Dear Diary: What 23 Years of Keeping a Journal Has Taught Me

My very first journal entry is dated October 23, 1996. At 12 years old, I was a typical preteen girl: I loved to write, I loved being dramatic, and I was totally and completely boy crazy.

And like many girls that age, I started keeping a journal.

It wasn’t a pretty journal with a lock. It was a dark blue Five Star five subject notebook with the word “Journel” scrawled across the front in white out pen, with a happy face, heart, and peace sign underneath. Totally inconspicuous. Its chuck full of details from my life in sixth grade and who liked who, along with bubble letters, drawings, and my first name signed with just about every boy in my class. I told you – boy crazy.

Surprisingly, I stuck with it, and over the next few years of notebook journals, I documented adventures in babysitting, N*Sync concerts, best friends, best enemies, my first kiss, and anything and everything in between. What started out as a “Dear Journal” rapidly evolved into a blank canvas that I would freely pour my heart out into. I didn’t know it then, but at just 12 years old, I was doing myself such an enormous favor. I have 23 years of Hallmark movie style first hand accounts of every interaction that meant anything to me.

I also have evidence of every weird and silly part of my childhood. I went through a phase when I wrote in code. CODE. I have at least three months of not a clue what was going on because I was literally writing in symbols.I thought my friends or siblings would read it and instead of hiding it, I just kept on writing in my own hieroglyphics. At one point I had a key, but of course that is long gone.

Then, I went through another phase in high school where I was in my second year of French and evidently thoroughly enjoying it because I spent a solid month writing in French. Because why wouldn’t I? Obviously there will never be a time in my life when I wouldn’t study French daily, so reading it in the future should never be an issue. (Shockingly, it IS an issue. I need Google Translate to see what the heck I was up to!)

I have pages and pages of entries detailing family vacations, hotel stays, fights with siblings in the back of my parents suburban. Details of hunting and fishing trips with my brothers that had I not written, would be lost somewhere in the back of my mind.

I can open my journal from the summer of 2001 and see a 16 year old girl in the deepest pit of grief. Angry, confused, devastated that she had to bury her 20 year old big brother. I was so overwhelmed with grief, that for about a year or so after his death, I started every entry out not with Dear Journal, but with “Dear Ryan.” Tear stained words, page after page written as if to tell him all the things he had missed. Real, harsh, stinging grief documented right from the belly of the beast.

In 2002, I graduated high school, went on my senior trip, nurtured new friendships and old, and documented in detail the grand adventure of moving out of my parents’ house and head off to start a whole new chapter: Starting college at LSU and moving into my very first dorm, Miller Mansion, with my best friend. The glamorous life of flip flops in the shower, scheduling classes, and sorority events.

I had to chronicle the dramatic, and at times hilarious, beginning of my relationship with the guy who would 4 years later become my husband. We met at LSU two days shy of my 19th birthday, and from then on, my life was never the same. Guys that I liked and dated and mentioned nearly daily before, seemed to fall off the earth, never to be written about again. Its true – one day you’ll meet someone who will make you forget all the rest.

From the unbelievable events following Hurricane Katrina, to the torture of nursing school and migraine inducing stress of taking state boards, to my first job, my wedding, honeymoon, and every pregnancy and birth, every cross country move, every tragic death. Every test and trial and cross my family had to bear is documented.

Some parts are sad, and some are overwhelmingly happy – as with everyone, there are ups and downs in life. When I read them, I can see times when I was strong and bold and thankful, and times when I was immature and bratty and whiny. Hindsight is 20/20, perspective is everything.

When I write in my journal, it’s as if I’m talking to a friend that loves to listen, and I can dump every idea and worry and dream and concern, and truth be told, they almost always morph into prayers. I can give that stress away and once it’s on paper, it’s out of my system.

When I look back and read what I’ve been through, I can see how far I’ve come, and how far I still have to go. And in my life’s journey, I’m just trying to be a better person than I was yesterday.

So take this challenge: Try to keep a journal for just six months. Don’t make it a stressful task that you do every single day, but maybe just an opportunity to vent or jot down something eventful when you think of it – the good and bad, your goals, fears, and frustrations. Be gentle with yourself, and at the end of those six months, see how far you’ve come. You might surprise yourself with how strong you really are, and you may even see that your life is more beautiful than you thought. Maybe you’ll decide to keep it up! Imagine all of your life’s wild adventures that will be captured on paper in your next thirty years! It will be such a precious gift to yourself.

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