“Dear Diary. Today, I saw a boy. I wonder if he noticed me. He took my breath awayyyyyyyyyy.” ~Queen Britney
I’m a journaling fool. I’m also not. I know I already said this and I probably will 10,000 more times: Sometimes self-care is doing nothing and just taking a big ‘ol break. But, 90% of the time, I journal and journal a lot.
Journaling is something that was recommended to me for years that I would try and “fail” at over and over again. I complained to my friend Brittany about this a few years ago. She loves journaling and I just could not get into it. She actually got me a notebook that I could keep all of my thoughts in. I still could not manage to write more than a couple of sentences every few days. I just had nothing to say to myself.
Until I was on my own.
About three months after a terrible break up, I was aimlessly wandering around Target. I was in search of new decor for the apartment I had shared with my ex because, as we all know, new curtains are all you need to embrace your independence. Well, the shades didn’t hit the spot but, wandering down the stationary aisle, I spotted a light pink notebook entitled, “Chapter 3”. It’s been a little over a year and I’m down to my last four pages of my third chapter, both literally and figuratively.
I’ve gotta say, my own personal Chapter 3 has been one of the most important years of my life and, because of that, I’m really excited that I documented it. It’s like a textualized before and after photo. If you already have a journal, I challenge you to reread some of it. Read the hard stuff. Look at how far you’ve come. Look at how you would handle those struggles now versus how you handled them then. Look at the wonderful things you did and said to yourself in your highest moments. Look at the mean things you said to yourself when you were at your lowest and acknowledge how they didn’t help you. Then, learn from that.
Journaling is an outrageous tool. Wether or not you have been diagnosed with a mental health struggle, journaling can help you track your symptoms and control your progress. I always choose to journal during my darkest times even if I have to force myself, because the real work comes when I’m on the other side. After surviving a tough week, I can look back at what I wrote, with my now clear head, and see what I prioritized. I can assess my triggers, my fears, my worries, my “what-ifs”, and recognize why I let them build up. That’s how I break my bad habits. I don’t ignore them. I cannot stress enough the importance of letting yourself have a voice. Give yourself the opportunity to recognize your negative thoughts. Identify the problems so you can work towards changing them. No one will do that for you. That is directly on you. You have the tools to create positive thoughts.
Today, I caught myself looking in the mirror at least twenty times in the first two hours of my day, and only saying mean things to myself. I also found myself softening those mean thoughts by excusing what I was saying. “My face is so puffy… but, to be fair, I had pizza and beer last night for the first time in like a month.” Emily. Emily, no. I do sometimes journal my self-image negativity and I am proud to be at the point where I go easier on myself by following it up with a “but it’s okay cause you’ll look better soon” type of comment. However, we can do better than that, folks. There’s always a next step. A new goal. Mine is to stop commenting on my puffy face at all. To look in the mirror and say, “That lucky chick ate pizza and drank beer last night” and not follow it up with a, “but it’s okay because today is a celery day.”
What if we looked in the mirror and forced ourselves to comment on the things we forget about? The things we like about ourselves so much, that we actually tend to put them on the back burner. It’s hard to be proud of things you’ve never had to work for. So, instead of appreciating the big beautiful eyes you were born with (that others would kill for), you ignore them and focus on the thin lips that you were born with and how sad you are that you will never have (what you think is) a naturally perfect mouth. Except, if you had giant lips and teeny tiny eyes, you wouldn’t give your lips an ounce of attention because you would focus everything on your little baby eyeballs.
After trying to make myself appreciate my eyes and not notice everything else that was bothering me, I decided to take a break from my mirror altogether and just journal: “I have this nasty habit of feeling like I’m not good enough but, I’m realizing, I’m the only one who’s really judging. So, not good enough for who? For myself? Well, damn girl. Where’s the self-care queen now… if you’re waiting to wake up perfect, you’re never going to be happy. You’re never going to reach the top of the final mountain.”
Wise words from 12-hours ago me. And that is exactly my point. One of my favorite quotes (by the brilliant Marianne Williamson) is, “The top of one mountain is always the bottom of another.” There will never be a final mountain. You will never figure it all out. That. Is. Okay. I would be very bored if I figured everything out. I would hate that. I’ll never be the best at journaling but I have gotten really great at it and I’ve found a way for it to be extremely helpful for me. When you take up a new habit, it’s typically a slow start. You have to hone that skill and, over time, you will.
If you’re having trouble getting into journaling, wait until the moment you are on the brink of screaming, and then record a voice memo on your phone. Let it all out. Every last drop. In a few days, listen back to it. Really hear yourself. You know I’m all about giving yourself a voice. Then, record again. Record how you’re now feeling about that same situation. Then, recognize your progress or your regress and learn from it. Then, find your Chapter 3.