Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent more time alone than at any other time in my life. This is obviously linked to all things Covid, and I know many other people are in the same boat. I’m also estranged from my closest family members — my sister lives abroad and I’m only in occasional contact with my father, mostly by letter. I don’t have any other relatives I’m in touch with regularly, either because they have passed away or there are just no historical bonds.
In this article, I wanted to share a little about how journalling has kept me mentally stable during the times of immense frustration and loneliness that I have sometimes felt over the last couple of years, during the lockdowns and even in-between lockdowns with the constant societal upheaval related to Covid.
Everyone knows that electronic communications are not private these days. I don’t know about you, but when I write emails I’m always cautious about what I write, not knowing which crawlers, robots, or even human beings might be scanning my messages. I don’t often share personal thoughts on this blog, partly because I want the blog to be focused on philosophy and theology and partly because of the lack of privacy and not knowing who might be reading from the shadows. You might call this paranoid, but the world is Big Brother on steroids these days, there’s no denying it.
So I have taken to journalling to express my thoughts — those thoughts that I don’t feel comfortable sharing online. Since 2019 I have completed no less than twelve extra large Moleskine journals! Here’s the evidence:
I’m not going to share any images from inside the journals because my handwriting is awful. I shared in my interview with Collin Cooper the story of how during a spell in psychiatric hospital I re-taught myself to write from scratch, making all my letters look entirely different. I can’t really explain why I did this, but my handwriting is a real mess as a result. It’s a jumble of connected letters mixed with isolated letters and f’s and t’s that haven’t been crossed and big letters mixed with small letters — I don’t know whether anyone apart from me would be able to make any sense of it. If I write very slowly I can make it neat, but I don’t usually write slowly, so it’s often a mess (I’m probably exaggerating a little). Maybe at some point I’ll share some examples!
The subject matter of my journal entries is very varied. Normally, I start by putting the date and saying what time of day it is, then I just share whatever thoughts come to mind, whatever they are, even if it’s something as mundane as ‘I’m drinking a cup of tea’ or ‘I’m thinking about taking a shower’. I don’t know why, but I find it immensely therapeutic simply writing openly about what’s going on in my mind, whatever it is. I also sometimes draft blog posts and compose prayers in my journals, as well as brainstorming ideas like my plans for a particular project, or a budget, for instance. I would certainly say writing out the Psalms in my journals, particularly Psalm 37, got me through some of the toughest times I’ve ever experienced.
Recently I was thinking about what to do with all these journals. I don’t want to throw them away, despite my inclinations towards minimalism, because they have been such an important outlet for me and I therefore consider them valuable. It would certainly be interesting to look back through them in the years to come. Perhaps at some point I will give them away as a competition prize or something — if someone else were to read them they would certainly be entertained, of that I’m quite sure!
Committing my thoughts to paper has helped me a lot at times when I’ve been feeling anxious. For example, when I was waiting for a grocery delivery once I managed to fill quite a few pages of a journal, because there was a two-hour delivery slot and I always get anxious waiting for deliveries (for reasons I won’t go into). Writing down my thoughts kept me distracted from clock-watching and made the time pass quickly and lessened my anxiety considerably.
I know there are different styles of journalling, like bullet-journalling for example, but I haven’t felt the need to look into these because journalling for me is generally not about planning. I do my planning on my computer using various apps — my journals are much more of a general mind dump (bad choice of phrase, perhaps ‘thought repository’ would be more apt!).
There’s something amazing about writing in a journal. I know you probably all understand this because you’re writers. I think it’s a bit like having a conversation but without another person, so it’s a great way to combat loneliness, as well as a way of giving expression and coherence to thoughts which might otherwise be lost forever.
Do you have a passion for journalling? What do you use your journal for? Are you concerned about privacy when writing online? And do you get frustrated that I use the English spelling of journalling rather than the American ‘journaling’? Comments below! ✍🏻