Writing My Way to a Happier Me
My diary serves as my therapist, my coach, and my best friend, all rolled into one. Here’s why I started journal writing — and how I keep the habit going.
My daily rituals start and end with sitting down and writing in my trusty journal, which has helped me weather the ups and downs of living with ADHD.
My journal has its home on the nightstand, anchored with a gel pen (a favorite that glides easily on the page). Some pages are dog-eared, others stained with beverages, and some show doodles that sprang from either boredom or fear.
I am a writer by profession, and writing has a place in my journey as an adult with ADHD. Writing, including journaling and blogging, has a therapeutic effect on me. When the crap hits the fan, it feels good to dig into a fresh white page and put my emotions on paper.
Writing has a healing effect, like a nice massage. It is comforting, like a cup of tea or a warm fireplace on a chilly night. All you need is a notebook, a pen, or a laptop if you prefer, and the courage to open up your heart.
A friend with ADHD agreed that life is tough; having ADHD makes it tougher. The world misunderstands me a lot. At my weekly work meeting, my merry-go-round of ideas is considered more of an annoyance than a contribution. My date is annoyed by my interruptions, but it isn’t intentional. It’s just my ADHD talking. A job becomes a grind — again — and I consider doing something different with my life. I once filled three pages by writing “I wish I had a normal life” until I exhaled, and felt my white-hot anger lower to a simmer.
The Word on ADHD
How can writing make ADHD a more joyful journey? Through writing you can…
- clarify your thoughts and feelings.
- know yourself better.
- reduce stress. Writing about anger, sadness, and other painful emotions helps to reduce the intensity of the feelings. You feel calmer and better able to stay in the present.
- solve problems more effectively. Typically, we problem-solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. Sometimes the better answer is found by engaging the intuition that comes from the right brain. Writing unlocks this side of the brain, and brings an opportunity for unexpected solutions.
- resolve disagreements with others. Writing about misunderstandings, instead of stewing over them, helps you see another’s point of view. Chances are, you will come up with a sensible resolution to the conflict.
Writing as Therapy
I googled “writing and healthy effects” and found some telling stuff. In 2002, University of Texas psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker, Ph.D., confirmed that journaling strengthens immune cells and eases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Academic Louise DeSalvo, author of Writing as a Way of Healing, says, “Writing has helped me heal. Writing has changed my life. Writing has saved my life.” DeSalvo argues that writing is a “way of fixing things, of making them better…”
Journaling helps me make sense of happy and sad moments. As you write, over days and months, you see patterns emerge. As a girl, I kept a journal, pages of complaints about mean girls, bullies, the inequity of receiving a C — for a paper I’d worked darn hard on — and my parents’ divorce. But the journal entries stopped when I became an adult.
I can’t remember when I started journaling again, but it was around the time I had a bad breakup and was diagnosed with ADHD, at age 31. I remember talking with a friend over coffee as I spilled my anxiety and anger about the diagnosis. She looked at me like a deer caught in headlights.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t know much about this,” she said. “Maybe you should get a second opinion.” She didn’t know what to say, but her answer seemed cold. My family was convinced that ADHD was a disorder that medical science had created to make money. When my father blamed my ADHD on “too much Diet Coke,” I was furious and turned to my journal. “This is ridiculous; people should open their minds,” I wrote.
The journal as my friend, confidante, and shrink is liberating. As I changed jobs, time and again, the journal was always near. When I was laid off from a job a number of years ago, the first thing I did was head to a café, where I treated myself to an expensive cupcake and put my sorrows onto the page. I wrote the “Why me?” question down. There were no answers, but I felt better.
In serious crises, the journal held my feelings, raw and uncensored. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, three years ago, I poured out the emotions I felt. At one point I told the journal, “I hate the world and everyone,” “Life isn’t fair,” “It’s adversity after adversity.”
Writing helps me the most in dark times, an outlet for my toughest emotions. Taking out the pen is better than shop therapy or checking the refrigerator. Friends, boyfriends, and some family have come and gone, but the journal is a dependable presence in my life.
DeSalvo says that sometimes we expect to find meaning or transformation through writing, but I’ve found that healing occurs when I have no expectations, when I just open the journal to a new page and write whatever comes to mind. I always feel better.