Nineteenth century author Henry David Thoreau kept a journal of his reflections for the last 25 years of his life.
His devotion to this practice resulted in literary classics such as Walden and the essay, “On Civil Disobedience.”
In Nazi-occupied Holland, a young Jewish girl kept track of her daily experiences, thoughts and feelings, in what was later published as “The Diary of Anne Frank”.
Such memoirs, although unique and personal, have such a popular appeal because they reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the human spirit. We are drawn to these stories as they tell us something about our common search for truth, beauty and meaning.
In a similar vein, there are dozens of books currently in print based on the diaries of those who have cared for loved ones with chronic medical conditions, notably Alzheimer’s disease.
In each instance, the author did not begin writing with the goal of publishing. On the contrary, these family caregivers used writing as an outlet for their feelings and a means of coping. Their words reveal a wide range of thoughts, feelings and actions under difficult circumstances.
Writing enabled them to learn about themselves and gain some control over a seemingly uncontrollable situation.
Caring for a loved one invariably evokes many strong feelings such as despair, hope, sadness, joy, anger, tenderness, guilt and empathy. Keeping these intense feelings bottled up inside can be unhealthy. A helpful tool for identifying these feelings and expressing them on a private level is through a diary or journal. A running account of one’s vague ideas and abstract problems can be made concrete and more manageable. Opportunities often arise to unclutter the mind. By charting one’s course during a stressful or confusing time, patterns may emerge that lead to problem-solving and self-discovery. The dark side of one’s personality may have a chance to become less ominous and the light side better appreciated. A written record may also serve as a reminder of past pitfalls to be avoided and successes to be celebrated.
Writing on a regular basis requires some discipline so a few simple tips should be considered:
Write down big and little daily successes or moments of gratitude to get your journal started.
A journal’s most valuable quality is its complete flexibility. It is important to make it your own forum for self-expression. Let your inhibitions go free and do not bother editing. This is your private project and no one else’s business.
In order to identify your entries in the future, add the date, time and/or location of where you were when you wrote the entry. It’s nice to see where your journal has traveled over time.
Where and when you write must fit into your lifestyle. Your comfort is essential. If you can write during periods of stress, then do it. If not, wait for those times when you are not distracted.
Consider adding “About Me” pages. What would you like to remember about yourself? What do you want to tell your grandchildren about your life?
Beginning the process is probably the biggest step. It may well develop into a pleasurable routine after a month or two. Ten minutes a day may be a good way to start. As Will Rogers once noted, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
Don’t give up! If you’ve let some time pass between entries, don’t stress about it; just pick up where you left off.
Keeping a personal journal may be just the kind of safety valve needed to relieve daily pressures. It may not feel therapeutic at first but in reviewing your recorded thoughts after awhile, trends or patterns are bound to emerge that will help you decide to change or stay the course of caring for a loved one. Not only will mistakes be readily apparent but progress will be charted too.
If you’re an early adopter and like to keep your files and thoughts on your tablet or computer, there are several online journal resources that are available for you. Some examples of these resources include: MyTherapyJournal.com, Penzu.com, or LivingFile.com. All of these resources allow you to keep your journal as private or as public as you wish. If you’re looking for a last minute Mother’s Day gift, why not spread the joy of journaling by picking up a beautiful leather-bound journal at your local bookstore for your mom, sister, or friend?