Receiving a life-changing diagnosis is exactly that, and it creates ripples (sometimes tidal waves) throughout a person’s life.
One of the most difficult facets of the experience for me has been the ever-present uncertainty. There’s never a guarantee a particular treatment will work. You don’t know what side effects you’re going to experience – how light or severe they’ll be. The treatment – not to mention the disease – might affect your ability to engage in normal daily life, work, etc. When you reach remission, as fantastic as that is, you don’t know how long you might remain disease free. The list goes on and on.
So, yes, uncertainty becomes a part of life in a big way and can bring with it worry, fear, sadness, anxiety. While those are all legitimate emotions not to be disregarded, they can become debilitating in their own right. So, as a cancer patient, it’s helpful to find ways to deal with those kinds of feelings, to keep yourself from focusing on only negative thoughts and emotions. One tool I’ve been using to help move my mind toward the positive and away from becoming a captive of the negative is journaling.
What is journaling? At it’s core, it’s just recording what happens to you. Journaling can be as simple as writing or typing down some of the events of your day. It doesn’t have to stop there, though. It can be an opportunity to go beyond the events themselves and record what you think and how you feel about what’s happening. Doing so can be a tremendously cathartic exercise as you recognize, acknowledge, and write those thoughts and feelings.
Look, I’m no therapist. I don’t have a psychology degree. I’m just a cancer patient, dealing with a crap load of things I would rather not experience. I can’t give you all the therapy-speak about how and why journaling can be beneficial. All I can tell you is I’ve found it very helpful.
As I write down the events, the thoughts, the emotions, it can be like taking the air out of a balloon. Oh, maybe reliving things can at first be noisy and windy, but getting them out often takes the intensity down several notches. Sometimes, just recognizing I’m having the thoughts or feelings gives me the distance and semblance of objectivity to be able to put them in perspective and in their place. I once heard a speaker say if you hold a penny up to your eye, all you’re going to see is the penny. Your whole world becomes that penny. But when you hold that same penny at arm’s length, it becomes a very small thing, indeed (not to mention almost worthless).
That’s kind of how journaling helps me. I let out a lot of hot air; I gain perspective; and I have an opportunity to consider the bigger picture with a new eye – calmer, more circumspect. Seeing what’s happening and what I’m feeling in black and white gives me a certain amount of power over it all. I may not have any control over the circumstances, but I can choose how I react.
Journaling is actually a big-time movement. Did you know that? I didn’t until after I was doing it and started looking around. There’s a whole industry and community that has grown up around journaling. There are fancy journals you can buy to keep your notes in and stickers to decorate their pages. If you have a steady hand or are artistically inclined, you can purchase pens and markers to make your journal resemble a medieval manuscript! Just put “journaling” into the YouTube search bar, and you’ll have hours of videos to enjoy. LoL Not having any talent in the visual arts myself, I’ve chosen a simplified approach. I just type a few paragraphs into my laptop.
If you don’t have a computer or the extra cash to invest in specialized journaling equipment, fret not! Are you reading this post on your smartphone or a tablet? Voila! There are free apps you can use to begin creating your journal on phone and tablet. With many apps you can even store everything in the cloud and access it from anywhere. If working online or electronically isn’t your thing, analog works too. And your journal doesn’t have to be in a gold-edged, hard-backed tome. I buy spiral notebooks at my local drugstore cheap! Add an inexpensive ballpoint pen, and you have a journal in the making. All you have to do is start writing.
Do you journal? I’d like to hear about your experience. Are you going to try it? Let me know how it goes!