Tag Archives: journal exercises

Journal Friday: Using Memories

Virginia Woolf as a young woman.  I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

Virginia Woolf as a young woman. I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

I’ve been reflecting on using memories in my journal lately. This is not something I tend to do readily. I don’t like remembering, mainly because I have a lot of painful memories that I don’t like to revisit. Some people had happy childhoods that they like to relive. I didn’t. I’m always put off when writers encourage their students to draw on their childhoods for material:

“Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is Okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just start getting it down.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, p4.

That’s all very well, but what if you are not in a mental place where you can face your grim and horrible childhood? And yes, I know I am always ranting on about how creativity heals, but you need to be ready to make that leap, and I’m just not there yet.

What to do?

Well, I’ve been reading a brilliant biography of Virginia Woolf lately, (rereading actually) and its discussion of her reading methods prompted me to think about my own education. And remember.

Musing in my diary, I found memories I felt I could allow myself to revisit. I recalled how I set out to ‘spend three years reading’ – somewhat as Woolf intended to ‘read myself blue in the nose’ – when I embarked on my English and American Studies degree. I wanted the world of literature to open up to me. I wanted to bask in all its wondrous variety, from Spencer’s ‘Faerie Queen’, Alexander Pope’s satire, through the invention of the novel, to the Modernism of Woolf, Joyce and Eliot. I wanted to gulp down Byron and wallow in Shelly. I wanted to lose myself in Fitzgerald, Whitman, Hemingway, the Brontës and George Eliot. I wanted to read The Greats. In short, I wanted a ‘proper’ literary education.

What I got was an itinerary of a book per week for each course, three courses running over three eight week terms per year, for three years. And to about 70% of these books, a 50 minute seminar was allotted.

(Perhaps I was naive.  No, scratch that.  I was definitely naive!)

I remembered not the luxury of three years reading, when I looked back, nor even any real reflections on the books I actually read. It was on this course that I first read Woolf for example, her ground-breaking novel ‘The Waves’ in fact, but I don’t remember what I thought about it. I don’t remember if it moved me, or if I found it difficult. I remember no opinion of it from that time at all. I was too fixated on ploughing through every volume on the booklist, and how I could bluff my way through the seminar if I hadn’t managed to finish each.

I’m not a fast reader either. This scorching schedule of novel after novel, of play after poetry collection after essay collection, left me reeling. I could barely keep up, let alone reflect and absorb. Mainly my memories of this time comprise of the tyranny of the seminar programme, of grinding through every book, and hating the labour instead of loving the words and stories and imagery.

For me as a writer, this memory, or rather the understanding of an absence of memory, is an important one to explore. I was fortunate enough to have an education, but somehow, I kind of blinked and missed it. The lesson I drew as I wrote of my disappointment in my diary is that I will take the memory into the future with me, and use it to inform my future reading. I will never finish a book again without forming my own clear opinion of it – and writing it down. By finding my way back to a memory, I can change my reading practise in the future. And that change will inform my writing. Which is a good reason for reaching back to find this memory.

Using memories in your diary doesn’t have to be a process of self-flagellation. Or at least, not if you don’t want it to be.

You don’t have to write pages in your own blood. You can write down your happiest memories, or the most instructive ones, or you can choose not to use memories at all. Exploring the past can be a useful exercise. It can be a healing exercise, but tacking painful times should only be done when you are ready, and not before. Don’t force yourself.

Instead, write about memories as they occur to you, and explore why they have come up at that particular moment. Yes, record them as vividly as you can, if you can. Find instruction in them. And if the time is right, exorcise your ghosts. But not every entry has to be a process of emotional flaying.

Happy journaling,

EF

Journal Friday: Core Practices

Diary Pile 2I’ve been experiencing something of a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ lately, a deep, dark journey into the Underworld.  Being creative has been a distant dream.  The only space or energy available has just been for survival.  That said, I’ve realised that there are three core practices that have helped, and continue to help me keep (relatively) sane.

Core practices are those habits you keep going, no matter what.  Activities that keep your engine running even when there is no energy, space or time for anything else.  You keep up these habits through the times of joy and abundance, and those of despair, desolation and drought.  They help sustain you, and keep you in a state of awakened readiness for when the next shower of inspiration comes.  They are part of the minimum requirements that you need to function as a happy, healthy human being.  They are different for everybody, so yours might vary from mine, but they will give you the same comforting, nurturing continuity in your life.

