennials do and create lists. I sometimes make the mistake of staring at a blank piece of paper, trying to come up with a sentence that perfectly encompasses all my thoughts, hopes and dreams. Definitely don’t do that. The easier you make it, the more likely you are to journal consistently.
Be honest with yourself.
Writing in a journal is not going to fix all of your problems or turn you into someone who is suddenly at peace with the world. Given the political climate, I don’t think that’s even a remote possibility. You’ll still mutter profanities to yourself when you step on some gum or when you arrive at your favorite cafe only to find that it closed two minute ago. But it will offer a friendly reminder that despite your neuroses, there is a lot of good in your life. You may start paying attention to things that weren’t previously on your radar. It doesn’t even matter if you feel weird or self-conscious about it. All you can do is be honest with yourself in written form and take it from there.