Journaling Saves Lives
Guest Post by Diana M. Raab, MFA, RA
On more than one occasion, journaling has saved my life. The first time was at the age of ten, when my grandmother committed suicide in my childhood home. In an effort to help me cope, my mother handed me a red leather journal to pour my grief out onto it pages. The journal not only became my lifeline, but it also became my best friend and confident. Writing in my journal transformed me from a broken-hearted, shy ten-year-old to someone who was able to pour her profound pain and sense of loss onto the pages of her journal. For many years after my loss, I turned to journaling during turbulent times, such as coping with the angst of adolescence and other traumas, such as the loss of friends and parents.
Years later in 1983, while pregnant with my first daughter, my obstetrician prescribed bed rest. During my seven months in bed, I chronicled my journey. This resulted in my first book, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to Infertility and High Risk Pregnancy, which evolved into a self-help book for other women encountering similar experiences. Last year it was updated in collaboration with Dr. Errol Norwitz from Yale University, under the new title, Your High Risk Pregnancy: A Practical and Supportive Guide.
Fast forwarding my life to 2001, I was diagnosed with early breast cancer (DCIS) and once again turned to my journal to pour my feelings. Then in 2006, when diagnosed with yet another seemingly unrelated cancer, I again turned to the act of journaling. In fact, my second memoir, called Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey was just born on the pages of my journal. It’s not only a memoir, but also a self-help book with blank journaling pages for others to share their story.
Keeping a journal has many advantages, but I think the most important is that the journal listens and does not talk back. For me, like renowned diarist Anaïs Nin, my journal is my companion and best friend. Sometimes when not feeling strong emotionally, we might not want to talk to other people, but we can always turn to our journal to pour forth the voice of our hearts and souls. Regular journaling can also shed a new light onto our problems as we write through what we are enduring. Personally, if I’m not feeling up to par, I typically begin by writing the words, “I feel,” and then see where my words go.
Learning to open up about issues does not happen over night, but it is all a part of the healing process. Whether affected by trauma, change, loss or pain, finding the time to write is vital for our mental health. I have found journaling and writing down my true feelings to be liberating and empowering.
Just in case you are still not sure about the reasons for keeping a journal or notebook, here is a summary:
it is a companion and best friend
it is a place to work through an illness
it witnesses the healing process
it increases awareness
it is empowering
it clears the mind
it builds self-confidence
it improves communication skills
it improves mental health
it is a safe place to vent bottled up emotions
it is a vehicle for letting go of cloudy thoughts
it encourages reflection
Good luck and may you be inspired to write!
Diana Raab is a memoirist, essayist, poet and author of seven books and editor of two essays collections, including the latest, Writers and Their Notebooks (2010) with an introduction by Phillip Lopate. She is a journaling advocate and teaches in UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and in various conferences around the country. Her forthcoming book, Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey is forthcoming from Loving Healing Press in June 2010. Visit Diana Raab.