It all started when Ms. Geetha, my English teacher from 5th grade, bounced into the classroom with a smile stretched from ear to ear, a thick brown diary clutched in her hand. While she read 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 proposed the idea of keeping our own journals, we were all in, eager to embark on this fifteen-day mission to document our own lives.

Throughout this project, we brought our diaries to school daily. Some big, some small, all with a riot of various cartoon stickers on the covers. Every night, I wrote in my diary with a giddy thrill and a floaty thought of Ms Geetha chuckling over my exploits. I had to be cool and courageous in my diary! I would write about how I saved my sister from evil Ninjas and rescued the city from a sinister green monster with 4 eyes. After 15 days of fictional "journal" writing, I submitted my work. Like every other school project, that was the end, and my 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 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 correcting grammatical errors with an aura of apparent 6th-grader wisdom. I was blown away by a thought that suddenly popped into my head: "What if I became famous one day but nobody knew the hard-hitting truths from my life?" I had to document my rise to world domination! I started chronicling my life every night religiously - recording the lists of boys I hated in my class, imaginary arguments for which I had witty retorts, lyrics to my favourite songs, the list of crushes I had and, of course, the reasons why we were meant to be.

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 was unfair, how the government was unfair, and how everything was just plain annoying. I'm 24 now, and not much has changed, honestly 😋. Having written about my life daily for about 15 years and after accessing the archives of my past selves, I have come to realise that journaling has become an integral part of my well-being.

My journals have been most helpful when I struggle with abstract thoughts, swirling fears and fleeting emotions. Making ephemeral, cloudy thoughts tangible has helped me be aware of them in the present and find patterns when I 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 a job, what would it be? What would Boo/Sully do with this thought?) The simple act of putting pen to paper leads to a deeper understanding and even solutions to the challenges I face.

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 not to have resources around me at all times to ground me during these times, but if I do have my journal around, I try to 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 the essential parts of my body, like the breath and my pulse, more accessible to me.

Now, you might get a kick out of my journaling style. Most pages of my journals are probably illegible scribbles filled with grammatical and syntactic bloopers everywhere. But it's 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 have difficulty feeling accepted by myself and the people around me without being agonizingly conscious of my shortcomings. But my journal, my only place of solace, was 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 a cliché perhaps - but cultivating a safe space like this - with people or places or objects can genuinely mean everything. My journal has been a safe space for me throughout these years.

A scribble space for messy thoughts, mountains made out of tick marks, hearts made out of dots (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 and positive traits on feel-good days and bookmarking them for later have been reminding me of my own resilience and the impermanence of my bad days. (These joyous "good day" records have sometimes even revived me from bad days!)

Lastly, journaling for many years has helped me articulate my thoughts to myself and those who do not inhabit my consciousness. It has allowed me to relate with others who have similar interests or struggles as me, and it has made me that friend who is often approached to proof-read and edit SoPs and essays (which, by the way, is a good enough marker of success in writing 😋)

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

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