Rebel diarist: My journey from “Dear Diary” to a life record
I have long kept a journal or diary of some fashion or another. Indeed, I began dabbling in the art of journalling as a young child, even before I hit double-digits! In the early years, my practice was inconsistent, as was my journalling style. But as I grew older, my approach became more standardised – with changes and additions as my life changed with each stage of being.
This post is part of my “Rebel Badge Adventures” series. Details of the badge can be found at the end of the post.
As a young girl (pre-teens) my style tended to be quite ad-hoc with an attempt at replicating what I saw on TV. So, Marcia Brady-style “teenager” diary entries that often began with the very cliché “Dear Diary…”. They weren’t “real” and never truly captured the essence of “me” – in part because I had 5 sisters, and I didn’t trust them to (1) not read it; (2) not share it with others; and (3) not be mean/cruel to me about my thoughts and feelings. (Full disclosure: Even as adults, I think at least some of them would tease/be cruel if they read my innermost thoughts and feelings.)
As a teenager, my practice was more “journalling by poetry” or storytelling than anything else. I wrote most days and wrote about my thoughts and feelings most days. But it tended to be in the form of poems and short stories. I wrote about my feelings and experiences through the lives of others because it seemed like a good way to get thoughts out of my head without being too vulnerable. And it gave me plausible deniability: *I* didn’t think/feel that thing; my *characters* thought and felt those things.
In my 20s, my practice began to change again. I began keeping both a journal (thoughts and feelings) and a diary (dates and activities) and really started to formalise my methods. For my diary, I had yearly planners with 2-page spreads for each week. It was more of a “log” system than anything else where I noted my work schedule and appointments along with significant events throughout the week/month/year. I would also track things such as my menstrual cycle and anytime I had a weird pain/feeling/symptom so that I could track patterns. That is also when I began to log my physical exercise (bike rides, walks, runs, etc).
At the same time, I began to keep a journal of my thoughts and feelings – sometimes on paper; sometimes on my computer. By now, I was being (mostly) honest with what I wrote because I was no longer afraid of someone else reading it. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to be 100% honest with myself because I was still afraid of what someone might think (or if they would tease me) if they read it. Although by the last bits of my 20s, I was finding more confidence in writing honestly – although even now I do worry about other people reading my personal missives. (A lifetime of being mocked by others has scarred me!)
As I entered my 30s, my whole world began to change. I was a world traveller, and I had a real-life, flesh-and-blood partner (who became my husband in my early 30s). This meant that my practice changed again (and then again, again). For the first half of my 30s, I found that I relied less and less on my journaling habits, likely because my husband became a sounding board, and I didn’t feel the need to write about my feelings and a release. However, my diary and logging habits remained strong – and in some ways, improved.
But in my mid-30s (35, to be exact) life changed in such a dramatic way that I found myself needing to journal more than ever. After my husband died, I no longer had a sounding board, and I had more feelings and emotions than I could manage on my own. And without a good friend to talk with, I turned to my trusty leather-bound journal and began writing and writing and writing… but I found it hard to be completely honest on the pages. Part of that was, again, the fear of someone reading these frightening, raw emotions, and thoughts. But part of it was because I was afraid of the emotions, and I didn’t know how to journal them.
That’s when I began blogging*. I started with a “widow blog” that was meant to be a casually anonymous blog for me to share my fears and emotions without direct judgement. Soon, I realised I needed an outlet for the mundane, everyday thoughts in my head, which led to the creation of this blog. And at some point, the two merged together into one crazy blog about me. Soon, I was blogging more and journalling on paper less – but still maintaining the log-style diaries.
Enter The 40s, and everything began to change again. I was working on my PhD and living as a solo human. I was lonely (OK, I am still lonely sometimes) and I needed to get my feelings and emotions out, but I didn’t want to rely too heavily on my blog for that; I still needed the safety and comfort of a private hand-written journal. I realised that I needed to create a new system that worked for me, and I experimented a bit with journal styles and log systems.
I now have a (mostly**) solid process that includes daily journalling and a combination log system and task list. Indeed, the log system is split into monthly logs for fitness, health, and habits (with monthly reflections) and weekly logs that track different elements of my fitness and habits, goals, and tasks along with weekly to-do lists. The logbooks are reminiscent of “bullet journals” but are my own process that was cultivated from the late-1990s forward***.
I have been using the basic system for nearly six years now and have incorporated the process into my daily routines. I keep a reflective journal that shares what I’ve done and varying emotions, thoughts, and feelings. In that journal, I also sometimes muse about patterns I’ve spotted (how well I am sleeping; little pains or potential symptoms). I have found that allows me to reflect on what I’ve written to see just how long ago or how often something happens.
I’ve also taken time to read through various entries and have found new insights and understandings about myself in doing so. Again, spotting patterns of behaviour or emotion. It’s challenging at times, putting a mirror in front of my face, but it’s made me a little more intentional in how I face my life.
And, of course, there are the monthly and weekly log systems. I’ve found this has really helped me to better manage and understand my physical health (as opposed to my emotional health found in the journals). I can see a snapshot that helps to identify the potential cause and effect in my energy levels, blood pressure, and even my overall mood.
I will share details of my log system in the new year once I have made my most recent round of tweaks to the system. It’s not overly complicated, but I’ve been asked about it a couple of times so it deserves its own post.
Anyhow, I am a lifelong diarist. I do it for me, but I sometimes wonder what the world might think of my writings in generations to come. Will I be remembered as a great diarist 100 years from now? Will my writings help future generations understand what life was like during my lifetime? Will future scholars flip through the pages of my books in the archives of a university library?
The answer to these questions is probably “no” … and the reality is that they will be tossed out un-ceremonially upon my death. That’s the legacy of a childless widow. But I write for me, and for my life here today. So that’s OK.
Rebel Diarist Badge (Wellness Category)
The task: Over a period of six months, write a journal at least four times per week. You can decide whether you keep a gratitude journal, a bullet journal, a “one line a day” diary, or a more detailed account. If you’ve never kept a journal before and don’t know what works best for you, feel free to experiment over the six months.
This is the first badge I am formally “claiming”, although I have been casually working on badges since I got my book in April 2022. I’ve just been too focused on other things to prioritise badges. I’m claiming it now in part so that I can get in the habit of logging the badges I’ve earned.
You can follow my badge progress on my Rebel Badge Tracker page where you’ll find links to posts about other completed badges.
* I had managed a couple of minor blogs in the past, including a wedding planning blog, and maintained a family website (RyanCentric.com) but I didn’t really “get into” blogging until I became a widow.
** Mostly, because each year I made a couple of little tweaks to the log system to make it work better for my life. I imagine it will be an ongoing process, as life will change in little ways forever and so too will the way I record it.
*** I find it fascinating that I was developing what would become something akin to a bullet journal along the same timeline as the “inventor” of the bullet journal. My process is quite different, but I can see a few similarities in the theory behind the practice.
4 Replies to “Rebel diarist: My journey from “Dear Diary” to a life record”
Keep writing Frances , we the people enjoy it! Keep on being you too🥰
Thanks, Gio! It’s nice to know that people enjoy my writing… even when it can be a little crazy at times. 🙂
I love reading your “stuff”, makes me feel like we still talk- though a world apart! The important thing is you do it for yourself!
Who knows, maybe your health Journaling will become a case study example because you are obviously a Dr’s dream patient!!
Thanks, Ramona! Here’s hoping we can talk “in real life” soon… ?
I use participant diaries in a lot of my research and I am starting to work on some health-related topics that will include diaries and logs. So who knows… maybe one of these days I’ll have some interesting articles to share about just that!! 🙂