Journal to the Center of the Chris

There are upside and downside of journaling.

In terms of fight/flight/freeze, I am in freeze 24/7. I have lived most of my life numb. Star Trek Vulcans, like Spock, were my inspiration. When therapy started, I didn't know how to label my feelings. I was unaware and felt dead inside. It was safe.

Eventually, I broke. I completely lost control and the pain was so much that I wanted to end my life. When I composed myself, I went back to the unfeeling path. It was familiar. Writing became a way to make sense of my emotions and thoughts.

I found journaling in the morning was a way to relieve anxiety. I wrote morning pages to find some emotional balance and list my many, many, many, worries. Putting them on paper would sometimes illustrate how outlandish the fear was. Other times it helped to prioritize my day. I did it for months and then something changed.

I started journaling in the evening to find gratitude. I wanted to remind myself of what I had accomplished. It's natural, like biological, that we as humans retain negative experiences. This protected our ancestors in life and death situations. It protects children today. The old chestnut is the idea of a toddler touching a hot stove. Remembering the burning sensation stops them from doing it again. Unfortunately, this biological necessity has not evolved with society. So stressful things like a simple meeting with one's boss about your development plan for the future feels like it is punitive. Thus, I started to try to write out the things I was grateful for at night. The process is popular and does help many people.

The downside of my morning pages and gratitude journal is the one thing they have in common, me. Morning pages were helpful in relieving anxiety. There is power in talking to someone or journaling. For example, a fear about finding a parking space downtown for tomorrow's interview can feel close to a panic attack for me. Writing it out, I see there are options. I can park further away, arrive earlier, etc. In my head, it's just the fear and panic.

On the flip side, I felt morning pages were giving voice to that shame, fear, and self-criticism. I would free-write in those journals, just writing whatever was flowing out of my head. For example, at this very moment I am feeling very self-conscious about that “parking space” example above. It sounds so stupid. And yet, that is something I have had extreme anxiety about in the past. I am stupid. I must sound like a complete mess to anyone reading this. Letting the shame out in this way was only helpful if I was able to move on. If not, opening this door in the morning would really ruin the rest of the day.

The evening gratitude journal had a similar affect. What I find when I am able to be productive is an insatiable need to do more. Setting a goal to accomplish 3 things in the day and then sitting down at night to remind myself that I did all 3 was a short lived celebration. I should have done more.

Will journaling this time be different? What can I do to ensure that? I do not know. I only know that I have been numb again. I have been shutting down. Here, I can try to label my emotions. Perhaps I can log the body sensations as well. Maybe journaling (for me) is not about abolishing that shame and anxiety. Perhaps it is more about my emotions and learning how to accept them.