The Therapeutic Benefits of 40 Years of Journal Writing

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by Colleen Steele |

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(Photo by Colleen Steele)

As a little girl, I developed a huge crush on the character John Boy from the television drama “The Waltons.” I was attracted to his aspiration of becoming a novelist, and my favorite part of each episode was when he would write in his journal.

I related to his love of writing and was inspired by his daily routine of putting thoughts and experiences down on paper. I asked for a diary of my own, and on my eighth birthday, my grandmother gave me one. It was a Holly Hobbie diary with a lock and key, and it was the best gift ever!

Several years and many diaries later, I matured into a journal writer. Every night, I looked forward to the next blank page inviting me in to reflect on the past, evaluate the present, and ponder the future.

During a visit home from college, I started reading old entries and discovered value in doing so. I always think that certain moments and aspirations will never be forgotten, but time blurs details. While paging through old journals, I am reminded of past experiences and feelings and made aware of how much they have influenced the present. I am often surprised by forgotten accomplishments, as well as challenges and struggles that I survived, though I didn’t think I would at the time.

On each page of my journals exists a puzzle piece that helps assemble an image of who I am now. It’s the manual that I refer to when I need a life lesson refresher course. It’s my inspiration when I fail to recognize my own strengths and abilities, and it humbles me when I need to be reminded of repeated mistakes and poor choices.

It was fortuitous that a daily routine I started when I was 8 became a source of therapy for me throughout my life, especially when my 8-year-old son was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH). Then, more than ever, I relied on the healing power of writing down my experiences and emotions. Sometimes, when I was too exhausted to put feelings into words, I made lists. I would outline the day, create bullet points of new things I learned about the disease, and jot down random questions. Having a child with PH made me feel helpless, but on the first anniversary of his diagnosis, I discovered in the pages of my journal that I had found some control.

In the middle of the night during a hospital stay, my son asked me why I was writing instead of sleeping. What I was doing was clearing my head so that I could rest. The journal entry from that night is one of many reminders of how my son maintained a sense of humor despite the challenges of his disease. He asked me what I thought a journal would write in a journal, and he suggested, “Dear Journal, today I was written in and I felt so violated!” What I value most about this memory is that I know he was trying to make me laugh. My journals are full of little moments like this that might otherwise have gone forgotten.

While living with PH and caring for my son post-transplant, I have developed an appreciation for the ordinary. Every day is worth writing about because even the mundane moments have value. I journal about housework and errands and relaxing days of reading books or watching television. It reminds me that there is no such thing as a wasted day, and encourages me to make the most of tomorrow.

I have given many examples of the benefits of journaling, but the possibilities are endless, and so are the methods of keeping one. For example, my son battled PH for five years, and today it has been almost five years since his heart and double-lung transplant. Throughout it all, I have maintained a personal health journal for him on the website CaringBridge. It’s been helpful for updating loved ones on his condition and has often served as a resource detailing his medical journey. Most of all, just like my written journal, keeping it has been a therapeutic process.

I am almost 40 years into my journaling journey and plan on continuing with it to the end of the road. It has served as a listening ear, idea board, dream catcher, scrapbook, memory enhancer, sleep aid, medical journal, and so much more.

Needless to say, I highly recommend keeping a journal. If writing isn’t your cup of tea, try another creative outlet. Perhaps a drawing journal, scrapbook, or word collage would suit you better. You could even do voice recordings of your thoughts. Having an outlet for expressing your emotions and reflecting on your day can be very beneficial to your mental wellness, especially when you are living with a disease such as PH.

In honor of my lifelong creative inspiration, “Good night, John Boy!”


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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