Coping Tools – Journaling

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!

6 comments

  1. Thanks AG for your site and blog. I can’t agree more on the value of journaling and once I found that my cancers are more than “just skin cancers” and had my left-side salivary gland and left facial nerve removed (Total Parotidectomy), forever changing my left eye (eyelid won’t close or blink) and the left side of my mouth (a one-sided smile now), I turned my mostly nature blog into a journal of what was happening, sharing honestly and openly and it has helped keep me more positive as well as bring unbelieveable support.

    Keep up your good work as I now follow your blog – and by the way, my brother died of a type of lymphoma, so I have a special connection there too! Even the mask-wearing before Covid! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the note and follow. Sounds like you’re going through it! Sorry about your brother. Keep posting! I’ll be reading. Btw, my father had a very similar situation to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I started journaling when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29. Since then–close to three decades, now!–I’ve continued to record my experiences, sometimes in a hardbound journal and sometimes on my blog, Cancer Hits the Streets. Journaling helps me to reflect on my journey through life.

    Liked by 2 people

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