Stating that I’m managing my mental health feels like I’m tempting fate. For years I have lived in fear of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can point to examples of days when I’ve felt on top of the world with all the happiness, times when the depression and anxiety were just shadows in the background; then, without warning, something happens to throw me back into the black pit that feels unconquerable. But you know what I’m learning to accept?
Wait for it…
That’s life when you have two serious mental illnesses (SMIs). Honestly, that’s life in general. You can’t control the future. And you most certainly can’t control other people. What you can control is how to deal with the situation and move forward. So, here is one tool that I’m using to help manage my mental health.
Rx: Journal Those Emotions
I’ve been in and out of therapy for more than 25 years. I’ve been committed to mental hospitals. I’ve read countless self-help books and blogs. And what has been one constant recommendation? Write down your thoughts and feelings.
Now that I’m in my forties, I finally figured out that yes, journaling does benefit my mental health. All those therapists and doctors and authors were right. Who knew? I may be book smart, but it can take me awhile (meaning decades) to admit that something might work for me.
Make Journaling a Goal for Mental Health
At the end of last year, I set my 23 goals for 2023, and one of those goals was to write “morning pages.” This idea came from reading Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies, in which she explained Julia Cameron’s famed approach to fostering creativity in The Artist’s Way: write three pages in your journal every morning. Don’t edit yourself. Just write. While I haven’t read Cameron’s book, I was inspired by Schuster’s description of how the journaling practice helped her, so I decided to try it.
Keeping a Journal for My Mental Health
It’s now April and while I have missed some days in my journalling practice, but I do write at least three pages most days. Sometimes the words flow freely and bleed over into four or five pages; other days I struggle to fill the lines on even the second page and resort to finding journaling prompts on Pinterest. But, I’m now on my third notebook of the year, and this practice is helping me learn to manage my mental health:
- Feeling frustrated about something at work or home? Write it down.
- Annoyed with myself because I’m not losing weight and am stuck in a binge-eating cycle? Write it down.
- Unsure of what truly brings me happiness? Write it down.
- Have a decision I need to make and don’t know what to do? Write it down.
- Want to envision what life would be like if money wasn’t a necessity? Write it down.
Most of the time, I can close my journal after finishing those pages and feel a sense of either resolution or at least a bit more clarity in how I want to handle a situation. If I need to talk through one of the situations I journaled about, I have at least put my thoughts to paper and have them organized in some way, even if I’m not reading them verbatim. And, I like to think that these notebooks are going to be a nice reflection of how I’ve grown when I look back at them later in life.
So, the experts were right. Writing supports me as I work through my emotions and challenges, and it feels good to say that journaling is helping me to manage my mental health, even if the other shoe drops.