Journaling And Healing

It never ceases to amaze me how important journaling is to my life, as well as the lives of many others. It’s absolutely astounding, because a journal serves an entirely unique and different purpose for every person who keeps one. This girl from my high school used to have this handmade journal that she took to school with her and sometimes in the middle of class she would just get up, dart out and grab some paint from the art room, return and add some art to her journal. The teachers never minded because 1.) They were all really cool alternative school teachers who respected her emotionally healthy lifestyle and 2.) She was keeping up with her studies. For her, a journal wasn’t just about writing down what happened to you or venting or fawning over the cute guy next door. It probably served that purpose at times, but from my understanding, her journal was a second manifestation of herself. She cut and pasted pictures from magazines and newspapers in it, painted and drew and sometimes wrote. It was much more ambiguous and universal than people expect journals to be, and it was so different than my own journals.

My own journals were much more linear than hers and sometimes I wished they could be as broad and artistic as hers, because I really envied her ability to express herself using both words and pictures. All I had was words. Also, I never made my own journals. I would save up and spend $40 on handmade, Italian leather journals with beautiful, crisp, warm yellow paper. It made me feel like a pretentious asshole, but I really loved those journals. I filled their pages with documentations of my life experiences, and with philosophies about life and descriptions of people who mattered to me, so I’d never forget them.

It took awhile for me to realize exactly how significant my seemingly mundane retellings of my daily experiences really were. Something about that style of journaling seemed so superficial and trivial to me and it wasn’t until an entry I wrote sometime in the summer after my sophomore year of high school that I finally realized the importance of writing about everyday life. Things had gotten really bad that year and I’d almost killed myself that March. I’d been experiencing some upwards motion with my recovery though and that day in summer, I’d turned back to the entry I wrote from that spring. It would’ve been the last entry I ever wrote if I’d killed myself then, and in that moment, I realized that between March 6th and July 19th, there was a hefty handful of pages.

Within that handful of pages, I had made new friends, met inspirational people, been to the tops of mountains (literally as well as metaphorically) and experienced so many more small but monumentally life-changing moments that I am forever grateful to be able to call a part of my story. What I came to understand then, was that none of those moments would’ve happened if I’d killed myself that day in March. My story would’ve been cut short and I’d have missed out on everything that happened between the pages I was holding in my hand. I counted, and there are 102 pages of life and learning between March 6th, 2013, and July 19th, 2013.

There is life and meaning, even in the darker moments of your story. The entries I wrote seemed so trivial sometimes, because they were often literally just documentations of the everyday. What I didn’t realize is that every day is magical and sometimes those experiences are valuable simply because they happened– because you let them happen. Life goes on without us whether we want it to or not. There may be times when it feels too meaningless or too empty or too heavy, but those beautiful moments will find us even if we don’t look for them or see them coming, and when they do, they will bring meaning and depth and that weight will lift off.

March 6th, 2013 was certainly not the last day I felt like writing my final chapter. There were many more of those to come, but today, July 30th, 2015, there are 3 entire journals more of beautiful moments, thoughts and memories. I don’t know how many pages that is, because I haven’t counted, but I don’t think it matters, because what’s important is that I got the chance to experience those and even if some of those entries were mundane and ordinary, they still happened, and I am so grateful and happy for that.


How Sadness/Depression Taught Me Love

I’m still incredibly uncomfortable talking about this because the entire experience still feels so invalid to me. I am reluctant to even call my feelings ‘depression,’ even though they drove me thisclose to taking my life, depleted my academic and social motivation persisted for years and robbed me of some of the fundamental parts of my character (still working on getting myself back). Before anything, I want to establish that I was never officially diagnosed with depression. I never saw a mental health professional about it for several reasons, the first being that I was so terrified of anyone finding out how I felt that I kept it all to myself, the second being that I wasn’t entirely sure I deserved to be get treatment because I didn’t really know if I was ‘depressed enough’ for it. Please note that when I use the term ‘depression’ from now on, to describe my experience, I am not using it in a clinical sense, I’m using it strictly as a simple adjective that describes my feelings.

