I keep a journal and have done for years – more than I care to remember, certainly more than I can name. I carry it everywhere, always. It lives in my bag; or rather, it has a special place there, regardless of practicality and space. Even when I am weighed down – which (often) I am: with shopping, with iPad; with wallet, keys and phone; with dog and dog paraphernalia, etc. – it is still there, just in case. For to need it and not have it handy, to be full of words with nowhere to put them, is bad, leading to all manner of catastrophe – catastrophe with consequence, catastrophe with fallout, catastrophe with limbs, ones that extend far beyond the confines of literary waste.
The problem is that for weeks, maybe longer (like months), I haven’t written a thing, or hardly, and when I do, what comes out is stilted and forced: it physically pains me to put it there and it is hugely disappointing to read. Which then wreaks havoc with my self-esteem, chipping away at my already depleted levels of self-love and inner worth.
More fickle friend than faithless ally, writing is a tricky beast – inflating then dashing, furthering then sabotaging, all nib adventures and inky dreams. I preach its benefits, for done therapeutically it is capable of wonderful things: pulling out and extracting badness; reflecting innate truths; revealing deception, both personal and circumstantial; problem solving, untangling, translating, etc. What is revealed can then empower, inspire, fuel and motivate, gently encouraging our damaged and shy selves into action, activity that maybe we have or would have otherwise avoided. Used for gratitude, gladness, it, our written word, reminds us to be thankful and to see the good in our lives, the things we have that maybe others haven’t or the things that, in bad times, hold us up. As a vessel, it can be a potent tool, vital as a spousal relationship, familial support, like-minded acquaintances and friends, the right therapist. Depending of the severity of one’s malaise or life malady, it can even be a substitute for drugs (although it should not, ever, be self-prescribed).
I carry my journal anyway, even though I am not currently using it, even though I cannot write right now, refusing, stubbornly, to give up. I take it out each time I work, seating it by my side. It accompanies me on the bus, the train… It sleeps in my bedroom by my head. Given the choice, I would pick it over most other things. Despite the nature of our friendship, my loyalty does not waver. Nor does it question or doubt. In time, the words will come: I know this, because they always do. What I don’t know is when and how.
I would like to believe that it will be soon and that, when it does come, it will stay, for the thought of going through this transition (which is now imminent) without it, without anything creative, terrifies me. I need my routine. I need to be able to disappear, losing myself entirely, blotting out or reducing everything remotely threatening or external, everything dark and damaging, everything cold and grey.
Yesterday, I had a meltdown. And while it pains me to mention it, I feel that I must, if I am to climb out of the darkness and back into the light. The closer we get, the more unavoidable it becomes, the stronger the feelings inside: fear, frustration, reluctance, anger, pain, heartbreak, doubt… I am stuck in the middle of a road. It has three lanes and the traffic is fast-moving. In the distance, a car approaches, gaining ground. Engine roaring, lights glaring, horn honking, its driver attempts to motivate me. And even though I know that I must move, that to remain would be detrimental, devastating, I am a vegetable, unable to manifest even the smallest spark of life.
I’m sure the living will be less of a nightmare than the imagining, at least this is what I tell myself. And I don’t doubt that, looking back, I will laugh at my cowardice (at least, I hope I will). I also hope that when I get there I will nest, planting roots in places I haven’t even pictured yet. It is my deepest wish to grow, expand, experiment, explore, reach out and collect information and experiences. And while I cannot possibly predict what the future will bring: I know that it is a necessary evil; that progress cannot be made without change, goals achieved without challenge and peace attained without first navigating the muddy trenches of antagonism and conflict.
So while I may not be writing well in terms of literary excellence. And while I may be failing entirely in terms of writing for emotional wellbeing and health. I am still writing here. And here, whether I am brave enough to publish it or not, is a ritual I repeat like prayer.
by Rebecca L. Atherton
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