Journal Writing to Feel Less Alone

I’ve been alone in my home for over three weeks. My main social interaction right now is my ceramic Anthropologie soap dish in the bathroom that says ‘Good Morning’ on it.

I’ve been feeling lonely.

What about you? The lockdown in response to the current Coronavirus crisis in the UK – and in many other nations around the world – is taking its toll on us all, albeit in very different ways. Some are working on the frontline. Some are struggling to be cooped up with others. Some of us are simply… by ourselves.

Solitude can, of course, have its own distinct pleasures. Chronic isolation is another matter altogether

Even before this crisis, we were a nation struggling with loneliness.

For me, solitary walks among the spring blossoms have helped – as has sharing this via Instagram with pithy bits of poetry to help me feel connected to friends and loved ones.

What has also helped, as it always has, is to write out what I’m feeling.

When I have experienced loneliness in the past (or times of turmoil, struggle, disenchantedness, all of the above…) I have written in a journal. For me, a journal is a practice of going inward to ask ‘am I okay?’ or ‘what might help right now?’ I write to understand my difficult emotions and to celebrate my most life-affirming ones (the latter being the reason for founding Positive Journal®).

In these lonesome weeks, I’ve found myself asking: what might a Positive Journal practice mean for right now? For this shaky, uncertain, overwhelming, lonesome, isolated time…

Two free guides to Positive Journal writing

It feels to me that now, just like always, we need to tune into our positive emotions.

If you know my work at all then you’ll know that by this I don’t mean tune out of the very real and urgent crisis that is unfolding, but rather approach this crisis with hope, with pockets of serenity, with awe at our collective effort to overcome, and with redemptive moments of joy. Why? Because these emotions soothe and – importantly – motivate us when we need it most.

I’ve created two journal ‘companions’. These each offer a free guide to starting a Positive Journal. The first sets out the basic principles of this practice. The second is for writing your way through struggle (say, for example, loneliness).


Journal writing, loneliness and belonging

One bit of research into journal writing that I’ve recently come across reminded me of the power of writing in the second person in a diary (i.e. addressing ourselves as ‘you’ rather than writing with the first person ‘I’). This mode of writing seems, more than others, to facilitate a sense of helpful dialogue with oneself. I’ve incorporated this in my guide, Writing a Way Through.

In my own research – particularly a series of interviews I did with creative writers as part of my PhD – I’ve noticed how writing is a way of belonging (the opposite of loneliness).

Writing helps us feel less alone.

Maybe this is because we are communicating in a shared language, maybe because we hope someone might one day read our writing, or maybe because writing – whether a story, poem, or page in a journal – reminds us we are connected to a narrative larger than us.


Share a note

Do you remember, in school, passing notes to friends? In the days before smartphones this was an established part of my school day. Perhaps you weren’t sitting with your pals and you wanted to feel connected to them anyway. Perhaps you had some vitally important gossip for them that just couldn’t wait until lunch…

Well, I propose we share some notes with one another now. To draw attention to the unifying and consoling power of writing in times of isolation, I invite you to #shareanote today, and everyday throughout your lockdown, wherever you are in the world.

The guidelines

To participate:

  • Use your social media (Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook) to share an image of some simple words of encouragement in the second person (e.g. ‘if you’ve brushed your teeth you’re doing great today’). This might be a little insight from your own journal that day, or simply a reminder you would like to offer yourself and that might help others feel a little more motivated & connected.
  • The image might be a page in your journal, something written on a post-it, a scribble on a scrap of paper, words on a napkin – anything at all. It’s the note that counts, not how it looks.
  • Add the hashtag #shareanote so that we can all find your image.
  • Join in any time, in any language, wherever you are in the world.
Note reading: when you write you can remind yourself that you are not alone.
Share a note like this! #shareanote

I can’t wait to share some notes with you. You aren’t alone.

Megan x

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Make it a Joy (The Simple Step We Sometimes Forget)

Pink Journal Flatlay

Sometimes the most radical realisations of life occur at the most mundane of moments. I experienced this just last week.

Imagine the scene:

I am sitting at my desk, engaged in the work I have chosen for my life, wearing the clothes I have chosen to wear, after eating the breakfast I chose to eat (you get the idea).

And suddenly I notice a profoundly uncomfortable truth: I am not enjoying any of it.

Has this ever happened to you?

