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Why Do We Journal?

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

Composed by Lamisa. H & Photographed by Mariam. H

Recently, I've found that whenever I haven't reflected, I feel scattered. It shows in my actions, I misplace things, I misinterpret what people say, I’m riddled with more anxious thoughts and I feel exhausted after doing only a little. When people ask me to do simple tasks, I suddenly feel like I can’t juggle everything on my plate. Journaling has always been inconsistent for me throughout my life, but I always gravitate back to it as a source of comfort and security.

I’ve always been certain of the positive impacts journaling can have on our lives. More than anything, I look to others for inspiration and guidance and I am lucky enough to be surrounded by women who strive to be grounded in the field of their work and their life. I wanted to pursue this piece not only to champion some of the women I admire, but showcase the intentional choices they are making everyday, pushing through adversity in their own unique ways.

We know that journaling helps us label our emotions or acknowledge traumatic events. Yet, we never really look at traditional journaling as an organisational system. It is as important to organise the thoughts in our mind, as the events in our week. Keeping track of ourselves. The women I speak to use journaling as their superpower, both as a way to creatively channel their thoughts, and meticulously plan out their schedules and keep themselves on track for the completion of their dreams. Enjoy the journey:

Mariam: The Art in Journaling

I have a whole shelf of journals. I have been doing it for my whole life. I’m not really consistent with it. It is very much an intuitive process.

I have had mental health issues for much of my life. When I was younger, I wasn’t really aware of a diagnosis, I thought it was just who I was and I never spoke to anyone about it because I thought this was how it was for everyone; they just knew the secrets to handling it. I just adopted journaling as a coping mechanism, almost incidentally. Whatever I couldn’t handle, whatever became too overwhelming for me to deal with I would journal. Sometimes that was words, or poems, other times it was pictures, and drawings. Whatever became stuck in my head and I just couldn’t shake.

Later, when I sought professional assistance, my journaling practise was a great resource to tap into and became more specifically therapeutic. I would incorporate aspects like cognitive behaviour therapy into my journaling. This was where I would take huge things and break them down, deconstruct them. Or if I could feel my mood dipping, I’d incorporate this gratefulness technique. You write down 3 things that you’re grateful for that day, and they have to be very specific things, not just the general ‘oh I have good health’. It's to be very specific, very detailed. You would be amazed how much it will make an impact. I don’t articulate when I’m angry. I get so angry, that I can have outbursts, so instead I write it all down. I don’t go back and read my writing (let’s be real, I couldn’t even if I tried).

I journal more now for mindfulness and art therapy and I know the evidence behind it. It's not about being good about it. Am I naturally gifted? By no means, but I love playing with breath and movement. Textures are more important to me than colours. I set out to finish the whole book and I put everything into that book to push myself creatively, because when I write things down I experience them fully.

Hebah: The Mind of a Storyteller

I do a whole bunch. Dream journal in high school with my whacky dreams. End of high school, writing in a personal journal, analysing how I felt and what I wanted to do in the future. A lot of it was a stream of consciousness because I didn't know what I wanted.

And now I don't really write in it. I felt pressure to keep up in the journal to the point where I realised that in 2019, I didn't write anything. When I was writing, I was writing about really sad stuff. So, I found better ways to analyse what I was feeling. Now I feel like I have a better process. In that sense, I don't need to write out my thoughts. That was me deconstructing my thoughts at the time. It helped me form the communication skills I have today. It helps you understand you better.

I think a lot now. We don't give our brains enough credit, sometimes we just need some silence and in that time we’ll come to conclusions. We’re consuming so much and it's so important for me to switch off from it. It's so easy to numb yourself with these ‘infinity pools’ [apps with non-stop content]. It's unprecedented how much our brains are consuming every single day. It leaves you almost paralysed, in a debilitated state and there's nothing you can do about it. What am I going to do with this information?

Now I have 2 or 3 journals in rotation. Usually to write ideas down. Writing little notes in my notes that I have to fix out, all work related. I jot down things whenever I need to. Unlined ones that are even more free. When I’m on the train, I’ll dedicate some time to writing, instead of listening to music.

My brain works sporadically. I write little key words and phrases, if it's a script idea. If I say something, I'll write it down. My degree is in Media, Arts and Production but… I really like the title of Storyteller. Because I am so passionate about diversity. I feel like growing up, you’re really not shown other ways of living. I want more of our stories, and life experiences heard. It's a good time to be a minority… well, it's never a good time to be a minority, but I feel like now is a good time to have our voices heard.

Raisa: Organisation is the Key to Survival

I started off with bullet journalling, when I hit year 11- it was more ‘creative’ journaling. I started journaling around year 10 and I was feeling a lot of complex emotions with events in my life and I didn't have people to talk to about it. I wasn’t much of a person to open up. It felt a lot easier to translate them into writing, channelling all that complex emotion into something creative. It helps with processing, and you can almost mould them into something you can control rather than them controlling you. It was the time that I found the power of art.

There are glass balls and rubber balls. A lot of things in my life are glass balls, in the sense that if I drop them they will shatter. I have to make sure that I am accountable. I'm writing a few articles for my science journals, I have a lot of responsibilities with caring for my sister. My life also revolves around my PhD: I'm looking into early intervention for Autism and ways to improve the healthcare system to ensure it is more CALD and low SES-friendly. There are a lot of gaps, it doesn’t cater as well as it should, to who doesn't fit the stock standard. My work fights the stigma of health care and mental wellness within these communities.

