“Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others.” – Alice Koller
November was National Novel Writing Month, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to work on my novel. I had strong emotions at the time and wasn’t sleeping well. I fretted about the pandemic and the U.S. election, and I was excited about an upcoming family event. I realized I needed to get back to journaling. Journaling helps me to process strong emotions and gain clarity. It mitigates some of my anxiety caused by a stressful 2020. So I participated in NaNoWriMo as a “rebel”, meaning I still aimed to write 50,000 words, but I would be journaling rather than working on a novel. That is what I needed to do.
As I immersed myself in the writing, it was clear I had a lot to process. When you are doing that much journaling, you are digging deep, and November became what I’ll call a Journaling Intensive. I began each day by writing about the things that were bothering me or that were catching my attention. I also made up prompts to answer such as, “How do I want to show up today?” “What are my intentions for today?” “How am I feeling . . . really?”
The words poured out of me as I wrote about the pandemic, U.S. politics, and issues I’ve had with people. It was therapeutic.
Here are some of the outcomes from my journaling:
- Every day I wrote down what I needed to do that day and got it done after writing. Being focused kept me from feeling overwhelmed.
- I joined online write-ins sponsored by my writers group. Most people were writing fiction, but still, we were all writing.
- I realized that I find it easier to write nonfiction than fiction. So why am I always straining to write a mystery? Yes, I want to write a mystery, but maybe I can first write a nonfiction e-book.
- None of us is perfect. Give myself the grace to allow myself to make mistakes.
- Don’t be critical of myself or of others. What I judge about others is usually true of me as well.
- The things I admire about others are often true of me as well. I had never thought about how I’m like the people I admire. Journaling about that took a few days because I admire a lot of people. It boosted my self-esteem to see that I have similar traits.
- I often wrote affirmations. Writing them down can be powerful.
- I processed my feelings and ideas about the holidays.
- I don’t enjoy most forms of meditation, but journaling is a meditative practice that I do enjoy.
- Many things happened this year that were out of my control. But I was surprised to realize how much is in my control: I can ignore the news for a couple of days and increase my self-care. I can send a message directly to the politicians involved. I can wear a mask regardless of what others are doing and decline invitations I’m not comfortable with. I can fill my well with positive podcasts, videos, and books. I can improve my mood by going for a walk. I can embrace comfort and simple pleasures.
- I sort of knew I’m not responsible for other people’s happiness, but now I really understand that.
- I’m trying to live and enjoy the good moments and stop being anxious over trivialities.
- I’ve learned to be assertive and not feel committed to things that aren’t serving me. Life is too short to do that. I journaled about a class I was taking and a group I was in and decided to leave them both.
- I thought about the many things I’m grateful for. For instance, my daughter Katie and her sweetheart Steven got married early in November. Due to the pandemic, there were only ten people at the wedding, which was held outdoors. I’m happy we were able to attend their small but beautiful wedding, and I am happy for them. It was the highlight of the year for our family.
I don’t think of myself as a self-starter, and I was surprised when my husband commented that I’m a self-starter for writing 50,000 words in November. That is the biggest benefit I got from doing the Journaling Intensive: I view myself differently now. It is empowering to believe I am a self-starter and that I can succeed at another big project.
Now lest you think I’ve got everything together, in December, I have been in an “escape” mode. I am reading holiday magazines and cozy Christmas mysteries, doing jigsaw puzzles, and baking cookies. After the journaling intensive, I needed some time to just “be.” National news, the dangerous pandemic, and thinking we won’t have a family Christmas gathering anyway have made me feel unmotivated.
I’d been annoyed with myself for being in this escape mode, but a couple of friends reminded me it’s OK. We’ve been through a lot this past year, and it’ll be awhile before we get back to any sort of normal. There will be history books written about this time. So if you’re seeking comfort too, don’t be hard on yourself. Sometimes escaping is what we need to do. It’s only a problem if we’re escaping real life all the time or not meeting our responsibilities. When we’re in escape mode, we can ask ourselves, “Why am I seeking comfort? What else do I need right now?” That is being intentional.
Do what’s right for you. What do you need? Do you need to dig deep and process your thoughts and feelings? Or do you need some escape time, to limit the time you spend watching the news and instead to seek out comfort and relaxation? Do you want to pray more? Whatever you need, accept yourself and treat yourself with compassion.
What do YOU need to do for yourself as we move into winter and a new year?
If there ever was a time when we needed support and comfort and joy, it was this past year! But the old ways did not work and so I think we have become very creative. I think we are more aware of our family and friends, not taking our time with them for granted. More aware of the less fortunate and how we can help them. And as you so eloquently write Sue, more aware of ourselves and what WE need. There was so much pain and bitterness during this year but I think there were a lot of lessons learned too. I just hope we can remember what we learned and carry that forward. Thank you again Sue for sharing your lovely life with us and making us think …
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Sherri, Thank you for the added perspective! You’re right, I don’t take time with family and friends for granted anymore. I think that’s a lesson most of us have learned, along with caring about people who have lost their livelihood or lost a loved one. And especially those who have been “front line” working in the hospitals and stores. I hope we all take time to reflect on what we’ve learned this past year. You’ve had an especially tough year. Love and hugs to you.
Excellent post. I love that you journaled NaNo. That is awesome. Journalling, imo, is one of the most therapeutic things you can do. I’m sure there’ll be thoughts and ideas that you pull out of that journal for your future writing. Keep going.
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Thank you for your visit and thoughts, Faye. I think you’re right, I’ve got a lot to explore in all those journal pages.
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Great post Sue. It really got me thinking about Journaling. Lately I find myself a lot more emotional than usual. Just about anything makes me tear up. I really don’t know why. But perhaps all the stress of the past year is really starting to affect me. I’ve been pretty good at trusting God on all things. My husband has been unemployed for two and a half years now and just when I think we’re in trouble some financial source appears and keeps us going. All through this year I’ve been applying that trust to all we’re going through.
But all this stress is laying under it. Maybe I need to unpack it and look at it some more rather than just push it under. These really are historical times. We are all going through extraordinary things. Your post helped me to see that and appreciate how writing it down could help
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Thank you for your comment, Cathy. You are under a lot of stress. Hope you feel better soon.