Journaling: Cathartic, or a crock?

Written by Adam Davis:

For someone who grew up with the thought that writing about cars for a living was, well, life, the suggestion that I take to ‘journaling’ as an emotional release should have been a natural extension. Right?

When my awesome psychologist (he’s let me name him: Phil Milligan from JPM Life Innovations in Mornington) initially suggested the concept, for some reason my mind railed. Perhaps it was my mental state at the time, but for some reason I figured it was an interesting concept that I would never actually sit down and do.

My feeling was that writing had always been for a specific purpose. Whether it was weaving a feature story for the car enthusiast — describing an epic car on epic roads in minute detail — or to disseminate factual information quickly for consumers, the satisfaction came from delivering what they needed. To write about what’s on my mind, in a kind of free-flowing and directionless release, was a foreign concept.

After a couple more sessions, with late-year adrenal fatigue in full flight (a topic for another day), the thought was revisited with the phrase, “Well, you’re a writer. So write.”

Hmm. I remember reading a book in the school library, years ago now. It was about running and fitness. One passage stood out at the time, around motivation. It essentially said, “You will be amazed at how much motivation you gain for the task at hand once you take that initial step.” For good reason, that line has stuck with me ever since. Have I adhered to it? Not enough, but I am grateful for the times it made a real difference.

With this in mind, my conclusion was, ‘Why not?’ Phil’s steered me right on so many things and given his reinforcement of the concept – and the fact I had a leave day upcoming – gave me enough of a jolt to at least try.

I set up a cosy little fire in the backyard pit and stretched out on the chair, fresh notebook in hand. Fire places are always great for thinking, after all. (Yes, Sarah snuck behind me to take the photo!)

Staring into the flames brought calmness to the whirlwind within, and I decided to make a start… but the ingrained thought process from my work – honed by editors demanding compelling, thoughtful feature openers – was immediate: What if someone reads this, how will they interpret it? How will I interpret it in times of better mood? Of lesser mood?

I can’t deny the first session was a struggle, as I tried to make sense of some fresh challenges recent psychology had presented. There was a hesitancy to open up, to make truth of some less appealing thought processes by laying it out there, perhaps for someone to stumble upon it – least of all myself.

Despite the rambling, unstructured spiels that resulted and the many tangent lines started but not fleshed out, I felt a further sense of calm when I set the pen down, several pages later.

From that point, the times where I have had enough physical (and mindful) silence, have been few and far between. However I have managed a couple of extra journaling sessions, with the second one revealing a more natural flow to it.

I’ve discovered that this is not a bad thing, as those aforementioned tangents provide food for further exploration and self-analysis. I do find, though, that I have to be in the right mind state to re-explore these ramblings, just in case there is something there written in a darker time that might shock me right back there.

As with every mental health journey, it’s important to take things at their own pace. What I do know is that tomorrow, Phil will ask me how the journaling is going. Perhaps I will show him this post…

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