Some part of me still feels like it was just really bad teenage angst, because the feelings began when I was fifteen, and who doesn’t feel like shit when they’re fifteen? But I know what teenage angst feels like, and it’s not like this at all. I don’t really know how to sum up how I’ve been feeling for the past three or so years, especially because there doesn’t appear to be a single, identifiable cause for it. If I had a reason, I’d at least have a basis for this. Instead, at a time in my life when everything was falling into place exactly how I wanted it to, I just started to feel like there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Happiness became increasingly hard to access. Anger and resentment filled in for awhile, as I tried to figure out what was happening. The problem with anger is that it’s an exhausting emotion, and highly destructive too. Eventually I found that what’s easier than blaming everyone else is turning that inwards on yourself. At least that gives you the illusion of control. “Look, I can manipulate my emotions. I can take responsibility and control.” The major problem with this coping mechanism is the self-loathing it harbors and how it teaches you to abuse yourself.

It didn’t matter what I did because I always felt like I’d done it wrong. All of my actions felt like failures and I came to believe that must make me a failure. Not only was I a failure, but I was a hopeless failure– I couldn’t get things right if I tried. So I stopped trying. My grades slipped, I neglected my health, my social circle stopped expanding, and my relationships unraveled. I became shy and withdrawn, and the quieter I got, the louder the voice of my self loathing grew. At first, there was this unbearable, intense sadness. I guess eventually that sadness got too heavy to carry, so I put it down, and you’d think that would solve the problem right? Instead, it just left me with absolutely nothing to feel. I became numb and afraid. I think the absence of emotion, the inability to feel, is scarier than negative emotions, because emotions are so much of what makes us human, and the feeling of losing your humanity is terrifyingly isolating.

You hear about troubled kids who ‘act out’ by experimenting with drugs, getting aggressive, sneaking out, having promiscuous sex and drinking. They’re highly stigmatized by many ignorant people, but the general consensus among educated individuals regarding their behavior is that they’re in a hard place in life and ‘acting out’ is their way of distracting themselves, calling for help, numbing themselves, making themselves feel anything at all. It’s the kids who do the opposite, who ‘act in,’ who are curiously elusive of publicity. Maybe it’s my shy nature, maybe it’s the fact that all my life I’d prided myself in my dreadful ability to suppress my emotions and refrain from self expression, but I ended up ‘acting in.’ The anger and hate I directed at myself consumed every last bit of self-worth I had, leaving me with this awful sense of undeserving. Suddenly everything I did felt selfish. Asking questions in class, having friends, talking, eating, breathing, were all these disgusting expressions of entitlement and I told myself that everyday, along with ‘I hate you,’ ‘you fucked up,’ ‘it’s all your fault,’ ‘you’re hopeless,’ ‘you’re so stupid’ and many other tidbits of abusive ‘wisdom.’ I acted on these feelings by engaging in what is, perhaps the most well-known form of ‘acting in’: I cut myself.

Self harm does not fix anything though, all it does is leave you with nasty scars on your body and much anxiety regarding keeping them hidden. I still don’t know what fixes depression, because I still experience it (to a much lesser degree currently though), and also because when it comes to depression, I don’t think recovery is like ‘getting fixed.’ It’s not that linear and simple and snappy. It’s more of a process of healing and most of all, learning. We all learn and heal differently, and I can’t speak for everyone, but what improved things drastically for me, was pushing myself to learn to love everyone around me, and to express that more. People often like to mount their high horses and pontificate about how, “You cannot love another until you love yourself,” because it makes them feel wise or insightful or something. Maybe that saying is true for them, but for me, and probably many others, it’s bullshit, and extremely destructive bullshit at that (“Thanks for telling me I’m a cold-hearted bitch. I feel much better now.”)

I may have hated myself more than can ever be expressed, but after awhile I discovered that my self loathing did not abolish my ability to love other people, so I made it my job to find the good in people, starting with those closest to me, and working my way out until pretty soon I had come to the conclusion that everyone in the world is a beautiful soul, a beating heart and most of all, a human being, and because of our shared humanity, I could relate to them and love them. Something about that gave me a sense of purpose, like I was finally doing something right and giving back. The recognition of everyone as just another human caused that isolation to evanesce, at least a little bit. There’s a line in a Pink Floyd song that says, “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl.” The way I see it, everyone in the world is just a lost soul swimming in a fish bowl, and even if we don’t agree on things, or treat each other poorly sometimes, or fail to understand each other, or even dislike each other at times, I believe there’s a kind of love that can be felt for every single person who exists, has existed, and will exist, simply because we are human, and we need love, and that’s enough.