Seeking comfort in the pages of a journal

Monday, September 30, 2019 - 10:47pm

Samantha Nelson

Samantha Nelson Buy this photo
NOSELL

I used to despise journaling. Every summer throughout middle school, my parents required my sister and I to keep a journal, hoping to cultivate our writing skills and keep us sharp for the upcoming school year. No matter how many aesthetically-pleasing incentives presented to us — worn, leather-bound covered journals or neon jelly roll pens — I protested. Out of teenage spite, I sloppily composed my entries, triple and quadruple spacing my sentences to meet the minimum page requirement and scribbling in near-illegible scrawl. My vocabulary was bland and disjointed, detailing the most mundane daily activities I could conjure up, like “woke up at 8:32 a.m.” or “brushed my teeth for 46 seconds.” Melodramatic and petty? Yes and yes. 

Once I reached high school, my parents loosened their summer requirements, and I gleefully vowed that I would never journal again.

Then something changed. It was the fall of my senior year and I was bumbling through the Common App and frantically completing last-minute college visits. Nestled on the plane en route to Washington University in St. Louis for an interview, my nerves were buzzing. Whether it was an introversion-induced terror or a need to proactively process my anxieties, I felt an unfamiliar impulse to write. As if by fate, I’d packed a “college journal” at my mother’s request to take notes and look engaged during the informational session and campus tour. Hesitantly, I pulled a pale blue book from my backpack, pinching it like an alien object. I awkwardly brushed the pages and aimed to focus my thoughts. Pen in hand, I began to write.

At first my words were concentrated, restricted even, limited to the topics of college and leaving the bubble of home. Then, suddenly, a barrier broke and everything poured out. Memories of insecurities, friendships lost and heartbreaks of the past flooded to the surface, spilling out of me like water. My hands failed to keep up with my thoughts, jerking from line to line as though possessed. Before I knew it, page after page was covered in black ink and the plane was close to landing. Emerging from my trance, I re-entered reality, hands shaking slightly and eyes wide and alert. I felt electric and refreshed, as though processing the words from my mind to the blank sheets had lifted a physical burden from my body. I felt weightless. 

It would be a lie to claim that my plane ride flirtation with journaling turned into a full-blown love affair. I did not become a daily journaler, nor did I find inner peace every time jotted down an entry, but I did discover the value in self reflection. Growing up in a technology-saturated world, I’ve had the privilege of access to endless piles of information at the touch of a screen. But just as this information overload is a blessing, it is also a curse. In the maze of posts and likes, it is easy to get lost in the lives of others and inadvertently position ourselves on the backburner. 

More than anything, journaling has morphed into an outlet, a crutch and a therapeutic tool for reconnection. Though it kills the thirteen-year-old drama queen inside me to admit it, my parents were right all along. Their simple, sincere message to me all those years ago is one that I’ve finally decided to heed. Just write.