I started thinking about this idea the other day, when I heard Jamie Ridler talking about them in her recent podcast.  The core practices she sites are Movement, Meditation and Morning Pages.  Morning Pages are a practice popularised by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, and I’ve written a little about them here.  Cameron herself would probably site Morning Pages, Walking and the Artist Date as her core practices.

If I had to name mine, the three things that have kept me going in recent days against the tide of despair, I would say they are yoga, meditation and journalling.

Yoga helps me to keep grounded inside my body.  Even when I am very ill and have little energy, a single pose can help.  Yoga eases the chronic pain I live with, and gives me a sense of achievement.  I like doing it outside in the garden in the summer, but usually my yoga mat gets spread out on my study floor.  I light a candle, ask for a blessing on my practice, and do a few asanas.  I also enjoy doing a few poses before bed at night, as this helps calm me from the day’s stresses, but also helps counteract the tension my body builds up during the night.  If you fancy having a go, you might find this website helpful.

Meditation is something I am trying to do.  I’ve been trying to do it for years.  It occurs to me now that maybe thats the whole point.  Even when you get good at it, you are still battling the butterfly nature of your mind as it dances about between the shopping list and the peerless beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth, or something similar!  Lately, I’ve had quite a bit of success with the Insight Timer app on my smartphone, and I also like Susan Piver’s free meditation instruction sessions – ten minutes out of your day for such huge benefits has to be worth a try.  When I get it right, when I manage to concentrate on my breath even for just a tiny bit, I experience a sense of peace, achievement and oneness.  I’ve tried Vipassana body awareness meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn too, and they are really good.

Journalling.  Do I really need to add much about this?  I’ve been writing continually on this blog about journalling practise since I started a year ago, explaining the benefits and the pleasures of keeping a diary.  I’ve been doing it for 40 years this year (erch!  Is it really that long?), and I can tell you that it has saved my life more than once.  Check out my other Journal Friday posts to find out more.

Journal Exercise:

Get out your journal and take a little time to ground yourself.  Take a few breaths and be present within your body.  Then think about your life.  What are some of the things you do regularly that sustain you emotionally, physically, spiritually.  Spend some time writing about them, about why they help you, why you do them, how they nourish you.

If you have trouble zeroing in on one, two or three things you do in this way, try thinking about your minimum requirements for a happy life.  What do you go nuts without?  When your life gets a bit haywire and you find you feel out of control, what are the things that have slipped?  It might be anything from drinking enough water and eating fruit daily to spending time with friends and family, walking the dog or reading a good book.  Make a list of the things that you know you need in your life to sustain your wellbeing.

As always, don’t get too draconian about either of these exercises.  Remember these are not the things you think you OUGHT to be doing, or what your friends are doing, although they may be things you might like to try, but haven’t yet.  Take time to explore.  Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.  And if you can’t identify anything yet, allow the answers to evolve over time.  Gently ask them to come to you.  Ask yourself what you need in your life right now, and enjoy your discoveries.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

How do you want to feel?

“Be willing to look at your own life and want more for yourself without beating yourself up or making it about another self-improvement plan.” -Jennifer Lounden

Jennifer Louden’s recent post about Freedom from Self-Improvement seems completely apposite right now, in the run-up to Christmas, when we are all feeling the ‘we’re not worthys’ very badly.

Everyone else seems to have a nicer house, prettier, more stylish decorations, tastier cocktail treats, better fashion sense, better-behaved kids.  My own melt-down usually comes with present-wrapping.  Everyone these days makes present wrapping into an art form.  Me, I struggle to fold neat corners in my artfully chosen, blends-with-the-bauble-colour-scheme wrapping paper, never mind the hand-cut decorative snowflakes and layers of gauzy ribbon that some people cook up!

Christmas is a bunch of big red emotional triggers for me anyway.  So right now, I am choosing how I want to feel, and doing only those things that make me feel the way I want.

Sounds too good to be true?  Too many SHOULDS on your plate to even think its possible?

Remember, you always, always have a choice.

In the last post, I was talking about Intentions as an alternative to goals.  There is a process to setting intentions, and it starts with this:

How do you want to feel?

