As you know from my On This Day in My History posts, I keep a diary. But to just say that I keep a diary is a bit of an understatement. I've been writing diaries since kindergarten, in fact, although it didn't become a regular habit until fifth or sixth grade. As of today, I've been through over 75 notebooks, and my transcribed journals (up to about halfway through 2013), are approximately 5,000 Times New Roman 1.5 spaced pages in total. 5,000 pages! And that's after spending October and November reformatting in order to cut down on length.
I originally started journaling for a school assignment, and I was encouraged by my parents, and by my church, to continue doing so. I enjoy journal writing for many of the same reasons I like writing novels--although, naturally, my real life is much less coherent and much longer than any book. But my profuse journaling is also, in part, a symptom of my OCD. It satisfies a number of my compulsions: organizing my life via lists and schedules, ruminating about (in particular) my own moral failings, and baring myself in confession. The last is probably the strongest motivator, though it wasn't until a few years after my diagnosis that I realized "confession" was one of my compulsions.
My mom has always considered it strange, if not downright horrifying, how open I am about my life. She herself is a very private person, as are many introverts. But I have very few qualms about sharing things that most people consider quite personal, even with people I barely know. (This blog can be seen as one example of that.) Sometimes, I know, I make people uncomfortable with my openness. But I never really saw it as a problem. I always used to say that I'd rather have people judge me based on who I really am, with all the relevant information, than on falsehoods. My diaries were the epitome of that to me: a space where every part of me was revealed for honest judgement--a judgment that I deeply sought. I thought often about the people who would read my words in the future, and about how they might see me. I wondered if it was possible to get those judgments sooner, rather than later.
And that was the core of the compulsion, though I didn't realize it. As someone with moral scrupulosity as the focus of their OCD, I had a compulsive need to seek out judgments. I was obsessed with being as morally perfect as possible--and in order to achieve that, I needed feedback from other people. It's an extension of a more commonly recognized OCD compulsion: seeking reassurance. I was desperate for other people to confirm my reality. I needed to know, from someone who I considered to be more stable than myself (which was pretty much everyone), that I was doing the right thing. Most of all, I needed to know that the people who cared about me, my friends and family, were making their judgments based off of the full and entire truth: in basis, that I actually did deserve their compassion. My OCD told me that I was a monster and a mess, a broken subpar ghost of a person, and so when people liked me, the only conclusion I could come to was that I had somehow tricked them into it. I kept pushing for honesty, sharing all that I could, hoping that they would continue to love me and yet never understanding how they could.
Since I was diagnosed and began treatment for my OCD, in 2014, the amount of diary pages I write has at least halved. I don't do it as a confession or as rumination now, or I try not to--now I'm just telling my story. And I try now not to let anxiety drive me when I talk about myself. But the OCD is a part of me, and it would be impossible to fully separate us. I am, and always will be, an open person. Nowadays, I try to use that openness more as a way to help others understand things like chronic and mental illness, rather than as a form of confession. But it's difficult. I will always, somewhere inside me, want to keep testing the waters, making absolutely sure that people still like the real me. I will always be looking for confirmation that my morals are in the right place. And because I don't really understand the concept of privacy, I often struggle to see why being open is negative.
But as my counselor pointed out to me this last year, the "truths" that I reveal about myself are often as incomplete and biased as anything my worst enemy might say about me. I have a tendency to focus on the negative, on the things about me that I think might scare people away, while forgetting that there are positive aspects to share too. He told me that in trying to push forward the negative, I'm actually presenting a distorted version of myself. I think about this a lot, and although I still struggle to know what exactly are the positives about being me, I'm trying to be more open about those, too.
The bias of my confession became even clearer to me while reading my old diaries, these past few months. What I thought at the time was a complete and accurate depiction of the truth in fact leaves out many very telling things about my life and myself. There were things that I didn't realize were important at the time. There were things that I didn't fully understand and therefore couldn't present in total truth. Most importantly, there were things that I wasn't ready to face yet. Those empty spaces hold just as much meaning as the things that I did say--which is the nature of storytelling. There's always a bias, and as with the news media, you have to pay attention to which truths are being told and which aren't in order to understand what's really being said.
I don't know if my diaries will ever mean anything to anyone else, and now that I'm trying not to use them as a confession, I sometimes wonder if there's really a point to writing them. My mom often says, quite rightly, that few people could handle reading that many pages (and I've only been alive for 23 years so far!). But they still mean a lot to me, and if that's all they ever mean, that's enough. My diaries help me to clarify my thoughts. They give me a space to confront and work through my emotions. And even if no one else ever reads them, I have, multiple times, and each time, they've helped me to understand myself better.
We all have a story about ourselves, a summarized version of what we've been through that made us who we are today. We tell ourselves that story all the time. For me, with all my chronic illnesses, I now have brain fog so profound that the story version of my past is almost all I can remember. The details are gone. That makes it all the more important that I'm able now to go back and reread those journals, all those thousands of pages, to see what it is about myself that I've lost. Every time I read my old diaries, I reframe myself. My story becomes different, based off of my new perspective on what happened in my past. And it means the world to me. After being so sick for so long, I'm grateful that I've been able to go back and ground myself in a past that I'd forgotten. I can see, through those journals, the parts of me that have been there forever, as well as the events and people who made me who I am now. And this go around, I also got a few new novel ideas and a better perspective on the OCD itself, which will be useful for COCA!
So to me, diaries are a great thing to keep. I'm glad I have, all 5,000+ pages of them. And I will continue to strive to keep them, though in a healthier and less compulsive way now.
What about you? Do you keep a diary? What does journaling mean to you? Comment about it below, and I will be back again tomorrow.
Images via kdvr.com, wallpapersin4k.net, and ministryinsights.com.
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