Tag Archives: journaling

On Journaling

On Journaling

by Ester R.A. Leutenberg

Calm and Collected Ester Leutenberg

Ester R.A. Leutenberg

Journaling is a time-honored way to help people sort out their thoughts and feelings. Many different techniques can be used to begin a journaling practice. One way is to set aside some time each day−maybe 15 to 30 minutes in the morning−to simply write whatever comes to mind. Another way is to pick up a journal and write when the person has a “thinking loop” that seems stuck. In the act of writing, often the thought or situation will lose its intensity. Others find that journaling is a substitute for talking. Some people use their journals as a way of writing letters to their loves ones.

Journaling has been such a valuable tool for me in my process of grieving over our son Mitchell’s death by suicide. I journal for my own pleasure, release, to sort out feelings. If every time I had another insight or thought about Mitch’s life, mental illness, or death – and would mention it to loved ones or friends – they would all be weary of hearing about it. Instead, I journal often and still talk about Mitch at times with family and friends. It seems to be a good compromise, and keeps me grounded.

Each year I take my journaling to another level – on the day of Mitch’s death and send an email out to everyone I know – this was my 2011 letter.

Dear family and friends,

Twenty five years ago today, November 22, 1986, at 30 years of age, our son died by suicide. We commemorate this day – we celebrate Mitchell’s life. Mitch was an exceptional son, grandson, brother and uncle.

For eight years we kept the promise Mitchell asked of us, from the time of his first suicide attempt, not to tell anyone he had a mental illness. He felt it was a ‘shonda’ – a shame, an embarrassment, people wouldn’t value him for who he was, only the see the mental illness. The moment Mitch died, we told anyone and everyone. We were not ashamed or embarrassed. He had a disease, a mental illness. Although Mitchell did not discuss it, we hope other people will as the stigma of mental illness slowly lifts.

To quote Glenn Close about her family members…

“The stigma is toxic. And, like millions of others who live with mental illness in their families, I’ve seen what they endure: the struggle of just getting through the day, and the hurt caused every time someone casually describes someone as “crazy,” “nuts,” or “psycho.”

Even as the medicine and therapy for mental health disorders have made remarkable progress, the ancient social stigma of psychological illness remains largely intact. Families are often unwilling to talk about it and, in movies and the media, stereotypes about the mentally ill still reign.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2020 mental illness will be the second leading cause of death and disability. Every society will have to confront the issue. The question is, will we face it with open honesty or silence?”

I remember when my mother would whisper the word cancer. We’ve come a long way. Talking and dealing with mental illness should be no different from having cancer, diabetes or any other disease.

“We have to get the word out that mental illness can be diagnosed and treated, and almost everyone suffering from mental illness can live more normal lives.”

                        ~ Rosalynn Carter

Twenty-five years is such a long time! We miss the hugs, conversations, laughter and even the tears. We miss the family time with him – he SO loved his family (especially his two nieces!) Mitchell would have loved the 7 more nieces and nephews that were born after his death. He would have loved Tucson and would be so happy for us. At one point, a few years before he died, he visited Vermont and came home with plans to build homes for our entire family to vacation together.

We do know that Mitch looks after us. We feel his spirit and it warms us.

We think about him every day – with love – and with admiration for trying so hard to stay alive.

Many people find that they are surprised at how their thinking has evolved when they re-read their journals. For most people the changes that they are experiencing are subtle. Often people grieving do not realize the hard work that they have done, nor do they recognize the changes they have made.

Re-reading a journal can provide an opportunity for self-appreciation.


 

The GriefWork Companion was developed to help adults who are grieving heal from their losses. The GriefWork Companion contains worksheets, quotations, educational and journaling pages. It is a user-friendly book and self-help resource. We live in a society where people are expected to get over their loss quickly and we understand this is not realistic. We know there are many ways that people grieve and we support each person’s right to grieve in an individual and unique fashion.

Journal

Holiday Journaling

holiday bannerJournaling About Your Holidays

Who has time, one might remark, to journal during the mad rush of Holiday week? Who has energy left after Hanukkah preparations to sit down and write anything at all, let alone something meaningful. The entire family just left following Kwanzaa celebrations and you are exhausted. And now you are supposed to write about it? Get real people.

John Liptak, EdD, and Ester Leutenberg have written extensively about the benefits of journaling in many of their mental health resources. In the Communications Skills Workbook they say: Communication Skills Workbook

Journaling is an extremely powerful tool for enhancing self-discovery, learning, transcending traditional problems, breaking ineffective life and career habits, and helping to heal from psychological traumas of the past. From a physical point of view, writing reduces stress and lowers muscle tension, blood pressure and heart rate levels. Psychologically, writing reduces sadness, depression and general anxiety, and leads to a greater level of life satisfaction and optimism. Behaviorally, writing leads to enhanced social skills, emotional intelligence and creativity.

Journal

Charles Dickens at work.

Charles Dickens at work

No where in the quote above does it suggest that we must write perfectly…express ourselves just right. Sometimes the problem with writing in our journal isn’t so much the actual writing once we settle down with pen and paper, it is the idea that we have to be a cross between Shakespeare, Emerson, and Dickens.

