The benefits of journaling

The other day Daniel J Layton uploaded a video in association with Penguin Platform on their YouTube channel about how great journaling is for your mental health. I’ve been thinking about this for a while – it was something that was recommended to me by a counsellor for my mental health a while back, and I recommend it to everyone because it has helped me so much, so I thought I would share my thoughts on the matter.

I’ve written a diary for years – I used to pretend to write by scribbling a pen over paper in squiggly lines before I could even write, and I’ve had my fair share of countless products marketed as secret diaries and journals over the years. They weren’t often very successful though – I would lose the key to the padlock keeping them shut (I will never know what seven year old me really thought about her crushes), or my password journal would run out of batteries and keep me locked out, or I would simply get bored and stop. One year, when I was about 8 or 9, my mum made my brother and me keep daily diaries over the course of the summer holiday, and in late August, I wrote ‘I read through my diary today. It’s pretty boring.’ That one sentence pretty much sums up my early experience with journaling.

When I was in my first year of secondary school in 2010, I tried to make it my New Year’s resolution to write in my diary more, mainly as a way to remember things later in life. And I did; I wrote sporadic entries over the course of years seven to twelve. I used it when I was happy to record great things that had happened, and when I was sad, angry, or upset to vent my feelings and work through them. The physical action of writing things down really helped me work through what I was experiencing, and process my feelings.

I reached a real low point in my mental health around year twelve, going through the stresses of the IB and University expectations from the school I was at, and I went to a counsellor for a while. She asked if I wrote in a diary, and if I found that it helped, and I said that yes, I did, and that it did help. She recommended that I write every night, and at the very least, just write one positive thing that had happened to me during the day, and if I was writing anything else, to finish with a positive thing. It could be something nice that someone said to me, that someone did for me, or just a nice experience that I had that made me feel good. Ever since then, I have written a journal entry every night, which means I’ve been daily journaling for three and a half years now, and the difference it has made to my mental health is astounding.

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These five notebooks are full of nothing but my thoughts, which is kind of crazy to consider

It’s by no means been a cure for my mental health issues – nothing really is a full cure – but it has helped me so much. I have a much more positive outlook now, and I sleep far easier having vented my feelings on paper. A few times, when I’ve been unable to write on paper for whatever reason, I’ve typed it on my phone, which doesn’t have quite the same effect for me, but it does still help. Having something that takes 100% of my attention, away from a screen with constant notifications distracting me, and facilitates me processing the events of the day in my own time, is invaluable to me. And now I have a record of every day of the past three and a half years of my life. I’ve started using my journals as scrapbooks as well, sticking in tickets and pictures, which makes it so nice to look back through, especially to look at the positive events of each day.

Now, I need to acknowledge that I am in the very fortunate position of liking to write. I have always liked to write, and given my degree subject and hopes for the future, I hope I always will. So journaling, whilst a challenge in routine, was not necessarily a challenge in task for me. I’m well aware that some people will hate journaling, they’ll write two words and set fire to their notebook, never to write another word again. But this is just a note to say give it a go, if you haven’t already. You don’t have to go as hard as I do, maybe try once a week, if that’s more your speed. But whatever you do, give it a try. You might like it.

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The furiosity of butterflies

there’s this feeling I can’t get rid of,

i can’t out run it,

can’t escape it

it shakes me to my core.

sometimes

i think it may have disappeared

i relax, breathe, enjoy

but it returns all too soon.

the clenching,

the writhing,

the fear,

tangling its way through my head

no matter how much I meditate

or run

or talk

or do anything that you would-be experts

seem to think I should do,

tell me to do,

it remains.

the only constant that I can be sure of.

it may leave me for a day,

at times, a week

but it will certainly

always

return.

The Ringing

I thought it was normal

The ringing

So when the doctor asked me

‘When did it start?’

I had to tell him that I couldn’t remember not hearing it.

It used to be just in the quiet of the night,

When everyone was in bed,

That my ears would fill with the high pitched hum

But the volume has been turned up over the years

Now it persists constantly,

Only ever drowned out by noise that turns my ears

into three hundred pound weights in the morning.

When I strain to hear something, the ringing becomes offended,

And rings ever louder to grab my attention.

The ringing is not only a noise,

It is a constant distraction,

It is an ache through my skull,

And it almost seemed to mock me in the doctor’s office

When I was told there was no way of stopping it.

 

© Alyx Hurst 2017

Under the customer service smile

The clock on my car

(which is always seven minutes fast)

tells me that I am three minutes late

and I sigh

the click of my seatbelt unfastening

making my heart flutter and thrum. A new day

in this hellscape begins.

The next time I get in this car, I will be

exhausted, probably

will not have eaten for ten hours,

and have been standing up for

just as long, and unless

my boss has had her 9am pinot grigio,

will probably have been yelled at at least twice.

The gravel slips under my feet

I sneak a glance through the window,

I don’t see them,

I am relieved, for a second.

I greet my colleague, who is clearly high, again,

greet the chef, already busy chopping –

he inhales his way to an early grave regularly

in pursuit of five minutes of peace.

We all brace when the boss walks in,

wanting to be a victim of just a patronising word

and a smile, rather than face her full wrath.

I give a rueful smile to the regulars in for lunch who say ‘it must be wonderful

to work here.’ I clock out

at half past six, stomach growling, head misting,

and drive home along roads stained with tears.

