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June 2024
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Dear Journal

Could this be the answer to stress, illness, insomnia and this nasty cold sore on my lip?

By John Cadley

Illustration of man laying on bed with dog on floorIllustration by Bart Browne

Dear Journal,

Well, this will be a new experience for me. I’ve been reading about the positive effects of journaling and they’re pretty amazing. It can decrease symptoms of asthma (which I don’t have but you never know), improve cognitive functioning, boost the immune system, reduce stress, help you sleep better and supposedly even make wounds heal faster! (I’ve had a nasty cold sore for a week. We’ll see.) That seems like an awful lot just for scribbling a few words on a piece of paper, but apparently there’s a lot of real scientific research that says it’s all true. They say journaling is particularly good for anxiety and depression because it’s like talking to a therapist without having to read old copies of People magazine in the waiting room, fight with your insurance company and get a three-week visit from old Mr. Separation Anxiety when your therapist goes on vacation.

So here I am—my first day of journaling. Actually, that’s not true. I started a gratitude journal at the beginning of 2018 and stopped at January 19, not because I’m not grateful but because I started repeating myself. On January 1, I was grateful for my wife, my children and my health. January 2, I was grateful for my friends, my house and my financial security. January 3, I was grateful for my food (except for kale), my PepsiCo stock increasing by 25 cents a share and my programmable thermostat. It went on like this, with my entries seeming more and more trivial. By January 17, I was really forcing it, saying I was grateful for the beautiful snow that had fallen the night before (which I would have to shovel, so maybe not so much), the majestic pine tree in our front yard—which I’m always afraid will fall and crush our house—and … and … I couldn’t even think of a third one, so I said I was grateful my cats didn’t have feline leukemia. That was it. On January 18, when I went back to being grateful for more important things, like my wife, my children and my health, I realized I was repeating myself and wrote on January 19, Look, I know I’m a lucky guy. When I have something new to be grateful for, I’ll let you know. So I ended my gratitude journal.

“Journaling is particularly good for anxiety and depression because it’s like talking to a therapist without having to read old copies of People magazine in the waiting room.”

But this is different. This will help me understand myself better. Jungian analysts say there’s a 45-minute window between the time you wake up and the time your ego kicks in to police your thoughts. So if you start writing as soon as you get up, your unconscious—where all the answers supposedly reside—will be free to speak without interruption. So here it is: 7 a.m. What’s on my mind? Let’s see … I’m thinking of … my fourth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Stanton. I had a crush on her, but her husband was a policeman and I got scared he’d find out and put me in jail. (I was 9 years old.) Maybe that’s why I get hives around authority figures! Wow! A breakthrough insight already! What else? Well, I’ll just write stream of consciousness-style ... Let’s see … I pretend I like kale but sometimes I spit it in my napkin ... I still feel guilty about reading my sister’s diary when I was 9... I think Anna Karenina is actually a little contrived (wow! where did that come from?) … there’s a blue jay squawking in the tree outside—beautiful to look at but irritating to listen to—sort of like the Kardashians … oh no, I’m thinking about the Kardashians! Maybe I should stop reading the National Enquirer at the checkout counter. Another insight!

They say your journal entries don’t have to be long—they can even be just one sentence—and here I’ve already filled a page. Do I talk too much? Maybe that’s another insight. Wow—four new discoveries about myself in 45 minutes. What else? I wonder why I’m so anxious about … about … no, I don’t want to think about that. But I should. Why can’t I? I know—my ego just woke up and is repressing the bad stuff. Guess I’ll have to wait till tomorrow morning to start again before my ego wakes up. Maybe I’ll find out why I’m afraid of tuna fish.

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