What we feel like is Pooh, that bear of very little brain, said, “For I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me.”  (Thank you A.A. Milne.) No one cares if your longest word is five letters! Perhaps we feel, as Pooh did that, “When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.” We are embarrassed to write our thoughts, feeling that they will express our shallowness or silliness or weakness or whatever. What we forget is that our journal is for one person only…the writer. In fact, I have a note pinned to mine that asks my survivors to burn my journal without reading it. I have made my kids swear that they will do so. I don’t want to censor what I write. If I am unhappy with one of my children I want to be able to write it without fear of hurting their feelings later.

Pooh

Pooh

So write, fellow bloggers, write without fear. Write to clear your mind, to see your position about something more clearly, to unburden yourself, to express your love, to create a plan, to simply enjoy the flow of words from your pen (or fingers if you journal on your computer.) You never know when something of great depth or value will pour forth.

I have a friend who teaches high school history to home schooled kids. Their assignment was to write a journal entry which, contrary to our personal journaling, would be reviewed by their instructor. This student chose to write a psalm. I think you’ll enjoy it, courtesy of Brianna Ankrum and reproduced here with her permission.

Joy

Psalm of Praise

Even when I wander, looking for love somewhere else, leaving you to sit all alone on a street corner with nothing but the light post to keep You company, you still love me. Even when I mock you, saying mean things behind your back, false things that I know aren’t true, but I lie just to look good, you still love me. Even when I mess up, failing and failing and never succeeding you reach out your hand to come and save me from my self. Even when life gets hard and all I want is to lie my head down and drown in the waters that life drags me towards, You set up anchor and gently steady my boat. Even when I feel so unworthy of your love and the joy it brings me, You still deliver and every time. You never seem to fail me.

Oh why do I do these things when I know you’ll never leave? When I know your love is never failing? When I know that I can’t live on my own and I need You to be truly free? That you’ll come to me in a storm and protect me from all the hurts and damages from life? Is it because I realize how powerful you are and it scares me?

All these questions that fly through my mind, making me go dizzy over how amazing you are. It scares me, but yet calms me. How can a God so big and huge love little old me? That’s something that I know only you can answer. I know you created me for a purpose and when I fail you’ll always be there to catch me and hold me with arms open so wide. I stand in awe and amazement of You.

Not all of us are eloquent when we write. It doesn’t matter. Write for yourself, for the release journaling can give, for the perspective it can bring.

May your holidays be filled with Joy and Love.

Blue trees

Journaling through the grief

Journaling has been such a valuable tool for me in my process of grieving over our son Mitchell’s death by suicide. I journal for my own pleasure, release, sorting-out of feelings. If every time I had another insight or thought about Mitch’s life, mental illness, or death – and would mention it to loved ones or friends – they would all be weary of hearing about it. Instead, I journal often and still talk about Mitch at times with family and friends. It seems to be a good compromise, and keeps me grounded.

Each year I take my journaling to another level – on the day of Mitch’s death and send an email out to everyone I know – this was my 2011 letter.

Dear family and friends,

Twenty five years ago today, November 22, 1986, at 30 years of age, our son died by suicide. We commemorate this day – we celebrate Mitchell’s life. Mitch was an exceptional son, grandson, brother and uncle.

For eight years we kept the promise Mitchell asked of us, from the time of his first suicide attempt, not to tell anyone he had a mental illness. He felt it was a ‘shonda’ – a shame, an embarrassment, people wouldn’t value him for who he was, only the see the mental illness. The moment Mitch died, we told anyone and everyone. We were not ashamed or embarrassed. He had a disease, a mental illness. Although Mitchell did not discuss it, we hope other people will as the stigma of mental illness slowly lifts.

To quote Glenn Close about her family members…

“The stigma is toxic. And, like millions of others who live with mental illness in their families, I’ve seen what they endure: the struggle of just getting through the day, and the hurt caused every time someone casually describes someone as “crazy,” “nuts,” or “psycho.”

Even as the medicine and therapy for mental health disorders have made remarkable progress, the ancient social stigma of psychological illness remains largely intact. Families are often unwilling to talk about it and, in movies and the media, stereotypes about the mentally ill still reign.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2020 mental illness will be the second leading cause of death and disability. Every society will have to confront the issue. The question is, will we face it with open honesty or silence?”

I remember when my mother would whisper the word cancer. We’ve come a long way. Talking and dealing with mental illness should be no different from having cancer, diabetes or any other disease.

“We have to get the word out that mental illness can be diagnosed and treated, and almost everyone suffering from mental illness can live more normal lives.”
~ Rosalynn Carter

Twenty-five years is such a long time! We miss the hugs, conversations, laughter and even the tears. We miss the family time with him – he SO loved his family (especially his two nieces!) . Mitchell would have loved the 7 more nieces and nephews that were born after his death. He would have loved Tucson and would be so happy for us. At one point, a few years before he died, he visited Vermont and came home with plans to build homes for our entire family to vacation together.

We do know that Mitch looks after us. We feel his spirit and it warms us.

We think about him every day – with love – and with admiration for trying so hard to stay alive.

Ester and Jay Leutenberg

Ester A. Leutenberg has worked in the mental health profession for many years as an author, publisher and as an advocate for those suffering from loss.