© Alyx Hurst 2017

My favourite books: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller was recommended to me by many people before I actually read it. If I’m completely honest, I only got round to it because it was on the reading list for one of my modules this year (it was subsequently removed, much to my dismay, but that’s another story). I don’t know why it took me so much convincing – I love Greek and Roman mythology, I love the Iliad, and I’m always excited to read books with LGBTQ+ representation, and this book ticks all of those boxes. No wonder then that before I had even finished it, it had made it into the list of my favourite books.

This book is just beautiful. I cried throughout the book – I started bookmarking every time the book made me cry, which considering I knew the ending, and how Miller consistently foreshadows the ending through Achilles’ happy arrogance and Patroclus’ reluctant happiness, was a lot. I ran out of post-it-note bookmarks. This, coupled with the gorgeous poetic descriptions of the landscapes and events of the novel, makes it into one of those books I stayed up until 2.30am to finish, at which time I messaged my friend in tears and she immediately knew what I had just finished reading.

I don’t feel that my love of the Iliad was a necessary pre-requisite for reading and loving Miller’s novel either. Most of my friends that have read the book and love it had no idea what was going to happen, giving them a completely different experience of reading the book. Either way, I do not know a single person who has read The Song of Achilles and not enjoyed it.

This book is the book that I always recommend to people without exception when they ask me for book recommendations, so I felt it most remiss not to mention it here on my blog when I have this favourite books series. If you haven’t yet read it, do so. I sincerely promise you that you will love it.

The Three Fates

The three girls sit across the aisle from me on the train. They stare in my general direction, and although I am not so vain to think of myself as the object of their eyes, it starts to feel personal after two stops. They have to angle their bodies in a very bizarre fashion in order to continuously stare in my direction; the squish of their limbs doesn’t look at all comfortable. 

They vacate the two seats they were sharing when the train reaches Coventry. Their frigid stares and the spatial vacuum left in their absence haunts me for the remainder of my journey.

As they walk down the platform, they fan out into a V formation, synchronised steps drawing them closer to me, their heads turning to face me as their bodies change their viewing angle. I wonder whether I am in some way taunting them for a moment, searching my person for the focus of their attention.

But I find nothing, they walk away, and am left to wonder what they were so fixated on for the rest of my life.

My favourite books: His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman 

Something happened this week that I am very excited about: Phillip Pullman released a book in the same universe as one of my favourite book series, the His Dark Materials trilogy. La Belle Sauvage is described as not a prequel, or a sequel, but rather an equal, taking place at the same time as the events of the series. The excitement I feel to read it reminded me of how much I love the original trilogy.

I, like many others I know, was first introduced to the Phillip Pullman trilogy through the film the Golden Compass. I loved it, fantasy is one of my favourite genres, and the universe felt so different, so similar to the world that I knew and yet so magical at the same time. I almost immediately checked the Northern Lights out of my local library, and read it within a week. It was so much better than the film (not in a snobbish way, in the sense that they changed some major plot points and removed some elements to market the film more towards children) the world far richer, the characters more developed, and the plot so natural and yet very unpredictable.

I never normally read books in a series one after the other, as I generally find it somewhat spoils my enjoyment of them – too much of a good thing, in a sense. I made this mistake with the Subtle Knife, choosing to read it almost immediately after finished the Northern Lights. I struggled with it for a bit, had to put it down for a while. Once I came back to it, I enjoyed it far more, although it still remains my least favourite of the three in the series.

The final book in the series, the Amber Spyglass, felt like the perfect finale to the series. The series had gradually built to that point, and taking the start of the Northern Lights and the end of the Amber Spyglass in isolation would leave you completely unsure if they were even from the same series, but the progression throughout the series goes as a perfect pace, and it all fits into place. I can still cry thinking about Will and Lyra’s annual tradition.

This book series remains firmly in my favourites, and I am so excited to read the latest instalment – and, after writing this, I want to reread the whole of the original series!

Surrounding yourself with creativity

Recently, I found myself in a creative slump. I wasn’t motivated to write anything – the ideas for the novel I’m working on were still ticking over in my brain, but I wasn’t actually writing, and I hadn’t even considered writing a poem for months, other than those I had to write for my seminars, and they were turning out flat and lifeless. I lacked motivation, I lacked inspiration, I lacked drive.

And then I went to my local poetry night at the local pub.

It was like a switch was flipped; I got home and immediately wrote two (admittedly godawful) first drafts of poems, and I wrote two more today. Just being in a creative atmosphere made me want to write again. I got my drive back.

It’s worth noting as well that I think it was partially that I was so invested in writing this novel. Not that I don’t want to write it, but I think after being so focused on one thing – especially when it’s taking so long to write given my lack of free time – I needed a little break from it to allow some of the other ideas I’d had in the mean time to work their way out.

So if you’re feeling like you’re in a bit of a writing funk, all I’m saying is that it might be worth stepping back from what you’re working on, and surrounding yourself with people who inspire you with their creativity. Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but it just might be what you need.

In the clouds

Fog falls over us with misty silence,

twisting and curling its fingers around us

until we’re it and it’s us

and we can’t see our hands in front of our faces for trying, but

I can hear you, and

by hearing you I can see you,

see your laugh

lighting up your face, from

its infant stages as an impish grin

to its spread, as it contorts

your whole body in joy and I,

too, laugh,

and smile about how strange we must look,

joy making us glow

as our heads sit

in the clouds.

© Alyx Hurst 2017