I have sporadically kept a diary for a couple of years now. It has been referred to by many names; my Not-journal, my journal, and most descriptive of all, the big black book of death. It is a tome filled to bursting with hastily written feelings and emotions (yuck), and has earned it’s more ominous title thanks to the most likely thing you might find inside. I reached for it most often, see, during bad moments, difficult times and days where I wasn’t able to talk to friends about the more troubling stuff that was going on. As a stereotypical human male, I am in possession of a severely stunted understanding about how to talk about my feelings to people. The moment I try I end up drowning out any hint of honesty through a barrage of desperate jokes and half-truths. I turn to my not-journal, then, when those things building up inside start really taking their toll. It’s no surprise that so many of the pages are so unbelievably depressing.
But that’s what makes it such a useful tool to have, sitting there by my bedside. While reading it can be akin to opening Pandora’s box, revealing a torrent of memories and experiences and unrequited feelings that have been kept hidden for millennia, writing in it can be the most powerful kind of coping mechanism there is. I’m a talker. When things feel big and scary and tricky my instinct is to talk to the person it involves or someone I think can most closely relate. The trouble is, those people aren’t around a lot of the time, and people with shared experiences are few and far between. I get hit by an intense feeling of loneliness at times like those, stuck in a loop of feeling like I’m a dick for not appreciating the friends I have but still stuck on my own with no one to talk to. The not-journal, then, acts as some kind of temporary replacement person. I write in there what I’d like to say to someone else, and often by the time I’m finished I realise I don’t need to say it to them after all.
One of the great things about keeping a journal is that it can be a kind of coping mechanism, and I think everyone needs coping mechanisms at some point or another. Being able to let your feelings out is such a powerful and freeing moment, and even though it rarely actually solves a problem it can help you sort through it. Once you’ve cleared the messy attic of your mind, and gotten a few steps closer to understanding how you really feel beneath the craziness and the regret and whatever else mister brain is enjoying, things get a little easier. That’s the thing; it’s so hard to be okay with your situations when you can’t properly see what your problems are. It can be like trying to cross a road with your eyes closed, flinching at the sound of every incoming car but being utterly unsure as to whether there’s any real danger. Tiny things feel huge, and huge things feel unimportant, and surviving the chaotic insanity of your bursting brain becomes a herculean effort.
So seeing it all out in front of you, written in incoherent sentences, but sentences filled with more feeling than you were aware you were even capable of, just makes things a whole lot clearer. It’s like opening your eyes, and realising oh shit, there is a giant truck hurtling towards me, but at least I know what it is and can hopefully do something smart about it. It hurts to write these things down, because it often times reveals that what you’ve been telling yourself and others isn’t entirely true. I find that putting my feelings into words can often reveal a much more honest truth beneath it, and that truth isn’t always a fun thing to discover. But when other people can’t help, which I think is perhaps more often then we’d like, it’s important to know about what you’re fighting. A diary can help work that out.
But I aint no psychologist or doctor or wizard. Unlike Lawrence Gordon, Harley Quinn, and Clarice Starling, my knowledge of the brain is severely limited. I am no self help guide and what works for me could very well cause someone else to jump of a building, sprout wings and burn up in the atmosphere. Which kind of renders the above seven hundred words pointless, but anyway. What I can attest to with reasonable confidence is that reading over your own diary after some time has passed is fascinating.
It’s not always a healthy thing to do. I’ve been known to read about past relationships while feeling particularly lonely, and that absolutely does not help. But in those rare moments where I’m basically sane and not about to start throwing a fit because my already great life isn’t completely perfect, I can go back over the difficult parts and gain insight into the way I experience things. I think that the way people remember events and the way they lived them can be wildly different. I’ve found from my own big black book of death that the intensity of upset I have around certain things seems completely out of proportion, while at other times I seem to deal with situations remarkably well. A trip I went on with a few friends to the Netherlands was written about with intense reverence, while now I remember it with quite a few moments of frustration and discomfort. It’s nice to be able to read how I felt then, and to realise that maybe I’ve let more recent events cloud how I feel about the whole thing. Past me was ecstatic by the end of it, and I appreciate knowing that, because I can do my best to keep in mind that it was a brilliant thing. Perhaps if I remind myself of that enough I can save it from the encroaching cynicism. It can work the other way as well. Reading over it helps me remember the bad things about that past relationship, which is useful in reminding myself why it’s perhaps not the end of the world that it’s over. This place of ours is different when you’re living in it, and being able to rediscover that past life of yours, without the shade of now, is a fantastic thing to do.
That’s how I think about my not-journal, really. It’s a gift for future me, so that he can see the who he was. Sometimes, when life gets tricky, it can help to pour those feelings out and onto the page. But sometimes, when things aren’t terrible but they’re just not great, you can turn to a random place in the book and find something magical. It can work as a sudden reminder that oh, yeah, life is actually great sometimes. Diaries serve many purposes, and even if you leave it in a draw, half a page full and rotting with age, I honestly think it’s worth it. That half a page could mean everything to you, one day, and quite honestly it’s very likely that it will.
P.S I have no clue what I’m talking about, trust none of this.