I rarely keep the journals I write. I usually cringe when I read them back even if just a month later. At the time I was writing the entries I am convinced I was composing my next masterpiece, only to read it back later and be revolted. I’ve kept journals intermittently since the second grade until my mid-twenties. I’ve thrown them all away. Sometimes because the writing is so awful, other times the content is too traumatic and sad to relive, throwing it away was a way to cleanse myself of what was polluting my life, be it people or certain situations.
I found an old journal I wrote in late 2004, when I was twenty-five years old. It was also the last journal I kept. I didn’t throw away that journal, I can’t recall why, maybe because I like how the journal looked, it had a lovely felt cover. I found it as I was going through my belongings. I found it in my metal Mooncake keepsake box with all of my wedding mementoes from seven years ago. And I did the unthinkable and read it. I was blown away. No, not at my writing skills at age twenty-five, though markedly improved than say at age twenty, but how much everything has changed but much remained the same. The same frustrations I had about my life, my lack of direction, my lack of moving fast enough in a certain direction are still largely true. My unfulfilled ambitions, my failures and feelings of inadequacy which resulted. The circumstances may have changed, but the feelings and sentiments are the same. I could have written that journal today.
I wrote about my feelings of shame – a recurring theme for me, the depression I was suffering from, which seemed endless. My detailing of going from one shitty job to another, tracking my insufficient wages while living in a city with ever rising living costs. The bitter disappointment I felt when my then boyfriend (now husband) didn’t come through for me when I counted on him one hundred percent for this one thing, even though I was fully aware it wasn’t his fault. My realization over and over again that a woman can’t depend on a man, not even for ONE thing, we must be self-sufficient. But being self-sufficient on 0.79 cents to 1.00 every man makes seemed insurmountable. I had a college degree from a decent four year institution, since my college graduation in 2002, I’ve never been out of a job for more than 4 months, I’ve always worked white collar jobs, by all accounts I am lucky, yet the financial struggles of keeping my head above water kept creeping up in the pages. I could never keep up with the bills, whenever I feel like I’ve caught a breath, my car would break down, my engine light, transmission light all would light up like a Christmas tree or that my tires would blow out on my way to work while I am going 60 miles an hour on the freeway – totaling my car and narrowly escaping serious injury or death myself, and I got no compensation from the insurance company because I could only afford the cheapest liability only insurance, which means any of losses to me would not be covered. I wrote about how my body ached from stress, from overwork, from tiredness, being in a hamster wheel and not being able to get off. People say hardship builds character, and I don’t even think I had it that hard – there were plenty of entries where I had a rollicking good time with my friends. But I am not sure how much character I built from that time. And I am not sure how much residual bitterness from that time still lingers on today. I don’t even know if all of the collective struggles and pain from my life made me a better person.
I’d like to say my struggles in my younger days made me the person I am today, but I can’t be sure of that either. Today I am still struggling with many of the same things, but maybe in a different context. Then I just had myself to worry about, today I have myself and two children to consider first. Every decision I make has to be their best interests. I still doubt some of the decisions I’ve made, whether they were the best decision in the long run. My depression still plagues me from time to time, re-reading my journal helped me recognize some of the triggers I’ve forgotten. It confirms once again, what I always knew to be true and that is when I don’t honor my voice and my truth, I fall into the dark hole of depression. When I please others in an effort to “keep the peace”, I pay for it with my depression and anxiety. I learned that not standing your ground in your relationship, hoping for a later pay off because he’ll ‘remember’ the time you yielded to him is bullshit. People take what they can, I have to set my own boundaries.
What I did realize from reading those pages is that deep down I was always the same person. I already was a good person. I didn’t need hardship and struggle to “make me a better person.” I am still that same good person today. I can’t decide if I am happy or sad after reading my old journals, but surprised that much of what triggers my emotions is still true today. My penmanship is still God-awful, my voice was acerbic and cutting as it is today. One passage read, after meeting an unfortunate member of my extended in-laws:
“I’ve never heard any woman who spoke in such loud decibel, as if we are all deaf. I’ve had to excuse myself to go outside to pretend to smoke just to get away from her voice (I don’t smoke). Yet her extended family sits there listening, including ***** (my husband), as she is shouting and shrieking away, in a small confined room, like nothing is happening. I was appalled and aghast at the same time.”
This brought me back to the time it happened and laughed out loud, reading my own journals, something I thought I could never do.
My self-defiance came through the journal pages as well. When an attempt was made to gaslight me, I called it out for what it was, and despite my doubts, I refuse to cave in to it. And one of my most oft repeated phrases to this “I don’t deal well with crazy” or “me and crazy don’t get along” was littered through the entries, prompting another giggle from me. I still have no tolerance for crazy and that’s still my mantra today.
Reading my old journals also started a new wave of self-reflection and how I like to proceed with my life as I get closer to middle age and the big 4-0. Finding that journal was God’s way of telling me that I’ve been in a rut for far too long, while progress has been made, it’s not nearly enough and I need to break out of that rut, free myself from the chains of self-limitation, my self-confining thoughts which lead to self-limiting actions. It also forced me to address my relationships with the important people in my life and reset some boundaries and rules.
I closed my journal and put it back in my Mooncake Keepsake Box with the rest of my wedding mementoes. This is a journal I will be proud to keep and maybe one day show my children.