I think a lot of us, especially girls, find the idea of keeping a diary appealing from a young age. It seemed like an incredibly romantic thing to do, only in my case, the reality was far from romantic. I have never been a regular, consistent diary keeper, but there have been times in my life when I bought myself a pretty journal, took my self away to somewhere I could be alone, and wrote candidly, recording things I did not dare to say to anybody in the world.
For me, those times in my life when I turned to diary keeping were hard times. I did not know who to turn to. The thoughts in my head were frightening. I thought I would explode. The result was not pretty!! My diaries from those tough challenging periods in my life are nonsensical, and probably rather poisonous. They were not aimed at anyone else. Nope, it was all about how much I hated myself. It turned into quite an unhealthy enterprise, and eventually I saw the need to abandon which ever diary was currently bottling up my angst and leave it behind.
Yet it did not start out as unhealthy. The first page of my diary would usually be undertaken somewhere very pretty, somewhere I could feel at peace and I could allow myself to pour out my heart. The first few pages would be dreamy, full of my hopes and wishes and dreams. But somewhere along the line, pain within would end up on the page. From that point on, the pain would intensify with the turn of each tear stained page.
I think the first time I kept a real diary was as a child, when I was sent to a school where I would board for two terms before I eventually was able to go back to the US with my parents. That school was like a prison to me. I am sure none of that was the teacher’s fault. I now know that is a very high ranking private school that parents pay a fortune in tuition fees to send their children to. But for me, it felt like a form of exile, a punishment that I did not understand at the time. I was never in any physical danger at that school, but the darkness that descended over me, the numbness, the loneliness – it’s a stage in my life I still try to block out.
The diary I kept through that time is long since destroyed. I bled all over those pages. Figuratively and literally.
I don’t remember keeping a diary again until I was in my early twenties, a time I seemed to be struggling to find any sense of purpose for my existence..
I am glad that most of my teens were spent in the US because it helped me to block out of my mind some of the traumatic events that had occurred to me in England. (Note: blocking them out my mind was not an effective way of dealing with them.) I became absorbed in school and sports, dance and socializing. I was swept along by whatever my friends were doing, whatever my mom wanted me to do, whether that be hanging out at the mall, eating pizza, going to parties, pretending to be cool, listening to Destiny’s child – the pride of Houston – and learning dance routines for their music. My mom seemed to recognise that I needed her guidance during my teens, and I am so glad that she spent more time in the US, although that meant my father had to travel alone more. It was greatly to my benefit that I had that time with my mom.
Naturally, I became curious about boys. Some of my friends were hooking up with boys already. I knew I was becoming attractive to boys as they were changing their behaviour around me. I was slightly alarmed. I am grateful that my mom made sure I was prepared for what to expect, and also made sure I was protected from dirt-bags. Mom went one step further though. She proactively made sure that I was frequently in the company of a young man who she approved of. Well, my parents were close friends of his parents. He was real cute, and he loved sports, especially football (American). He was clever, funny, had a lovely smile, clean cut, friendly and confident. Apparently, he liked enough about me to ask me rather formally if he could take me out. It’s so much easier to get through school when people know you have a boyfriend. They leave you alone.
It was as easy as that. I had a boyfriend, a very sweet boyfriend. I have no regrets that I spent ten years with him, well not always with him as we ended up at different collages. For various reasons, it became obvious that by the time we were in our early twenties, we were not a good match. I made some big decisions around about the same time. I quit a job my father had pretty much negotiated for me. I broke up with my boyfriend. I moved to a different city. Due to the sudden changes I made, I received a lot of harsh criticism and accusations of being selfish and ungrateful.
A diary seemed the only safe channel I had to process my feelings. Again, it started out dreamy, hopeful, romantic, and soon descended into bitter, gloomy self-hatred. Another poisonous diary I had to dispose of and try to escape the darkness that had descended.
I moved to London. Partly to escape the emotional turmoil behind me. Partly because I was excited by London itself. Partly because I had begun to idealize the long periods of my childhood that I had spend in England, when my parents were travelling. I always felt I connected more with England – the countryside, the humour, the down-to-earth modesty – than I did the US, where it seemed that the message “you can be anything you dream of” was preached – whether that be a unicorn or a princess – which is perhaps why most of America is continuously in therapy.
However, in London, I came across Greg – disaster! I bought another journal, and wrote more distraught words. It was perhaps the worst stage for me, the darkest, the most despairing time. I learnt something important for me. A diary is not really a friend. It does not answer back, it does not warn you that you are being unbalanced, it does not offer practical solutions, it just distills the emotions you pour into it and brews them into an intoxicating liquor that can become insidiously addictive but deeply detrimental. (That’s if you are in a bad place. I am all for diary keeping if you record lots of good things.)
I finally learned I did have friends I could turn to when I was struggling, friends I could trust, friends who truly understood because they had similar experiences, or were simply mature enough to be able to empathize, friends who could give me realistic advice, friends who loved me, much more than I had ever believed before. Knowing you are loved by people who have no self-serving motives, but are genuine in their friendship is a massively stabilizing force in your life. In my case, I knew that friends would be a much safer choice for me than another diary full of grief and self-condemnation.
Going forwards, I think it is unlikely I will be turning to a diary at challenging times in my life. It seems much wiser to turn to friends instead, who can reason with me and help me to remain balanced. I am glad I got rid of those toxic diaries so that they can no longer taunt me.
But one suggestion I have tried, and it was something that has become a huge positive in my life, is to record some of my prayers, and then to look back at them and think about how they were answered. This is something I feel has helped me to realize that all this time, the one person who I should have turned to when I was facing challenges was the the one who knew me better than anyone else. I just didn’t know anything about prayer until I learnt for myself at one of my most desperate points how it is that God communicates with us. His written Word. Now, I find it astonishing that I can pick it up and my feelings, my deepest fears, are right there, in the Psalms, penned by a man who lived three thousand years ago, who happened to be a shepherd, a harpist, and later a King – one who tasted self-condemning guilt, despair and found the way to restore peace to his heart and joy in life.
It has helped me to be less afraid of challenging emotions. There is someone who understands us deeply and who wants to help, if we will let Him.