By Crystal Hayduk
Perusing the variety of notebooks and journals on display in the office supplies section of the drugstore, I wondered which type of blank paper would best meet my daughter Jessica’s needs.
Jessica had taken her three-week-old daughter to the emergency room in the pre-dawn hours of the morning. As the baby’s condition deteriorated and Gracie was hospitalized, we prayed for her healing and hoped for the best.
Anticipating that Jessica would want fresh clothing or toiletries, before leaving the hospital for the evening I asked, “What can I bring you when I come tomorrow?”
With unwashed hair and no make-up, wearing the same black yoga pants and T-shirt that she had thrown on 18 hours earlier, and holding her crying baby in her arms, she glanced around the room, then leaned her head onto the back of the chair and looked up at me. “I’d really like paper and a pen,” she said with a sigh.
I completely understood her request. As a concerned mother, she needed emotional relief more than she needed physical comforts. Jessica intended to use journaling to remember the facts, as well as to process the difficult experience and eventually make sense of it.
Whether she consciously chose to write because she had learned it from watching me write about tough times during her 23 years, or because she inherently gravitates to writing as one who loves words, the bottom line is that writing is therapeutic. I learned firsthand that journaling has benefits, eventually finding peace and healing after writing about my most challenging life experiences. My journals doubled as my confidante through the angst of youth, a divorce at the age of 28, the death of my parents, miscarriages, and other hurtful or traumatic events.
According to Maud Purcell, a licensed clinical social worker, writing utilizes the left brain, which allows the right brain to simultaneously create and feel. “Writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.”
The following are the journaling steps that I’ve found most helpful:
- Write. Even if for only a few minutes a day, let your thoughts flow freely. Avoid censorship and editing. Get what’s in your mind out through your fingers. Before you know it, you will fill blank books. If you prefer, create documents on your computer instead of writing with pen and paper. Just write.
- Keep. At least for a while, keep what you’ve written. It’s valuable to be able to return to those thoughts – sometimes a short time after writing them, sometimes a long while later. Perhaps at some point, you’ll burn or delete what you’ve written, but reading the words again will allow you to begin to examine your past perceptions based on new information. Maybe you will see the answer to prayer and your faith will be increased.
- Wait. Depending upon the situation, it might be most helpful to have a lengthy period of time elapse before trying to make sense of the words and thoughts. Looking back in a month, or a year or more, will help you to assess emotional and spiritual growth. Allowing enough time for some healing to occur will minimize the chance that reading the words will be like ripping a bandage off a fresh wound.
- Rewrite. Now revisit the situation and write again with new thoughts and knowledge. Rewriting helps us to continue to process events and the ways we’ve changed. It’s similar to revising and editing to make a story better, except that, when journaling, the facts of the story don’t change—even though you do.
- Pray. Ask God to show you if sharing your personal experience will help others. Is this a story that will exemplify a spiritual truth to readers in a memorable way? Could this become a memoir, creative nonfiction, devotional, or inspirational story?
Singer and songwriter Judy Collins said, “I write journals and would recommend journal writing to anyone who wishes to pursue a writing career. You learn a lot. You also remember a lot… and memory is important.”
Crystal Hayduk currently teaches nursing part-time at a public university. During nearly thirty years in obstetrics and public health, she has assisted many families through difficult situations.
Also a freelance writer, she has been published in local news sources and devotionals. Her real-life love story was published in the anthology “Falling in Love with You” (Oaktara Publishers).
Crystal lives with her family in Southeast Michigan, where she enjoys reading and music.