I found this exercise in Danielle LaPorte’s excellent book, The Firestarter Sessions.  It is another book I heartily recommend, and if you want to know how to do it properly, I suggest you grab a copy and check out the worksheet on page 73.

Journal Exercise:

Take some time with your journal.  Write about the feelings that give you a sense of wholeness, enoughness, satisfaction, happiness.  How do you want to feel about yourself?  How do you want others to see you?  What qualities do you admire in yourself and others?

Come up with between three and five words that describe how you want to feel/be in your life.

Mine are:

Radiant

Calm

Wise

Joyful

Creative

Take your time over this.  Make a long list, if you like, and sit with it for a while, weeks if necessary.  Then hone it, edit it, pick and choose until you come up with a series of words that describe heart of who you are.  How do you want to feel in the future?  What symphony do you want to start in your heart?

Key to this part of the process is NOT BEATING YOURSELF UP.

Choose words that resonate with you.  Not what other people would like you to be, or what you think you OUGHT to feel.  You are shaping your life, your coming year.  What feelings do you want to feel?

This is not about self improvement.  It is about self-actualisation.  It is about being fully and deeply yourself.  And by being fully yourself, you can let your innate creativity loose.  You can choose your creative direction and flow with it.

For more on this, check out Danielle LaPorte’s website.

In the next post, I will be talking about your word for the New Year

Happy Journaling,

EF

Journal Friday (or rather, Thursday): Samhain

treepumpkinHappy Halloween everybody!

This week, and today in particular, journalling seems to be a particularly apposite subject, which is why you are getting a Thursday post instead of a Friday one!

In ancient tradition, the festival of Samhain, or Halloween as we now call it, was not simply a Feast of the Dead.  There is so much more to it than that.

Our ancestors celebrated the last harvest festival at this time, the final moment before the real onset of winter in Northern Europe.  The main crop  harvests had been gathered in.  Now was the time to choose which of the beasts on the farm was likely to survive the winter, and which were too old or too sick to waste valuable fodder on.  Food had to be laid in for the coming cold months, for the next crops might not be ready until June or July at the earliest.  So the animals that had outlived their usefulness had to be slaughtered and salted for meat, and the perishable parts eaten quickly.

It was not just the animals that faced mortality at this time.  For the majority of human history, we have faced high mortality rates in winter, and even now, you are more likely to die in January than August (click here.)

As the weather deteriorated, and darkness closed in, people were forced inside to do more meditative tasks.  Winter is necessarily a more interior time, and this means both literally and metaphorically.  There is even an energy change – plants retract as greenery dies off, while the roots go dormant in the cold soil, recharging in preparation for the growth spurt of Spring.  Some animals hiberate, and for good reason.  It is no coincidence that there are many myths associated with this process, most notably that of Persephone’s sojourn in the Underworld.

We live in a 24/7 world adorned with electric light and heating, but if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, you will understand how human biorhythms fluctuate over the seasons, despite our best efforts to pretend we are immune.  Most of us cannot afford to spend 6 months of the year in warmer climes, and if we could, it would not necessarily be good for us.  We need downtime too, just like the plants and animals from which we have evolved.

We need to withdraw into our interiors, our homes and our souls, to curl up beside a crackling fire under fluffy blankets, with hot drinks, to rest our bones.

The active, exterior period of the year is over.  Now we concentrate on the swift approach of Christmas, a time for family, and New Year, and time for assessing our lives and where we want to take them next.  Prior to the rush, it is good to set some time aside to contemplate our dark interiors, to work out what we really want, and perhaps, what we are most afraid of.  Some elements of our lives naturally die off, whilst others are hibernating, or are seeds lying in the ground awaiting the rush of Spring.

We usually choose New Year in January to make resolutions and start new habits, but for the Ancient Celts, Samhain was the new year, and they valued this time of contemplation and stillness.  The Scandanavian Viking cultures observed ‘Winter Finding’, also a period of contemplation.   Instead of letting your plans arise out of the post-Christmas exhaustion and a haze of overindulgence, October/November can offer more time and space to think.

Samhain Journal Exercises:

Make space to be alone.  Settle down in a warm room, light a candle, put on some soft music if you like, and have a glass of apple juice or red wine handy, along with your journal and favourite pen.  Rest and relax.  There is no pressure.  This is time for you.

