It started with me, a blank piece of paper and a sense of being completely out of my depth. It was recommended to me a few years ago, when I first began to regularly attend a peer support group, that I might consider writing a journal. They said that writing things down would help me to get out all of the things that I had been practicing keeping to myself for so many years. I was intrigued by the idea, what did I have to lose? I thought I’d have a go.
At first I felt foolish, almost embarrassed in front of myself. It felt alien and forced when I tried to write down how I felt. I knew how to write words that made sense but formulating an accurate description of what was inside me was proving difficult.
I feel sad. That didn’t seem to cut it.
I feel alone. That was more accurate but still way off.
I feel as though my heart has fallen through my chest and is sloshing around in my shoes, where I repeatedly stamp on it every time I try to move forward. Now we’re getting it. That seemed to echo the apparent hopelessness of my situation. It also felt surprisingly good. Like a door had just creaked open, exposing the smallest crack, and to paraphrase Mr. Leonard Cohen, that’s how the light got in.
It was scary to write about the pain and destruction I was carrying around with me. I think perhaps that I didn’t like to think of myself as capable of thinking dark or ‘bad’ thoughts. To write it down made it a real and stable fact in my existence which was frightening, a sentiment that I’m sure others will understand. I struggled with myself but in time writing became an asset, helping me to clear away the fog.
It began to feel as though I had been hiding the magnitude of the problems I was experiencing from myself. Putting it on paper and reading it back, it became like my inner self was trying to explain to my conscious self that I was in pain. I was begging to be understood, to be acknowledged, to be heard.
As with most things, the more I practiced the easier it became. I was an unstoppable fountain of feelings, moods and musings; filling page after page after glorious page. I became my own therapist, scrolling through days of misery and moments of elation, examining why I felt which feeling at any given moment. For the first time, I was being honest with myself, I knew myself better through my writing.
Writing my journals provided me with an opportunity for reflection and personal growth. In the beginning I did not understand how important these things were, or indeed how vital they would become as part of my survival. I have carried these skills forward into my studies, my psychology and counselling degree encourages journaling, and it is an important part of counselling training. It helps to prepare us to go on a journey with our clients, which at times can be challenging, by exploring our own awareness of ourselves. The most important progress, personally, has been made because writing has allowed me to open up a conversation and strengthen my relationship with myself, arguably the most important relationship of my life.
The investigation into understanding ourselves better is not restricted to counselling students and individuals engaged in therapy. Writing and journaling is something that anyone can do and I positively believe that everyone should do. It fosters self-knowledge and understanding, a gateway towards better self-care and allowances to be kinder to you, because you understand yourself better.
Writing has saved my soul, I’m sure of it. Having the ability to put my thoughts and anguishes into a solid and understandable form has felt something like being given the gift of flight. The benefits of self expression continue to ripple throughout my life and to anyone who has never tried it; I say to you just like my peer group coordinator said to me, have a go. You just might like it.
Sophia Fedorowicz is a Psychology & Counselling undergraduate from Stoke-on-Trent. She is a passionate volunteer with a local mental health charity that provides peer support, workshops and one-to-one talking therapies. In Sophia's words, "it is through this work that I have developed an understanding of the power of a good support network and I seek to promote connections to improve mental health both locally and nationally. Believing that we are stronger together".
You can contact Sophia on twitter