Sunday, November 30, 2014

Six Journal Ideas to Deal with Depression

Update 2016: This article was featured in my book
"Saying NO to Suicide", with added commentary.

A small sample of my various journals © Douglas Cootey 2014

I have been writing in a journal almost all of my life. In the beginning I wrote about movies I saw and my Superman trading card collection, but by the time I was a teen I learned that journaling helped me work out my moods, worries, and problems. Sometimes there was no more therapeutic a process I could do for my ADHD & Depression than hold an internal conversation with myself. This was the power of the journal: to provide a constructive environment for me to explore private issues and often resolve them.

Here are six ideas for journals that can provide a constructive method of self-expression as a coping strategy:

  1. The Traditional Journal: Your local bookstore will usually have an entire wall dedicated to journals. You don't have to break the bank for a leather-bound, hand-sewn journal filled with handmade papers. An inexpensive notebook will do. You can even make your own journal with scraps of paper & yarn to thread the pages together, but you might want something sturdier for regular usage.
  2. I recommend writing about your thoughts & feelings instead of creating a journalogue of your day to day activities. Life often flies by faster than you can keep up, getting you quickly behind in your journal writing and making the process work instead of joy. Most people eventually stop because catching up is too stressful. Try setting a theme for each journal instead. Having a topic relieves some of the pressure of thinking of what to write. You can also let your journals represent set periods of time like semesters, quarters, or years. This gives you a chance to begin anew mentally and creatively at the beginning of each new time period.

  1. The Digital Journal: These are functionally the same as traditional journals, but with the benefits of having less to carry around since you already have a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, being able to add media files to your entries, and always having them on hand when you feel the need to jot down your thoughts. Some apps give you access to the same journal across all devices. These journals generally sync to the cloud, so you may want to see if encryption and password protection is possible. An alternative to journaling apps is blogging. This is a public process usually, though they can be password protected if you wish. I knew a girl who created a new blog for each phase of her life. It was a creative & unique use of blogging.

  2. The Art Journal: Whether you sketch, paint, or collage, sketch books are built with heavier paper and can handle much more than the flimsy pages of traditional journals. There are many choices from spiral bound student sketchbooks to hardbound beauties made with journaling in mind. Turning a sketch book into an art journal lets you express with images what you are feeling. It can be as fancy as you need it to be, or as sparse. You can annotate, or let the art stand on its own. Pairing art with self-expression can be very healing and stress reducing.

  3. Sound & Video Journals: Modern devices make these types of journals possible. If writing is hard for you, but talking isn't, you may find that an app that gathers your voice memos or video clips gives you an avenue of expression that is very therapeutic. The downside to these types of journals is that they take up a lot of data, and they can be overheard, but they are the easiest to maintain. Just tap and talk.

  4. The Social Media Journal: Social media is often mocked for its emphasis on ephemera and boring minutia like what somebody had for breakfast, but who is to say that there isn’t an audience to appreciate breakfast microblogging? Here is a perfect medium for expressing feelings that ebb and flow with your day. Many people find social media a very convenient and succinct way to journal without the work. It’s spontaneous and unfiltered. Twitter’s limit of 140 characters per post should help you keep your thoughts short and sweet as you experience ups and downs. Tumblr or Facebook can offer you longer entries. Other likeminded individuals can then find you and offer words of encouragement.

  5. You may want to create an anonymous profile to spare friends & family members the pain of reading your entries. Not everybody is supportive of transparency. There have been more than a few times in my twenty years online where a family member has complained to my parents that I am too negative or too down on myself. They don’t call me to see how I’m doing. They don’t offer words of encouragement. They just worry that I am embarrassing myself. Somehow they feel that shutting down my avenue of expression will help me become more positive, so I politely ignore them. However, this is the reality of public journaling. When you express yourself in public, you cannot control who reads it and how they feel about it. Just a word of warning.

  6. The Throw-Away Journal: Why keep a journal‽ Who's going to read it anyway, right? There have been times that I have created text journals on my computer that I deleted from existence once I felt they were done. They were never meant to be passed down to posterity. They were never meant to be shared. I poured my darkest, most secret feelings into them until I had nothing left to pour. You can buy a cheap notebook and fill it with your thoughts, then recycle it or chuck it in the bin. It is in these journals I expressed my ugliest, suicidal thoughts—a cathartic bleeding with text. When I destroy them, nobody, not even I, will ever miss them. In journal writing, the process is sometimes more important than the archive.

Having a place where you can regularly expunge or explore your feelings can be very therapeutic. Perhaps you haven't given journals a chance because they seem like work. However, if you find your unique method of expression you may find journals more helpful than you ever imagined.