Think over the past year.  What were your goals?  What were your successes?  Did you experiences failures or losses? Write about them – and what you have learnt from them.

Samhain is a time of natural wastage, of matter decomposing to feed future growth, a time of endings that feed beginnings.  What has died for you this year?  What relationships, habits, activities have fallen away?  Are there elements in your life that you would like to release?  Write about them.

If you have lost a loved one, take time to remember them in your journal, to write down your favourite memories.  If you had a difficult relationship with them, write about your ambivalent feelings.  People say it is wrong to speak ill of the dead, but it is far more damaging in my experience to deify them into saints that they were not.  Do not judge yourself as you write.  Lay your pain, your loss, your grief, on the page if you need to.

The apple is the fruit of Samhain.  Inside its tasty flesh are five seeds.  What seeds would you like to plant into the dark earth for the coming year?  Take time over this – it may take you the whole of ‘Winter Finding’, or the run-up to Christmas, to decide what new dreams you wish to plant.  Don’t rush it.  You are setting your intentions for coming months.  You may like to think about this post from Kelly Rae Roberts as inspiration.

Draw or collage pages to represent the past year, and what you hope for in the coming year.  Don’t worry about how good your pictures are – they are for your eyes only.  The point is to root images of your intention in your subconscious, which doesn’t care if you are Rembrandt or not!

Happy journalling,

EF

Journal Friday: Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks

jarman diariesIt’s been a very busy week, and I’ve been diving into all kinds of exciting new and inspirational activities, including the UEA Literary Festival.  I’ve also been submerged in the magical world of Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks, edited by Stephen Farthing and Ed Webb-Ingall, and I want to share the inspiration I’ve found in them with you.

derek_jarmanIn case you have never heard of Derek Jarman, he was a fabulously talented artist, film-maker, designer, writer, gardener and Gay Rights activist whose career was tragically cut short by AIDS in 1994, aged 52.  He directed music videos for the Pet Shop Boys and designed the sets for Ken Russell’s landmark 1971 film, ‘The Devils’.  At his home in Dungeness, he created one of the most haunting modern gardens in Britain, one that I am deeply in love with.

I first became aware of Jarman when I saw his film, Caravaggio (1986), starring Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, and Tilda Swinton in her first film role.  Later, in 1991, I wept my way through his heart-breaking ‘Edward II’, an adaptation of Marlowe’s play that spoke of Jarman’s outrage at homophobia in Thatcherite Britain.  These are not easy and accessible films.  They are, however, fabulous to look at, and very moving.

When I came across this edition of the sketchbooks in the library the other day, quite by chance, I had no idea that Jarman was a committed visual diarist.  The sketchbooks themselves are large – family photo album sized – and each cover is decorated in black and gold, making a slightly varied but pleasing continuity.  Inside them, Jarman uses ephemera, calligraphy, drawing and painting, poetry, pages of film scripts, actors’ head shots from casting sessions, clippings from newspapers, reviews, photographs of friends and colleagues, bits of feathers and pressed flowers to document his life and each of his projects.  The sketchbooks contain his thoughts on everything from his garden (there is a carefully drawn planting plan), to his illness, to sex, history and death.

Jarman made a series of paintings, the ‘GBH’ series, of black on gold abstracts, inspired by Goya’s Black paintings, and a film called ‘Imagining October’, which arose from finding Sergei Eisenstein’s own copy of ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’, the famous book on the Russian Revolition, and on which Eisenstein had based his ground-breaking film, ‘Battleship Potemkin’.  Jarman had been shocked to discover how much of the book had been redacted with blacked-out text by the Communist authorities.  Both of these concepts are reflected in the sketchbooks, where you can see Jarman working on the idea of black bars with gold writing, seen on the cover of the volume.  Jarman’s anger at the political situation for Gays in the UK shines through these blackened pages.

One of the things that particularly strikes me is the simplicity of the layouts he uses.  Even when he is writing pages of text, making notes or journalling, there is a sense of space.  Nothing is cramped.  He spreads out, not denying himself room to work, enjoying the clarity of white space around his words and images.  This is something I will definitely take away. My diaries always feel cramped.  I always feel that every inch of space must be used, because materials are scarce.  This denial of room to grow is cramping my creativity, something I need to break out of.