Have you ever looked around and felt disappointed, or checked in with your body to find only stress and tension and a heavy weight in your limbs as you drag them around completing autopilot tasks?

You’re not alone.

What felt radical about this moment is what subsequently popped into my head: make it a joy.

This is a philosophy I used to live by in my early twenties but that—somewhere in the encroaching obligations of adulthood—appears to have been lost. I picked up from somewhere (where?) that work should be hard and being mature means being serious and that the most vital success-measure of anyone’s day is productivity.

Yet… are these things actually true? I’m not sure.

I am unfathomably privileged to live where I do, at the time that I do, with the means that I have available to me—and so if I cannot glance around and feel a sense of giddy pleasure at what I have going on then something must be amiss.

Psychologists call our casual acclimatisation to the wondrous miracle that life (even humdrum daily life) on Earth represents: hedonic adaptation.

How do we counter this?

My humble advice would be: don’t get so accustomed to the pleasure of your life that you forget to enjoy it. Make it a joy, whatever that means to you. Call it mindfulness, call it savouring, call it spiritual practice, call it awareness… it all boils down to that simple phrase: make it a joy.

And what is the ultimate ‘it’ that we have in our possession to enjoy? Us. Ourselves. The small human package we have arrived in having its mortal experience of the world.

Make it a joy to be you.

Enjoy being you. Huh, now there’s a concept… What if, daily, we found the pleasure and the pride and the passion in our personhood? What if we settled into the cosy armchair of us-ness (welcoming ourselves home from a hard day’s work of self-flagellation)?

We live in an era where Showing Off On the Internet is an Olympic sport, and where we float adrift in the great gulf of social media ricocheting off of the Instagram stories of Other People’s Fabulous Lives until we are dizzy. No wonder we switch out of the apps, put down our phone, look around at our lives and find them… depressingly monochrome in comparison.

Why not, instead, treat taking pleasure in your own existence as a practice; a hobby; a favourite pastime?

Meet the monochrome doldrums head-on by putting down your phone and replacing it with your own proverbial paintbrush—remembering that you are the artist of your own life experience.

Why not make it a joy?

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What if you were really (really) honest with yourself?

west-wales-coast

The beautiful spot where I’m currently living.

Honesty time: I intended to pen this article (any article) yesterday. I had a whole thing in my brain about the nicey-nice-neatness of writing here every 1st of the month in 2018. But I didn’t. Why? Simple: I was paralyzed by that ‘not good enough’ feeling. I’m sure you know of it. It tends to rear its head when we want to share something, be wildly optimistic, or take a creative leap of faith.

Today I’ve managed to wrestle myself free from the clutches of not-good-enough by pondering what was at the heart of my paralysis. And I think it was… honesty. More specifically, the fear that comes with being honest. Sometimes it is so terrifying to be really, starkly, vulnerably truthful, not only with others, but with ourselves.

Some people can spend many years hiding from themselves in certain ways – often not even realising that is what they are doing. Some hide for a lifetime. I hope that most of us, though, find some way to resonate with these words from Anaïs Nin.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

 

If we are interested in unravelling our own layers of hidden truths and honesty, in order to find that buried treasure within ourselves (which hides so well sometimes), then here is one potent journal writing exercise that we can use.

Try it: “If I were to be really honest with myself…”

Turn to a blank sheet of paper or page in your journal, take a few slow, deep breaths to become fully present in this moment, and to gratefully prepare to encounter yourself on the page. Then, begin writing at the top of the page with the following prompt:

“If I were to be really honest with myself, I would say…”

Next, allow yourself to write, uncensored, in response. Do not worry about structure or grammar, just write whatever comes to you until your thoughts come to a natural close.

But wait, there’s more…

If at any point in this writing exercise you sense you aren’t being truly honest, or that something is not ringing quite true, or if intuitively you feel you have yet to get to the root of your feelings, pause. Begin again. This time, start with the following.

“I wasn’t truly being honest there. If I were to be even more honest with myself, I would say…”

This is one of those ‘rinse and repeat’ journal writing exercises. Keep going until what you write sparks off of the page like lightning – with that zing that only Your Real Truth has.

This probably isn’t an exercise you’ll want to write with all the time, but trust me when I stress how deeply powerful this way of writing can be. Use it next time you wish to get to the heart of your feelings around a particular topic or issue. Or, you know, just to get a blog post written…

Getting to know ourselves… honestly? It is a life’s work. Let writing be your sidekick.

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