The 21-Day Journal Challenge // We’re in a Pandemic

We’re in a Pandemic.

I keep writing that in random places to see if my brain will finally register it as the truth. Five years from now when I’m re-reading Bible study notes, there in the margin scribbled in black ink will be the words, “We’re in a Pandemic.”

I’m not getting over it – the fact that we’re in a Pandemic.

When the effects of COVID-19 began to alter the way we did life here in the Bahamas toward the end of March, I don’t think I really understood what was happening. To be honest, I wasn’t in the best mental state to begin with. I’ve spoken frankly about my struggle to effectively manage depressive symptoms over the past year specifically. In March I was looking forward to taking a real break, taking some time off of work, and booking myself in for a few self-care and pamper treatments for my birthday in hopes that the rest would help ease the constant emotional inflammation I was experiencing.

None of that happened. I spent my 28th birthday restricted by law to my property boundaries for fourteen days. I was disappointed, but it only added to the mess of emotions I was already feeling. I found myself unraveling slowly. Everything felt really hard, getting out of bed was growing increasingly difficult, my thoughts were constantly scattered, my concentration all but gone, my body felt heavy and slow, I was always mentally and physically exhausted. By the middle of the two-week lockdown, I was fully depressed, and full-on berating myself about it.

I felt tortured by all the productive things I knew I should be doing, but didn’t have any desire, drive, or focus to do. All the Life Coaches, Preachers, and usual sources of encouragement on my social media accounts were grating on my nerves. Their optimism and advice on how to ‘make the most’ of the Pandemic absolutely rankled. I was drowning in self-loathing and quickly stripping back the grace I desperately needed from myself as punishment for not just sucking it up.

My ‘get up and go’ had effectively gotten up and gone. Demotivation is a major stain in my memories of 2019, but the exhaustion I felt from constantly fighting against the urge to just quit everything was amplified in the echo chamber of a forced quarantine. Sticking to my daily routine, upholding good habits, and not eating myself sick or sleeping the day away took all of the energy and strength I had.

I finally came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t okay. We’re in a Pandemic, and I don’t know how to feel better, I thought sullenly.

I found myself fumbling in the fog, trying my best to put one foot in front of the other, trying to remember how I regained my grip in the past. I’ve been riding quite the emotional roller coaster in the past few months, and I’m not all the way there, but in the midst of this second wave of a complete lockdown in the Bahamas, I am so happy (and relieved) to say that I am doing much, much better mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

One of the ways I’ve been able to keep moving in the right direction is by re-reading old journal entries. I try my best to be detailed and specific when I journal, and that proves to be incredibly helpful when I’m looking to my past, more clear-headed self for help. I found instructions, epiphanies, notes from the Holy Spirit, revelation on Scripture, and sweet messages to myself from myself in old journals. This week specifically, I prayed silent, fervent prayers of thanks multiple times for the gift journaling has been to me this past year alone.

So I had a thought: why not share this gift more comprehensively with all of you?

I really am concerned about the havoc this continuously stressful time will wreak on our collective mental health, and I want to do something for my little community that can hopefully help us build a habit that will lead to some healing and happiness. Journaling has been a lifesaving tool for me throughout the years, and I’ve heard so many people say that they want to give it a try. Well, now is the perfect time. We will do this together, one entry at a time, for the next 21 days.

Beginning on Monday, August 10th, we will be journaling every single day for 21 days. I’ll be documenting it all over on Instagram @daniah.writes.

I want to state that you do not have to be a self-proclaimed writer to journal. The point of journaling for me has never been to improve my writing ability (even though it has) – it has always been to express myself. That may sound really hippy dippy, but it’s really not. I simply give myself room to release whatever thoughts, feelings, or emotions I am experiencing.

What have a few of the benefits of journaling been for me?

It keeps me honest with myself, others, and Yahweh. I can sometimes squirrel away the truth in my heart and attempt to force myself to believe a lie because it’s easier, less messy, or less painful. Journaling keeps me in the light, and more aware of the contents of my heart. The more consistent I am with journaling, the more transparent and vulnerable I am in my close relationships and in prayer, which is huge for me.

It helps me identify cycles or patterns of thought and repeated behavior, especially negative ones. Sometimes the arc of a mood swing is wide for me. I can be slipping into sadness for weeks at a time, so slowly that I don’t even realize what’s happening until I look up and find myself surrounded by the fog. When I journal consistently, I am sometimes able to catch myself before a fall. As I write, something will trigger a memory of me writing about being in this same place before. I am able to intercept on my own behalf and hopefully do some healing work that stops a harmful cycle for good.

