Journaling, putting your feelings down on paper, is a well known method of coping with difficult or traumatic experiences. In fact there have been studies done that seem to prove that people who “journal” live happier, healthier lives. In his book Writing to Heal, James Pennebaker, Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin, explores this concept. He stresses that when we write about trauma, emotional upheavals or difficult issues we are struggling with, the “heart rates slow, blood pressure drops and immune systems strengthen.”
Some people choose to keep their thoughts and feelings private, never to be shared. For them, journaling feels safe because they can always burn the journals or throw them away once the circumstances have passed, the feelings have settled down, and the journals have served their purpose.
Others prefer to keep their journals as a way of documenting their personal journey, to remember where they had been and how far they have come.
Blogging is another means for those who want to share their inner most thoughts with the masses or a select community of followers, often receiving feedback or support in return. The health benefits are believed to be the same whichever method you choose since they come from the act of opening up rather than holding feelings bottled inside.
Although it was not a conscious decision based on any health benefits I had heard about, I found that there have been stages in my life when I turned to journaling as a way to organize my thoughts and feelings – especially during some of my more challenging times.
Recently I came across a journal that I had written during the chapter of my life that could certainly be considered one of the most difficult; it was written as my first marriage was falling apart, (though I had yet to been informed of such.) I was dazed and confused since it had been a conscious decision on the part of my ex-husband to keep me in the dark regarding his planned disentanglement from our marriage and his intentions in regards to the future of our young family.
So there I sat close to two decades after those life changing events reading page after page of this small, worn, tear stained notebook that had once been a constant companion, kept on hand in order to jot down and organize my personal thoughts.
When I found my notebook tucked away in a seldom-opened drawer I felt nostalgic. I wondered if after going through so many life changes during the 18 plus years since writing those heartfelt words, would I recognize that woman who had written that journal? Would her voice resonate true to the woman I am today?
When I came to the end of my personal notes spanning several pivotal months in my life I was pleased to discover that I had in fact remained true to myself. My core goals and desires, hopes and dreams remained intact even as I have grown and evolved. My personal journey through divorce, re-marriage and raising my blended family had not thrown me off course. I believe that I am traveling the path that I was always meant to travel.
Coincidently, when I met my husband I discovered that he too had kept a personal journal as a means of coping with the dissolution of his marriage, a special notebook where he jotted down his story and his feelings. After our first few initial dates, when we both recognized that this relationship could have long term potential, he gave me his journal to read. He hoped that by allowing me that window into his life I would gain a deeper appreciation of who he was. It gave me an opportunity to see how he felt and how he handled himself during that very trying period in his life. It gave me a clear picture of how he processed the events that were unfolding at the time and showed me a man who acted with dignity and respect under tremendous stress, while dealing with the complex circumstances in a healthy way. I admired that he sought support and guidance through trusted rabbeim and caring family members. Reading through his notebook allowed me to view him at possibly the worst time of his life; something you don’t often get to see while dating. The fact that he chose to share that with me, along with what he had actually written proved to be a powerful tool in the process of us getting to know one another.