Three Truths from Four Years of Journaling

I’m home in Boston for a few days and spent some time flipping through a few journals of mine from college last night. Reading through some entries, I was surprised by how similar they all sounded. These journals, you see, span four years of my life. You’d think that a lot would change in those four years, as I grow and develop and generally “become an adult.” And things changed, externally, sure; but internally, as expressed through my hidden words and quietly-felt thoughts, I remained largely the same person… dominated by largely the same thoughts.

My written thoughts were your typical anxious teenage thoughts, but with a tinge of depression. I’ve had depression since I was 17 and have since grappled with the peculiar ways of thinking that it comes with. (You can get an uncomfortably humorous primer on what that means here). Essentially they were all some variation of one of the following:

1. “I am worried. STOP WORRYING! Nope, still worrying. STOPPIT!”

2. “EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE. Here is a lyrical free write on why it’s okay.”

3. “OH MY GOD WHAT WILL I DO IF _______________?”

Which as you can imagine, is not very helpful.

I even used to make mood charts to get better. They looked like this:

Mood Chart

They were fun because art is fun, but maybe not so effective.

I met up today with a few old friends that I’ve known since forever, and we talked about some of this. On reflecting with them, I’ve realized a few key truths that I need to brand into my skin.

Truth #1: I am imperfect. 

You’d think this is an obvious fact. But so often I come down on myself as though I were perfect, expecting only perfect things to come out of my mouth, perfect thoughts, perfect actions. This is false! I am not perfect.

Example of how not perfect I am: I met with a friend who hasn’t talked to me for a year. We talked. It turns out that not only am I not perfect by having problems, but how I deal with those problems is less than perfect too. You see, when I get stressed I tend to shut into myself like this whirlpool sink hole that sucks up everything around it until the end of time. And this year I’ve been very stressed.

“What’s wrong with that?” you might say, “Everyone has their own way of dealing with stress.” What’s wrong with that is that me becoming a whirlpool sink hole doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s fine (sort of) if I’m really on my own in some black hole of a universe and all I need to think about is myself. But it’s not like that. I exist with other people around me and those people — they care. They matter.

They care about me and when they see me swirling around and around and folding deeper into my own world… that’s when they get hurt. Because no matter the forces that make me swirl around like a lost puppy (or to take more responsibility, my own reaction to those forces) they still exist. They are still there, around me, and they don’t understand why I’m becoming a tight cyclone wrapped up in myself, apart from everyone else.  They don’t understand, because they thought that they mattered to me and if someone matters to you, you don’t just knock them out from your life, whirlpool or not. If someone matters, you listen. You be there and you pay attention and you care; see, that’s how you matter back.

Truth #2: People matter more than your problems do. 

For all the energy devoted to what’s wrong in your life, you could have created little cards for all your friends and sent them to across the world, then run a marathon, then given hugs to all 500 people you’ve ever met. My point is that you can choose where to expend your energy. Do you expend it on something just about you-you-you? Or do you do something positive that reaches out to the people that care about you?

I was in a funk this past weekend, feeling sorry for myself and ashamed of how I’ve been lately. I wanted to stay in my room and “work,” a code word for going online and reading Facebook posts with a huge pot of ice cream by my side. This, I reasoned, would cordon me off from my friends and help me improve myself. Now I look back and think “Right…” but at the time it made perfect sense, because all I was thinking of was ‘ME’ and how I was feeling. What I ended up doing, and am thankful was the case, was going out to meet a friend for coffee, then going to meet some of J’s friends and being forced to talk about myself, and in turn, to listen to others talk about themselves. In which I realized that “Hey… we’re not that different.” We all have problems. We all have difficulties and hiccups and challenges that bother us. Sitting in your room and staring at a screen… that doesn’t seem to help, here. Funny. (Sigh.) The next time you’re in a funk, think about a friend of yours and reach out. Chances are they’ll be happy you did, and you’ll be happy you did too.

Truth #3: Thinking does not help. Doing — trying — is what helps.

My notebooks were not anything if not beautiful in prose. Words poured easily from my mind onto the page, and it seemed like I could describe just how I was feeling in metaphors that would make Dickens jealous. Unfortunately, you get no points for this. It also does not help you actually feel better in the long run, as became apparent by the continuous repetition every few pages of the same few descriptions of the same few feelings.

What would work better is an approach I’m appreciating more and more lately, and this is called “doing.” You may have heard of it before. It can be quite difficult. Every day magazines across the Internet lambast us to lose weight/ eat better/ procrastinate less/ exercise more. We read them. But nothing actually happens until you try it out for yourself. All the weight loss articles in the world will not make you lose weight if all you do is read about losing weight. You have to actually go outside and do those jumping jacks, try those sit-up routines, jog those two miles. And then you have to keep doing them in order to see any difference. Priding yourself on how committed you are to losing weight because you’ve read so much about it and spent so much time thinking about it, well… that’s great, you’re “committed;” but you’re not actually effective.

photo 1

An example of my precocious, insightful at the time writing that did not actually help. 

I’d been doing kind of the same thing when it came to feeling better, but in written form. Writing about my feelings and how directionless I felt was great, in that I felt like I was super committed to feeling better… but I never actually felt better in a lasting, sustainable way. Looking back, what would have helped more was if I’d done small experiments, actions to test out what would lead to real improvement. Instead of premature eulogies for a self that didn’t exist yet.

With all that said, perhaps I’m now a bit clearer on the purpose of this blog, my latest writing experiment with parter-in-crime Betsy M: to celebrate a people-focused, experiment-oriented approach to life. No one’s perfect. Everyone matters. And the only way to live is to try. Done.

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