On Saturday, November 19, 1983, I sat down with a pen and small notebook and began an adventure. This simple act would become part of my daily life for the next 36 years. So began my long-standing tradition of keeping a journal.
It’s funny to look back now and see what was important to me as an 11-year-old. When I first looked back at this page (picture below), I had to remind myself which Carrie I was writing about.
There were two different girls named Carrie in my youth. While each one was in my life, I believed I was in love with her. I knew nothing of love then, but my journal didn’t judge me.
As my trusted companion, my journal helped shape the man I am today.
The Journey Begins
I can’t remember the exact reason I started writing. There had been some unpleasant experiences in my life, and a few left me wary of others. I reached the point where I believed I couldn’t trust anyone.
It seemed logical that if I could only trust myself, then it was only me I should talk to. Literally talking to myself would have made me appear unhinged, so instead, I decided to write to myself.
The first couple of years, keeping a journal was predominantly about which girl I liked and what was happening with that romance.
The funny thing is, the first Carrie never even liked me, at least not as more than a friend. Still, her name filled many of the pages in the months to come.
As time went on, my journal became more and more valuable. Rather than just the musings of my fickle heart, it became the way that I worked through my toughest problems.
In my late teens and early twenties, my journal was the way I faced memories I wanted to forget. In time, I had no choice but to accept what was reality. I wasn’t willing to talk about it, so my journal was the only way to maintain any sense of sanity.
Those realizations led to an intense and unwarranted anger for my parents. That anger played a large part in my decision to move some 900 miles away.
While moving turned out to be a great decision, I wish I had gone about in a kinder fashion. My journal knows that story well.
Arriving in southeast Tennessee, a 20-year-old Yankee, I was completely out of my depth. Every time I turned around, I was offending someone. This grated against my need to be liked by everyone and almost sent me fleeing back to Wisconsin.
At the time, I talked incredibly fast. I’ll never forget one conversation with an older man soon after I arrived. I rattled off some soliloquy and waited for a response.
The older man looked at me, then looked at the friend with me, then back at me. In his slow, southern drawl, he said, “I know the boy said something, but I have no idea what it was.”
Those words became the inspiration for many more pages of journaling. They also helped me understand the importance of knowing your audience. The best way to approach any audience is in a way that is most appropriate for them.
It took some time, but I learned to slow down and am glad I stayed.
Major Life Events
In the nearly three decades since I first arrived in Tennessee, my journal has seen me through more than a few cases of love and loss.
I’ve been engaged more than once yet not married. The end of each relationship left its own scars. The pages of my journal kept watch as those wounds slowly healed.
I saw more than one casket lowered into the ground knowing there were words left unspoken. My journal readily received those words.
It took a few years, but I finally came to terms with my parents. Though I never properly apologized, we were able to become a family again. The pages of my journal laid a lot of groundwork for that as well.
I was 23 when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That diagnosis made me feel shameful. I felt like a failure, and my life had only just begun.
Maybe it’s because there were some ignorant people in my life. They believed that mental illness was a sign of a lack of faith. Their false beliefs damaged me but not irreparably.
It would take many years and many books full of my handwritten words before I could believe that my mental illness had nothing to do with my relationship with God. It took even more time before I could talk openly about it.
Generalized anxiety disorder has been another constant companion. My journal has been the means I’ve used to dissect my most irrational fears. It helped me recognize that most of the things I worry about never happen.
I’m thankful now to see my words in my handwriting. They stand testament to the fact that I survived seemingly impossible things.
The Greatest Loss
In 2007, I lost my person, the better part of me. I said at the time that if I could survive losing her, then I could survive anything.
I didn’t realize how prophetic those words were when I spoke them.
The thing about grief, at least in my case, is that no one sees the worst of it. No one saw the nights I spent sitting alone mourning the conversations that we never had. My journal knows, though, and it has been there to catch all the words she will never hear.
With my journal, I came to terms with the guilt I felt every time I smiled after her death. In time, I also learned to laugh without shame.
It took years of writing, but I discovered it was possible to feel love again, and that love is nothing to be ashamed of.
Everyone Should Journal
Undoubtedly, you can sense I’m a huge proponent of keeping a journal. It’s one of my favorite subjects to talk and write about.
Keeping a journal for 36 years has shaped much of my life. It has helped me make sense of the dark times and chronicle the good times. Both are equally important to remember.
My journal is my truest friend. Today I will celebrate the 36 years it has shaped me. I hope I have another 36 years to come.
Scott Ninneman is a bookkeeper by day and a writer by night. He maintains the blog Speaking Bipolar and writes about living with bipolar disorder and chronic illness. He also enjoys writing short stories, poetry, and inspiration for personal development. His interests include reading, cooking, and entirely too much TV.