The process of writing is not a tidy thing. It is extremely messy, as a matter of fact. Currently I am part of a group therapy collection of hurt people that meets three times a week in an intensive outpatient setting. Early last month I broke. This is what I call it when I experience such an enormous depressive episode that I need to be hospitalised, something that has happened often over the course of my life. I think this was the last time, because this hospital was different. The staff there, from the doctors and nurses to the security guards, were kind and empathetic and took a very human interest in all the patients. To be treated thusly was such a vast change from my early experiences. I finally felt like I was being cared for.
I have used my journaling most of my life as a cathartic exercise to sort my feelings and my thoughts, without realising it. They have always been messy things, these thought almanacs. They have been filled with scribbles to get my pen working and writing smoothly; doodles and marginal swearings. Sometimes the “entries” were actually RPG characters, or just pages of song lyrics or transcribed poems. Sometimes my own poetry emerged onto the pages. Sometimes they were letters to people I was angry at or hurt by. Messy, sloppy, dangerous spiky things, those journals. I don’t have any of them anymore except the last two and a half years’ worth. Between loss of one sort or another, they have all been swallowed by the world. Two and a half years ago our home was consumed by fire; it’s a plum miracle my family and I escaped with our lives. I had to jump from the roof after my son and a police officer caught my daughter doing the same. But as we stayed in a hotel for two weeks after the fire, I picked up pen and paper again and kept writing.
Several years ago a compatriot turned me on to Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and I dearly love her concept. Write every day? Oh hells yes, I can do that! But I dislike her rigid stance on THREE PAGES A DAY NO MATTER WHAT. So when I talk to people about TAW I always give them the caveat of “write until you are done”. Whether that is half a page, or six pages. Because it’s messy. When you sit down with your journal, whether it is a sloppy collection of notebook sheafs unbound, or a beauteous leatherbound journal you saved up for and had your eye on for months, vomiting your brain out onto paper is a deeply personal and quite spiritual act. The snarled thoughts can be intimidating. We talk a lot about those confusing and unknown thoughts and feelings in group. A lot of what we are thinking and feeling is unknown even to us, and journaling helps us to understand ourselves. That cannot always fit into a tidy three-page package. Sometimes it’s too scary and intimidating to get into, so a few sentences is all we can tolerate for a day. And sometimes it just starts to pour out of us like the heaves from drinking too much or eating tainted food…those body-wracking vomits that just. never. stop. You don’t know what you’re writing about; it makes no sense; the sentence structure is all over the map and your English teacher would wrinkle her brow in utter befuddlement and run out of red ink. But that’s ok because the point of journaling is not to score well on anything other than Getting It Out. Go back and read it later, if you want. The catharsis of brain vomit is that as you write, you are unsnarling the Gordian Knot strand by fragile strand, and your mind is, in fact, figuring it out.
Emotions are tricksy beasts. They themselves do not know what is going on. And our thoughts often create them by overthinking. TOOL says “overthinking, overanalysing separates the body from the mind”. Writing, especially the brain vomit type of journaling, helps us avoid that. The cathartic process of just letting the confusion and pain and the frustration and anger flow out our fingertips and onto paper or keyboard helps us unlock from our minds and bodies where we have stowed away our traumas and hurts those things we NEED to get out, so we can safely integrate them in a slow and nurturing way.