What My Childhood Diary Taught Me About Having A Mental Illness

After writing down the words I wish I could tell myself ten years ago, I was inspired to go through my diary. I hadn’t kept one consistently since I was twelve, and I regret that now. I stopped after one of my friends read it out loud and made fun of me for writing four pages mourning a dead bird I found on the boardwalk. I was mocked for being sensitive and stupid about dead animals because clearly the only acceptable thing to write about is crushing on cute boys.

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So my dedication waned. I seldom wrote in a journal, if at all. When I did, all my notes were scattered and rarely properly dated. I kept more than one because so many notebooks were given to me as gifts and also as a safety precaution. There were scattered on various shelves, in closets, and drawers across my room. I figured the practice might confuse anyone who went in searching for written evidence of my hidden thoughts of which there were plenty because I was convinced that I was awful and not the circumstances I was in.

What I found as a result of my search was another dose of perspective, similar to that which came from writing the aforementioned letter. I don’t know if handwriting is still a live form of journaling, I am sure all the cool kids keep theirs digitally. Writing, journaling, etc. offer a unique form of perspective that doctors have long confirmed to be incredibly helpful for mental health because it keeps you letting things out, helps in organizing thoughts, and provides a place to put emotions which may not be welcome. Writing is a powerful defense which took me about twenty years too long to pick up again.

Today, I regret that and hope to encourage others to never stop expressing themselves due to fear. I was afraid of my own thoughts and my own judgment as much as I was afraid of others’, and I missed out on quite a bit of perspective. Thus, I implore you, don’t let your mind stop you from putting words to a page.

Some of these might seem obvious. If they do to you, great! You are likely having a great time keeping a journal. Keep it up.

 Photo by  Olia Gozha  on  Unsplash

Photo by Olia Gozha on Unsplash

Venting is important

Growing up I was unable to vent my frustrations at home. When I did, I was either punished, told the situation was my fault, or completely ignored. When I look back it seems I only wrote in any of my journals if I was extremely upset. Sometimes, I even used it as a way to talk myself out of my suicidal thoughts. If you are a parent, reading this might be terrifying. A good parent would want to let their child know they are safe, especially if their thoughts betray them. But, I implore you to let your child have their privacy.

Thoughts we do not act upon, especially if we want to prevent acting upon them, deserve to be noted. It’s part of the process that helps us move past and deal with traumatic situations. Writing helps you make sense of that jumble of thoughts like nothing else can. It is clear that I did not hurt myself, and I think writing was a vital part of that. As a child I thought about lots of weird stuff. I had lots of anxieties and fears which I could only express in writing without scaring anyone.

Reminders to Stay Resilient

It has also been extremely helpful for me to re-read what was written when I was in the moment, doubting myself and my own emotions. As a teen, I would sometimes flip back and see reminders, clear as day, that upsetting the situation I was in was due to repeated actions my family took. It had not been the first time a parent spoke to me that way, it helped me begin to consider that perhaps it was not my fault it was happening. Day to day in my home my judgment was constantly undermined, and having written proof of similar emotions on previous occasions was crucial. The reminders helped keep my head level. They helped me remove myself from the cycle and remember to stay strong and trust my instincts: a quality people who are exposed to gaslighting usually have a hard time comprehending well past the abuse being over.

In The Spirit of Survival

Reading through my rationalizations then, I understand how far the human spirit will go to survive. I read how I forgave my family for the emotional pain I felt for all of those years. I had knives thrown at me, people making inappropriate comments, a parent who manipulated me instead of apologizing for their actions, and I got through it all. I am not completely without scars, but I am well and have created a wonderful life for myself in my adulthood.

As I read through the anguish, the poems, all of the words which at the time seemed silly to express, I can note clear timestamps of the progress I have made. Maybe not always as a writer, but certainly as someone recovering from a toxic parental relationship and Major Depression. I can see that spirit of survival in the hope that was ever present in those same poems and expressions of angst. More than anything, I wanted out of that nightmare with the notion that perhaps the future would be better. And it was.

 Feb 27, 2007 By no means profound, by all means hard to read and full of angst, but it's mine

Feb 27, 2007 By no means profound, by all means hard to read and full of angst, but it's mine

I am grateful to young M for being resilient and continuing to work to ensure there was an end. I may not have been a perfect child, but at the very least I had the smarts to realize that perhaps my parents and I, even if the emotional abuse didn’t count, likely didn’t have personalities that meshed well. I am not entirely sure whether I had such perspective when I was younger, but I have certainly gained it now.

The most important point in all of this is that I wish I wrote more as a kid. I let someone steal my permission to create and then let that memory control my future. I certainly don’t believe the world almost missed some brilliant writer or anything, I believe I missed out on learning self-value. I told myself writing was something to be done when someone is happy, when I was better. For a while, I couldn’t write because it was too painful to access the scars of my past, writer’s block in that sense was a defense mechanism. But there should be no gate that keeps us away from writing. Once you are ready to find your voice, please don’t let any thought in your mind stop you from letting your creativity flow. Fingers to a keyboard, pen to paper, whichever way you want to express yourself, don’t let you stop you. From my experience, you’ll be grateful you didn’t.