I want to draw inspiration from the sheer range of activities Jarman undertook, too.  For him, there is no line in his sketchbooks between diary, writer’s notebook, sketchbook, planner or scrapbook, anymore than there were boundaries between the creative areas he worked in.  Although he was primarily a film-maker, he was so many other things as well.  Jarman teaches me that I don’t just have to stick to writing.  I can follow where ever my Muse leads me.

There are no limits to what we can create, only the ones we impose on ourselves.

Things to try:

  • See if you can get hold of a copy of Jarman’s sketchbooks.  It isn’t cheap – £28 – so maybe you can order it from your library.  You may not like his style of modernist art, but you can appreciate how he puts every aspect of his life into these visual journals to make a record of his thinking.
  • Use your own sketchbook or diary as a kind of studio to record everything you do and think about a particular project.
  • Collect clips, postcards, photos, anything relevant to stick in – Jarman even stuck a ten pound note into his!
  • Luxuriate in space.  Allow each of your drawings, paragraphs, or collaged pieces to bask in a frame of white space, so that they can shine out, and be seen for what they are.  Don’t fall into my scarcity trap – there will always be more paper.
  • Decorate the covers of your sketchbooks or journals in a similar way, as Jarman did, each one slightly different, but using the same colours or materials.  Maybe you could do ‘series’ of notebooks, with matching covers, for different projects.  Don’t be precious about them, however.  Jarman once stuck a heavy bronze seal on the front of one of his books, but it was too heavy to carry and got in the way, so he ended up prizing it off.  The scarred gold cover is even more interesting as a result.

Happy journalling,

EF

Journal Friday: Reflecting on Creative Blocks

paintbox

So, if you read my last post, you will know that I am increasingly drawn towards drawing and painting at the moment.  This is my current creative season and I want to honour it.  So today, no doubt, you will be expecting me to deluge you with jpegs of the beautiful pictures I have been creating.

Yeah, Right.

Nigel has been hard at work again.  I have produced the sum total of zero drawings in the last two days.  Yesterday I couldn’t even bring myself to go into the study to get out my sketchbook and paints.  The blank page suddenly seems terrifying.  I can’t even doodle.  How the hell have I lost the ability to doodle, for Gods’ sakes?

Bit not good.

This, my friends, is where the journal really comes into play.  I sat down with my trusty moleskine and pen, and thought about my childhood memories of drawing.

I used to draw all the time.  It was what I was known for, amongst family and friends.  I was never without a piece of paper and a pencil.  I made little books and illustrated them.  I wrote stories and illustrated them.  I wrote stories about my favourite TV programmes, like ‘Blakes 7’ (remember that one?  I had a terrible crush on Paul Darrow) and drew the characters all the time.  (If only I had known about fanfiction and fanart then!)  I was obsessed at one point with the Tudor monarchs, and copied their opulent portraits and clothes with fibre tipped colouring pens.  Then I got into the Ancient Egyptians, and copied their sideways style of representation.  I even copied the drawings of E.H Shepherd in the beautiful edition of Kenneth Graham’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’, which my father gave me – it was his favourite book.  And I painstakingly illustrated all my school work (except the Maths, of course, because that was too serious, which was probably why I was never any good at it.)  In other words, I spent hours absorbed in transferring images from my head onto the page.

What happened?  Senior school art classes.  Hours of drawing still lives of pots and pans. Teachers who made us draw boring subjects, and never gave us any information about technique.  I’ve learn everything I have ever learnt about art and how to use paint from copying, which my art teachers said was the worst possible sin.

(But I am getting ahead of myself, I’m supposed to be thinking about my childhood drawing.)

As a kid, art was my obsession, but it requires materials, and they were in short supply.  For paper, my dad bought home gash computer paper from work, the perforated kind that comes in a concertina, with holes along the edges, and with about the same handling quality as IZAL toilet paper.  I was occasionally bought coloured felt-tipped pens but in the 1970s they were rubbish, and the black ones were invariably dried out before they were even used.  At least 25% of the pens in the pack didn’t work within about two days of having them, and you had to conserve those that did with fiendish vigilance.  There were occasional gifts of watercolour pan boxes, but they were very low pigment, and anyway, painting in your bedroom is frowned upon by most mothers because it is messy.  And there wasn’t anywhere else to paint.  What I am trying to say is that I grew up yearning for those huge bottles of poster colour paint that stood on the trolley in school.  The thought of being able to just splash paint about willy-nilly was ridiculous.  My parents wanted to encourage my artistic side, but they didn’t have the disposable income or the mindset to invest in good raw materials for it.