It's an independent form of work, you set your own work and your own goals and you have to be vigilant with organisation. You cannot survive in a PhD if you are not aware of the bigger picture. Especially with COVID, the structure disappears when you are working from home and running from clinic to clinic. The night before is when I sit down, usually Sunday night. That is my time, where I sit down with my bullet journal and fill out my journal as much as I can and I go into the week with a running start.

That's my 9-5 Raisa journal. It brings a lot of light into my life, like "here is my massive life and hey! its all colour coded", I doodle on the side of my planner because it brings a lot of joy in that responsible side, but also my creative side that loves to experiment with what is traditionally a planner.

[My goal with journaling is] trying to organise my life in a practical perspective, and incorporate creative aspects into my work life. There is definitely an art in science, it's not just about data. There's a massive push for interdisciplinary research, and that kind of work needs a lot of creativity. Channeling my creativity into my work, transforming my hurt, stress and trauma into art.

I'm in a stage production, acting and dancing. I'm playing the role of the brown mother stuck between her son and husband and struggling with her own progressive liberal values. I have a dance piece in it. In dance, journaling helps if I draw similarities between me and my character, trying to navigate the mould of the gender roles we’re given as brown women and overinflated senses of duty. What I struggle with a lot, is not quite feeling that self care is a thing that you can do. That is the message that we get, because it is selfish and that our duty is to serve others runs deep within my character and within me, and with writing from her perspective, juggling the deep and complex trauma that brown women walk with.

[As a graduate in psychology] Journaling is proven to be successful in the literature, for both PTSD patients and stock standard people or at risk youth. It's a constructive way to manage emotions. Art therapy is more constructive than nulling. It should be used in conjunction with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

It's called ‘adding a third space’- instead of going from ‘A’ to ‘B’, you have somewhere in between. It allows you to be a little less reactive. Self-reflection is highly highly underrated, and boundary-setting is also very important. I think journaling centres you a lot and it helps you communicate to others more effectively, and it’s helped my friends in their relationships. I would definitely advocate for it, especially now since communication is so instant, we don’t have that space anymore and we’re always on and open and things unfold in real time. We tend to get caught in those instant emotions rather than seeing the bigger picture.

Amara: Being Conscious of the Self

I have always been passionate about writing. My family has taught us (my brother, my sister and myself) that when you feel something, you write it down. When you see the word, Taqwa, it translates to ‘God-conscious’. But you have to be conscious of yourself before you can be conscious of God.

A journal should be organic and unfiltered. I need to unlearn correcting myself in my own journal. Sometimes when I write, I tend to filter myself and write what I think I want to hear later on. In saying that, when you write, your heart is raw, writing is your safe space, and as you write, your thoughts will slowly unravel.

I don't think in a linear sort of way, so I read all these different perspectives and internalise the information and what part needs critical analysis- when I post or speak on a topic, I don’t ever want to present any information that is incorrect. I never want to come across as pretending. It’s like Imposter Syndrome- you feel you don’t know enough, but it's the expectations I hold of myself. I put a lot of pressure on myself to present reflections in a very structured way.

But only God knows everything, it's impossible for us to. I try to be as vulnerable as I can in front of myself, because I really value vulnerability and imperfection. For me, it's about recognising that you can't be perfect. It's almost like you’re undergoing training, self-development, being confident in the whole self, even the flaws. I am whole, even with the flaws. You don't fix them because the holes are where the light comes in. You can just be sometimes.

I don't write for the sake of writing. I ask, ‘What is your soul saying?’ And then write. That's a strategy that I do every night, or nights I make the intention to. I struggle with that a lot, where I'll get distracted even though I told myself I would dedicate that time just to writing. I feel like we all struggle with that distraction: There's a thread that ties us together and it's so beautiful finding that thread.

[My journaling process is that] I read a lot of poetry, I write excerpts of that and then write reflections on that. I let the poem be the steering wheel- sometimes it’s a quote from people that I admire. Political, philosophical, Islamic, I think it's all interconnected, so the way that I write is not really separated. It really speaks to the idea that you can't really separate anything.

My journals are a portal into my own self. If I've done or said something that I don't agree with, I use these journals to reflect and confront it. This is why I chose the path that I did, justice and political science. I can't sit by and talk about a problem. I need to do something to fix it. It is the collective movement that creates the chain of change-makers. That’s why I'm hell-bent on fixing things, whether that’s a smaller thing or a bigger thing.

What I Learned From These Wonderful Women

These women offered me a smidgen of their wisdom. At such young ages, they are all carving paths of change in the world around them. Here is what I took away by listening to them:

  • Journalling doesn’t have to be something intimidating. You don't have to do it everyday, or have any particular routine.

  • Have a goal or intention before you write. Your goal can be that you don’t have one.

  • You don’t have to be a poet to have a journal.

  • You don’t have to be creative to keep a journal

  • You don’t have to be a woman to keep a journal.

  • Keeping a journal isn’t entirely an emotional act- The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational.

  • Journaling extends beyond the self-care movement

  • No one is judging your writing- so you can unlearn the act of judging yourself.

  • Journal comes in many different forms and serves different purposes. Fit it into your life in the way that works for you the best. Our minds are our greatest assets-- let’s use them to our advantage.


Edited by Palwasha A.

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