Early on the morning of June 2, 1995, my phone rang. I heard my mother’s voice, laced with panic as she said, “I can’t stand up.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I opened the refrigerator door, and all of a sudden I was thrown across the kitchen. Then I was in the dining room, and back in the kitchen, but my hand never left the refrigerator door.”
Though I knew something was very wrong, she confirmed it on a deeper level when she asked, “Could you come over?”
My mother was proud, feisty, stubborn, and fiercely independent. She rarely asked for my help and when I offered, she would toss it off, saying, “I have to do some things for myself.”
She learned to accept my help though, and I rediscovered that I loved her, time and again, after I became so frustrated that I no longer liked her. Being drawn into the role of her caregiver, day after day, skewed my thinking. She would say, “When do I get to do what I want to do?” and I would think, “DITTO!”
Until the last six months of her life, I had no idea my mother was struggling with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s. I thought she was dying of old age, one cell at a time.
As I helped her, day after day, my emotional outlet was my journal. Whether I wrote three sentences or three pages, journaling eased my frustrations and fears.
Why write about the bad stuff?
Writing gives perspective and restores sanity. Writing is a lifeline as well as a record. Writing saves lives, and leads the writer out of frustration and into hope.
Do not underestimate its power.
One of the simplest, most private places to write is in a journal. It allows you to vent, delve into issues, and untangle messes. It lets you analyze or celebrate. It allows you to finish a thought without interruption. It helps you forgive.
Journaling releases mental toxins and deepens awareness. It enables you to strip away the immediate problems and let the strong, sane, safe, healthy, hopeful parts of you emerge.
What do you do if you have nothing to say?
Look around the room for an image or a sensory detail—the way the sun makes a path on the carpet, the way steam rises off a cup of coffee, carrying the aroma of morning with it. Listen to the high-pitched whirring of an omnipresent machine, the tick of the kitchen’s black-and-white, kitty-cat clock—any image at all.
Start there or start with a sentence start. Here are a few examples:
Today I feel…
I no longer understand…
If I were in charge…
Finish the sentence. Write the next sentence. Make leaps and go wherever the writing takes you. Don’t worry about spelling or organization. This is your journal, your unique record of feelings, hopes, fears, and dreams.
Of course you can make a list of your own sentence starts, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that they are also available in my book, You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers, which is available on Amazon.
Make your journal your own. Allow it to validate your right to be who you are. If you are a caregiver, allow it to honor your worth in that job. There is no wrong way to keep a journal. The only way you can be wrong is to refuse to write. Write anything.
Writing is therapeutic. It saved my life when frustration and fear threatened to destroy me. It can save yours, whether you care for a spouse, parent, child, all three, or yourself. Your truths are eager to come out, and writing in a journal is a safe place to let them emerge.
You can keep your journal hidden away, but maybe you won’t want to. Maybe there will be parts you want to share with a loved one. Maybe you’ll see something you want to share on a blog or turn into a personal essay, reflecting on your unique experience and its universal implications.
Journaling opens up insights. Let your thoughts spill onto the page, and see what doors writing opens for you.
B. Lynn Goodwin is the owner of Writer Advice, www.writeradvice.com, and the author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers. It is available through Amazon or Writer Advice (click on Journaling for Caregivers) and can be ordered from local bookstores. She is published in numerous anthologies, newspapers, magazines, e-zines and blogs.