It gives me a clearer perspective on what’s happening inside me, because feelings can be all-consuming. When I’m in a crap storm of emotions, I’m disoriented. There’s no other way to explain it, but near nothing makes sense when I’m being bullied by illogical irritation or impractical sadness. I can become a loose cannon – letting my thoughts and my mouth just go off. But journaling keeps my feet on the ground, my head out of the clouds, and me in my skin and bones where I belong. Looking at my feelings on the page really helps me to put the distance I need between me and my emotions to get a better grip on the truth, and be more clear-headed.

Old entries become a resource for me, especially during future tough times. I be reading my journals back and taking notes, I’m serious. Over the years I’ve learned the power I have to encourage myself. I may not always be able to do it in the moment, but when I can read back over something I wrote years ago that blesses and helps me today, I am deeply moved, humbled, and really grateful.

It helps me communicate better, especially in my intimate relationships, because the best gift you can give to anyone is the fruit of your self-awareness. I don’t always understand why I feel the way I do, or why I’m acting the way I am, but acknowledging where I’m at and being able to communicate that clearly to people I’m in relationship with has prevented frustration and exhaustion in both parties. Stating my feelings and emotions plainly on the pages of my journal empowers me to do the same in conversations with others. If I can admit to myself that I’m depressed, or lonely, or resentful, or irritable, it’s easier to admit that to someone else.

Now, some of you may be thinking “I don’t even know what I would write about,” or, “I don’t know if I would be ‘doing it right.’” First off, there is not right or wrong way to journal. It’s personal, and meant to be tailored to suit your specific needs. But I will tell you what works best for me, and what set of loose guidelines I follow.

Pick a specific time of day to journal. I’m usually writing notes here and there all day every day, but my specific journal time is typically in the evenings after I’ve worked out, showered, and started winding down. By then, I’m usually much less guarded, my mind and body are more soft and pliable. It’s easier for me to be open and honest, this is why I tend to pray at night too. Mornings might work best for you, or midday as a pick-me up – it will differ for everyone. Do what works best for you.

Eliminate distractions. Do not split your attention between the journal, TV and social media. It will begin to feel like an obligation instead of a useful and healing part of your day, trust me, I’ve been doing this a long time. Put the phone down, turn off the podcast and the latest show you’re watching, and get quiet with yourself. Really listen to your thoughts.

Feel your feelings. When I relax in the evenings, I can sometimes find myself more emotional than I am throughout the day. Although it’s been happening to me for as long as I can remember, I can still get anxious around bedtime in reluctant anticipation of the release of extra emotions I carry during the day. But without fail, every time I allow myself to just embrace whatever feelings spill over onto the pages, I feel so much better. I know it’s easier said than done, but try your best not to shut down your feelings, let them come, and take note of where they’re coming from and how you’re responding.

Don’t judge yourself. In addition to the previous point, resist the urge to judge yourself for feeling the more negative emotions. You want to cultivate journal time as a sort of safe space within yourself, a judgement free zone. Did you know that you can become so self-critical that your soul will consider you hostile? The same way you can identify if someone else is not safe for you to unload and put up barriers is the same way you can train your soul to think that you are not a safe space by responding to your honest thoughts and emotions the way they do. The safer you feel, the more honest you will be, especially about the hard or painful stuff.

I want you to acknowledge what I am about to say as the truth, because it is: If you are a human being, you can experience any emotion. You are not exempt from feeling any feeling, it doesn’t matter how saved, how happy, how blessed, how wonderful, how grateful you are. You can feel all the feelings. If you don’t realize that you will consistently shut yourself down emotionally.

Feelings do not pass until the truth of what they are is admitted and accepted. Call it by name, nod at it, and allow it to pass. That is the key, allowing it to pass. Just because you feel something doesn’t mean you need to entertain or dwell on it. You can analyze its source, question its purpose, and determine its usefulness without allowing your actions to be influenced by it. Put all the feelings on the page, without judgement.

Don’t pressure yourself to dig deep all the time. This can be hard for people like me who feel all the things and like talking about feeling the things. But there are times when I just journal about things that are on my mind, things I’m hopeful for, things I want to do, places I want to go, people I want to meet or connect with. It does not have to be all gloom and doom – you can journal about your excitement and joy, let your imagination run wild. Whether it’s a few pages or two sentences, the point is just to make room for your honest self to show up each and every day.

If you’re interested in in joining me, I will be posting daily over on Instagram about my own journal time, posting encouragement, tips, and videos, and sharing bits of my personal reflections as well. Follow along @daniah.writes, and be sure to tag me when you post so I know you’re taking this ride too.

Feel free to send me messages if you’re having a hard time, or if you’d like more guidance or advice. I’m so excited to get started with you guys. Take out a fresh notebook and let’s get to writing – remember, Monday, August 10th.

We’re gonna get through this yall. We may be in a Pandemic, but 2020 isn’t over yet.

 

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