The result is that the scarcity of my childhood has bloomed into a scarcity paranoia in adulthood.  As soon as I was earning, I went out and bought decent art materials, but then I couldn’t make myself use them.  I have drawers and boxes full of sketchbooks, pastels, inks and paint tubes that have never been opened because I still have the mindset that they have to be conserved.  I can’t waste a thing.  To the point where I can’t use a thing.

None of this would I know and understand, were it not for exploring it in my journal.  And in my journal have come the little glimmers of a solution, a plan to tackle my stuckness with baby steps so minute that I can fool Nigel into thinking I’m not even putting pen to paper at all!  Slowly and gently, I will con myself into the belief that making a tiny drawing is safe.  And then I will con myself into making a bigger one.  Until one day I will fulfil my dream of illustrating my own novels, and making huge abstract expressionist canvases like Rothko and Pollock.  But not yet.  To begin with, I will throw out everything I learnt in art class, scrunch up my eyes and begin again, as a child.  It will be hard, but I can do it.  I did it with the writing, after all…

Journal Exercise:

Are you also struggling with a creative block?  Is there something you used to do, and would like to do again, but are afraid to?  Perhaps you are just stuck and you can’t get out of your own way.  You probably don’t even know why.

Get out your journal and take a few deep breaths.  Close your eyes and let yourself fall backwards through time. Feel yourself become a child, doing that thing you loved do and don’t do anymore, whatever it is.  Immerse yourself in that memory.  How did it feel?  What was so satisfying, enticing, transcendently joyful or just effortless about it?  How did splashing paint on paper, sewing a doll’s dress or dancing to the radio help you express yourself?  Connect with the fun, the pleasure, the satisfaction.

Now write about it.  Take time to write out all you can remember about doing that creative activity, and take the memory from as early an age as possible.

Now take another deep breath and continue to write, this time about when you stopped pursuing that activity.  What happened?  What age where you?  Was there criticism from parents or responsible adults?  Or was it competition with other children who you regarded as being better at the skill than you?  Perhaps you reached puberty and decided that form of creativity was childish and no longer for you?  Or you felt you couldn’t go any further with it because you couldn’t make a living at it?  Whatever the reason, explore your memories of it.  Be as thorough as you can.

Give yourself some time to sit with these memories, to contemplate them.  Decide what aspects are still stopping you.  Are you, like me, fearful that your work won’t be ‘GOOD ENOUGH’ (thanks, Nigel), or still carrying that fear that there isn’t paper to waste?  Will doing this activity make you vulnerable in some way?  (If so, you don’t have to show it to anybody, just keep it for yourself.)

(If some major trauma is involved, it is wise to seek professional help.  A therapist is invaluable, and those who specialise in expressive arts or Gestalt might be just what you need.  Don’t suffer flashbacks alone as a result of this exercise.  Self care should always be the first rule of creative expression.)

Think about ways to ease yourself through these issues.  Maybe taking a beginners or taster course, where everyone will be fumbling about at the same starter level, could encourage you that what you make doesn’t have to be perfect.  Perhaps an online course that you can follow in private, and at your own pace (Alisa Burke has some brilliant art and sewing courses.)  Or you could buy some kids art materials and use them with your own kids (or borrow someone else’s for an afternoon).  Watch how kids are completely free of judgement when they make art.  They are just having fun.  You can, too.  (Actually, I think I may have to borrow some children and do this myself!)

Trust that what comes up in writing your journal is from deep within, an inner wisdom that will guide you back to your creative centre.  Above all, be gentle with yourself as your formulate your action plan, and give yourself as much time as you need.  You don’t have to become Picasso or Nijinsky overnight.

Happy Creating,

EF

Journal Friday: How to write yourself out of a hole

Lighthouse at Dusk, Islay, Scotland

Lighthouse at Dusk, Islay, Scotland

(DISCLAIMER:  I am not a qualified counsellor, psychiatrist or doctor.  I am just describing what works for me.  If you are suffering with depression I urge you strongly to reach out and get help.  You do not need to suffer.)

