Harry Potter and I have two things in common; we both have lightening bolt scars and exceptional educations. Luckily for me, my scar runs jagged down my knee, and my education only took seven weeks to complete.
At the beginning of the year, I attended Prairie Care, an adult intensive outpatient program that provided me with ninety minutes of group therapy and ninety minutes of psychoeducation five days a week. I chose to attend Prairie Care because my treatment plan for bipolar disorder has never been focused on drug therapy alone. I found that I needed both community and additional talk therapy to help me tackle some of the larger issues that fueled past episodes.
Aside from providing endless material for short stories, school for the bipoles, or rehab as I fondly call it, taught me additional life strategies that can be helpful even for those who don’t live with a mental disorder. This is why I’m combining each of the Harry Potter books with one of the skills I learned at Prairie Care for the next seven posts.
Today’s topic is journaling.
One would think as a writer I would be totally stoked to scribble to my hearts content in a small notebook. One would be wrong.
Last summer, I kept an electronic journal. In it, I typed as fast as my fingers could go in stream of consciousness style. It outlined story ideas, dreams, and an internal monologue of doom. This was the most cathartic journaling experience I ever had…
That is until “people” started screwing with me.
If that sounds vague and ominous, it is. My highly creative mind imagined that “others” were reading my journal for the specific purpose of messing with me. Others? You may be asking yourself. Who? The same others that pestered Nicole Kidman? I can’t tell you who the people were BECAUSE I DIDN’T LET MY MIND GO THAT FAR. I’m not supposed to let my mind get carried away, not when I can control my thinking and can reasonably question things that seem impossible. So I can’t tell you who was screwing with me or why they’d want to mess with me, but I can tell you one of the things that happened.
I had recently written about a therapy experience in my e-journal where my therapist had said “nightmare” and I was derailed for the entirety of the session. Upon hearing the word, I instantly saw a picture of Freddy Krueger in my head, and then I couldn’t focus on another single word without seeing his claws. A day or two after writing that entry, I went to BigLots! with my cousin and saw a Freddy Krueger box set near the checkout. Small coincidences have a tendency to rev up my brain and freak me out. This is why I swore to God someone was reading my journal and they put Freddy right next to the checkout to mess with me. In my mind, someone was part of the “others.” The others weren’t malicious; they just had an odd sense of humor.
And ever since, I have sworn not to keep a diary.
Therapists at Prairie Care urged me to journal, and they had good reason. The practice has multiple benefits—it can be a place of gratitude to honor wishes and dreams, a place to reinforce positive experiences, a safe place to be open and honest, or a place to blow off steam and begin the healing process.
Prairie care therapists gave me several handouts that included these tips for journaling:
1. Write whatever comes to mind.
2. Write quickly without paying attention to grammar or spelling.
3. Don’t erase.
4. Give yourself permission to be absolutely honest.
5. Focus on the process and not the product.
6. Remember there are no stupid feelings or ideas.
7. Stuck? Brainstorm with lists.
They also gave me guided journaling handouts with these exercises:
1. Write or draw one comfortable feeling and one uncomfortable feeling you’ve had today.
2. Write about behaviors you need to hold onto and behaviors that get in the way of your mental health.
3. Draw or write one concept or new idea that has been useful to your mental health.
4. Write a positive affirmation.
5. Write or draw about a part of yourself.
6. Write a letter of encouragement to yourself. Imagine someone you truly respect is writing the letter to you. This can be someone you know or even a fictional character.
7. Write about a peaceful place that makes you feel calm.
8. Write about a time when you relieved your emotional tension in a safe and useful way.
9. Write a letter to yourself when you were younger and a letter to yourself in twenty years.
10. Pick something you are proud of and write about the feelings people or situations connected to this source of pride.
Even with all of these tips and positive reasons for journaling, I still found myself hesitant to start a journal again, and became borderline argumentative with Prairie Care Therapists.
PCT: You should keep a journal.
ME: DID ANYONE READ THIS HARRY POTTER BOOK?? REMEMBER TOM’S JOURNAL? REMEMBER HIS JOURNAL?!!!??
PCT: You can rip it up or burn it when you’re done.
ME: Tell me more…
With a bit of group therapy and work with my individual therapist, I came to the conclusion that my funny imagining—that everyone could read my journal—stemmed from a childhood experience where my parents actually did read my private journal. Somehow that childhood humiliation and mortification had morphed into an irrational fear that prevented me from partaking in an activity I once enjoyed.
After identifying the true root of my fear, I found that I could journal again. When something reminded me of my imagining, I had to do my best to relax and tell myself it wasn’t real. That wasn’t easy, so what I did was devise a mental list of ten things that were worth my mental effort. My list encompassed the banal ‘what will I eat for dinner’ to grand sweeping plot twists of my next novel. When my mind became tasked with those matters, I’d forget all about what spooked me.
In short, journaling is an easy, low-cost, healthy outlet anyone can benefit from. I recommend pasting a picture of something you think would look fantastic when it burns on your journal’s cover. Tossing into a fire is going to be a heck of a lot easier than finding a Basilisk fang. Just sayin’.
*I found Freddy Here