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I ink, therefore I am.

It all started when Ms. Geetha, my English teacher from 5th std gushed into our classroom with her usual chirpy energy, a thick brown diary in her hand. I remember her reading out mundane aspects of her life from her diary to the class. We were enraptured by the insight this session allowed into our favourite teacher's life. Needless to say, when she introduced the idea of recording our personal lives in notebooks, we took it seriously without any hesitation. That day, all 47 of us, embarked on a mission to record our lives in writing for 15 days.

Over the course of this project, we brought our own diaries to school daily. Some big, some small and all of them with an artsy garden décor or a barrage of cartoon stickers on the cover. I remember writing in my diary every night, with a floaty thought that my favourite teacher would read about my daily life. I had to be cool and courageous in my diary! I would go on to write about how I saved my sister from evil Ninjas and how I rescued the city from a sinister green monster who had 4 eyes. After 15 days of fictional "journal" writing, we submitted our work. Like every other school project, that was the end of it and our enthusiasm to continue writing went from a loud "yay" to a weak whimper in a matter of days.

an official record of when I fought evil ninjas as a fifth grader (9 years old, 2008)

Almost a year later, I chanced upon the (now, graded) project. I read through it, smiling to myself about all the fiction I weaved into my not-so-adventurous life while also correcting grammatical errors with an aura of obvious 6th-grader wisdom. I was blown away by a thought that suddenly popped in my head: "what if I become someone famous and died but nobody knew how I became so amazing? They would not be able to make a movie out of my life then!" I had to record everything! I started chronicling my life every night religiously - recording the number of chocolates I had, the lists of boys I hated in my class, a list of crushes I had and the reasons why we were meant to be, imaginary arguments for which I had witty retorts, and of course, lyrics to my favourite songs.

a stage for imaginary dialogues with my favourite characters about how cool I was (14 years old, 2013)

As I grew up, there were times when I lost interest in writing in my diary but I never really stopped. I did find time to rant, even as a teenager, about how I thought my mother was unfair, how my school was unfair, how life is unfair, how the government is unfair, and how everything is just plain annoying. I'm 22 now and not much has changed, to be honest 😋. Having written about my life on a daily basis for about 13 years and after accessing the archives of my past selves, I have come to realise that journaling has become an integral part of my wellbeing as an adult.

My journals have been most helpful when I struggle with abstract thoughts, fears and seemingly "invisible" emotions. Making ephemeral, cloudy thoughts tangible, have not only helped me see my thoughts in the present but also to read them in the future. It has helped me understand my triggers and patterns of thoughts and behaviours. Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly loopy, I access prompts that can help me understand these abstractions (if this feeling/thought was an animal/ a colour/ a landscape/ a job, what would it be? What would <insert name of favourite fictional character> do with this thought?) Bringing them to the tangible world has helped me address them or sometimes even find solutions for the challenges that these thoughts and feelings posed.

a space to bring my emotions to a place that I can see (a day that was skipped, 2018)

As a generally anxious person, my thoughts often flood from all directions, with varying themes and intensities. I tend to not have resources around me at all times to ground me during these times but if I do have my journal around, I try and dump every thought onto paper. My thoughts zoom at the speed of light while my writing struggles at the speed of a snail in crisis. Over time, the thoughts have to compromise and come down to the speed of my writing, thus alleviating some pressure off my body and mind. This unconscious slowing down of the pace of thoughts has made me patient and have made the essential parts of my body, like the breath and my pulse, more accessible to me.

Now that you know my hasty journal writing style, you can imagine that most pages of my journals are probably illegible scribbles filled with grammatical and syntactic bloopers everywhere. But this is the only place where I don't have to edit what I say or feel or who I am. I could say "no lyk monday no lyk mi" and that would be PERFECT, without any red squiggly lines in the bottom staring at my inadequacies! I personally have a hard time feeling accepted by myself and the people around me without being agonizingly conscious of my shortcomings. But my journal has been one place of solace where I could commit erroneous crimes in spelling, grammar and even simple logic, without being judged. That might seem like an inconsequential pick-me-up, but it has mattered the world on periods of endless excruciation. It's probably cliché at this point but cultivating a safe space like this, perhaps with people or places or objects can truly mean everything. My journal has been this safe space for me over all of these years.

a space for me to just scribble and be myself, make mountains out of tick marks, hearts out of dots and write random thoughts that pop up (16 years old, 2015)

While my journals have held me and kept me comfortable on my bad days, it has also been consequential for me to write on good days. Describing my state of mind, my skills and positive traits on days when I feel good about myself and bookmarking them for later have been conducive in reminding myself of the impermanence of my bad days. (These positive "good day" records have sometimes even revived me from bad days!)

Lastly, journaling for so many years has helped me articulate my thoughts not just to myself but also to the people who do not inhabit my consciousness. It has helped me relate with others who have similar interests or struggles as me and it has definitely made me that friend who is often approached to proof-read and edit SoP's and essays (which, by the way, is a true marker of success in writing 😋)

Here's to hoping that we all find solace in corners of pages, the scribbles of pens, the strokes of brushes and in incorporating some fiction and adventure in our daily lives!

You can find a compilation of journal prompts that have helped me over the years here.

(DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor or certified mental health professional. What I have shared are just experiences that have helped me manage my mental illnesses. They are in no way prescriptions or medical advice)

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