By Caitríona Ní Chonaill

Do you lie awake at night at the end of a long day, mind racing with thoughts going round and round but with no resolution and nowhere to go? Do you find yourself bottling up your emotions, unable to release the pent-up tension, for fear of being judged or simply not listened to and taken seriously? These are problems I too have faced but have been helped enormously by keeping a journal/ diary/ notebook to brain dump in, whatever you want to call it.

I started keeping what was admittedly a diary at the age of 10. I find the entries funny to look back on now, with my own misspellings and innocent view of the world. They also have a kind of charm to them, as I can hold a physical object in my hand, a time capsule of how the world was for me from then on. I can look back at conversations with friends, first loves, and cherished memories with the details as fresh as the day they happened, and if you are as nostalgic as I am, that is not something you can put a price on. To be able to see how I grew and changed in thought, perspective, and worldview, from a child to a teenager and now as an adult, that I have all my thoughts in a box before me is invaluable. To have a snapshot of how I felt in a particular month of a particular year is great to look back on. I look forward to old age when I have many notebooks filled with my life, that I can look back on and remember a life well lived.

It’s not all happy memories, however, as anyone who has ever kept a journal will know. I turned to my notebook whenever I needed to vent without judgement (and still do) because a piece of paper can’t throw your emotions back in your face, it can be the best friend you have at times. If you need to word-vomit, to rant and rage about the injustice of the world, your own place within it, or about any of your relationships without it being perceived, this is the best way to do it (and if you want to make sure absolutely no one can ever discover it, an easily destructible way to do it too). I find it very cathartic to scribble all my feelings down on paper, and that they have somewhere to go, rather than buzzing round and round my head like flies with no escape. I also found keeping a journal incredibly beneficial when going through counselling, as I was able to process and work through my emotions, voice my concerns, and come to my conclusions somewhere outside of my own brain. Seeing the truths that I had come to realise laid out on paper in front of me, in my own handwriting, helped me to realise their significance.

Journaling is also great for those of us who are indecisive or don’t know where we’re going or what we want in life. Laying out all the possible options on paper can make a decision seem easier, or at least clearer in terms of the possible outcomes, rather than simply overthinking it and going into a stress-induced spiral. Having a safe space, I know I can go to in order to dump all my emotions and then work through them brings a great sense of relief and self-agency, and I always feel calmer after processing my emotions on paper.

I was never one of those people that wrote every day, though it is a repeating New Year’s resolution of mine! I write when I need to, when I feel I have to get something off my chest, when I want to record how I’m feeling about a certain event, or just when I want to fill some time. I am not a neat writer: I write sloppily, I rip pages out, and scribble over misspelled words. I stick important mementos between the pages, even if they don’t fit the page. I make the book how I want it to be, because it is my space and no one else’s.

For all the reasons I have listed this habit as being helpful to me, and for any others you care to come up with, I urge you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard if you prefer) and record your emotions, thoughts, feelings, and memories. When choosing a notebook, make it a nice one. You’re going to want to keep this as a time capsule of your life at this point in time, to look back on when you reach old age. It can be your companion, your confidante, and your key to a clearer mind and a better life.