I have suffered from bouts of depression since I was a child.  Depression is not having a bad day, or feeling blue, though both of those are unpleasant.  Depression is a soul-crushing, heart-lacerating misery that debilitates and destroys everything in its path.  Do not deny it or under-estimate it.

That said, over the years I have found ways to help myself, and believe me, helping yourself, feeling you have a little control over something that feels like it is controlling you, is a real relief.  Journaling is one of those ways.

So what to do if you find yourself at the bottom of the depression mine shaft?  Or even if you are just having a bit of a black dog kind of day?

How to:

Get out your journal.

Write down how you are feeling RIGHT NOW, in this moment.  As my counsellor often says, you can’t get to Edinburgh if you don’t know where you are now. (Think about trying to plan a journey that way – impossible!)

Be specific.

Stop and take the time to feel what is going on inside your body.  Do you have particular sensations associated with this low mood?  If so, where are they?  Write them down. They may be indicative of trapped emotions.

How are you feeling emotionally?  Write that down too – a list of adjectives if that is all you can face doing.

Does an image that describes how you feel come to mind?  Describe that.  For example, for me a real, deep depression feels as if my ribs have been ripped open, and my heart repeatedly slashed.  I feel it bleeding inside my chest.  Yes, it is a horrible image, but that is exactly how I feel, and describing it, in as much detail as possible, can be a huge relief.

Do not judge your feelings as you record them.  Do not judge yourself as selfish or unfeeling because you resent the fact that your husband is not doing much to help with your crying baby, or that you are angry because your boss does not recognise how hard you are working..  Have a good rant, safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to protect anyone’s feelings.  You are not being a martyr or a victim at this point.  You are just recognising how you feel.  Do not feel bad about what you write.  Admitting these feelings exist to yourself is the first step to healing, and no one else is going to see what you write.

If you don’t feel anything, write that too.  An absence is just as important.  Describe the void in as much detail as you can.  You may even find, as you progress, that you begin to pick up on little gimmers in the abyss, feelings you didn’t know were there.  Write those too.

As you write, you may find other feelings coming up from underneath the ones you are describing.  Get those down.  I often find that underneath my depression is anger, and underneath the anger lies a need not being met.  When I identify what it is I want that I am not getting, I am right in touch with the small child inside that feels unloved, whose needs went unmet.  Do not judge the need.  Simply recognise it.  Is there a way you can get what you need now, in a healthy way?  Now you know what it is, you can ask for it.

Whatever else you do, try to write daily, and get whatever miserable feelings you are having onto the page.  Once you have let them out, keep writing.  You may find more positive stuff coming through behind, and perhaps even ideas of things to do to help, comfort and console yourself.

Above all, be gentle with yourself. 

Show yourself the same compassion you would to a friend in need. (We often don’t do this, conditioned as we are to berate ourselves for the smallest failing.)

What next?

This is a process of continuing orientation and expression.  If you were on a cross-country walk, you would stop regularly to check your map and compass, to be sure where you were, to work out which was the next direction to take.

In the same way, depression is a long journey.  You need to be taking your own emotional temperature, checking your compass, as regularly as possible.  So make time to write often.

In my last spell of depression, I worked in my journal like this three or four times a day, for several days, then continued on a daily basis long after.  That probably sounds like quite a lot of effort.  On the other hand, you might take a pill three or four times a day if told by the doctor that it would make you feel better.  And this will make you feel better.

Why?  Because it gets the toxic feelings out of your body and mind, and puts them somewhere else – onto the page.

NOTE:  Do not reread what you write when you are still ill, or at all.  That would be ruminating on your feelings, and will encourage you to judge, feel guilty or ashamed.  Just get it down.  You are looking for TRUTH, not BEING GOOD.

You may find it helpful to write on loose sheets of paper, rather than in your journal proper.  This way, you could opt to burn the pages, ritually releasing the feelings, and freeing yourself.

Whether you are in the midst of a long bout of clinical depression, or just having a low spell, I encourage you to try this way of journaling.  I hope that it will help you to release your pain and move back into the sunshine.

With love,

EF