Stack of four journals
Writing

Journaling into the Past

I started journaling as soon as I knew how to pick up a pen. After every school book fair, I would bring home another kitty cat journal, equipped with lock and key (because everyone wants to break into the mind of a 6-year old girl and learn: “Today we ate pizza for dinner. It was good.”) I never finished more than a few pages of my little journals. 

But, at ten, I bought a plain red journal in a shop in Scotland and pledged to fill it entirely. I did. And then I filled another, and another, and another. 

Once, when I was older, my mom asked if I was still journaling. I felt an ounce of shame and embarrassment. Journaling was no longer cool. I had a fair number of male friends in high school, and I recognized the havoc they would wreak on my life by making fun of me (or, far worse, if they ever read the outpouring of my awkward feelings sprawled in ink). 

But I told her I was.

She said, “Good. You’ll thank yourself for that one day.” 

It’s one of those comments adults tell you when you are young that stick with you, not necessarily because you understand, but perhaps because you feel the wisdom in their words. 

Journaling about Covid-19 before it was cool (Langkawi, Malaysia February 2020)

So, I kept journaling. As I traveled, the amount I kept up with my adventures waxed and waned. I never really knew why I was journaling; I just had this intense sense that it was fundamentally important.

Being stuck at home this summer, I decided to finally pick up that red journal and return to where it all started: in a little village in Scotland at ten years old. I’m not really sure what I expected to find (after all, I remember my adolescence), but what I found still surprised me. 

And I’m not just saying that for the flow of this blog. I mean it with everything in me. I am floored at what I am finding in these journals. 

Journals and a Forgotten Past

Photo Credit: felipepelaquim

Have you ever re-watched a movie you really liked only to realize you remember next to nothing about it? 

That’s what this is like. I have a great memory so it’s not that I forgot about the big events. I remembered the drama, the fun times, the breakups. Yet, somewhere down the road, I just chalked every feeling and mistake up to “being a teenager.” I dismissed all of high school as childish and silly.

And that’s absolutely what it is. But I still feel a bit like I am reading the words of someone I do not know. Somewhere along the road, instead of healing, I simply disregarded my teenage feelings as overdramatic and invalid. I buried my mistakes and regrets and rewrote the inner narrative of how easy and fun high school had been with a few dramatic hiccups.

But that’s not the story of the journals. The journals are heavy with pain. I cannot rewrite it. I was absolutely struggling. By so flippantly dismissing everything as “kids’ stuff,” I feel a bit like I have turned my back on who I used to be.

So I sit in bed each night, reading the years away. I read like I do not know the ending as friends betray me and I never stick up for myself, as I fail time and time again to set any boundaries, as I chastise my body. 

I read about my first true heartbreak and I’m floored. Of course, I remember being crazy about him. Of course, I remember that I had been devastated when he dumped me. But I long ago dismissed this as young love and silliness instead of the very adult reality of it: He told me every day he loved me. He was writing me pages and pages of notes, was baking me brownies and leaving them on my desk, was buying me Christmas presents. And then, one day, completely out of the blue, he tells my friend he has no feelings for me and wants to break up.

I haven’t thought about this much. It’s a passing thought when someone talks about high school relationships. But reading it now, I am horrified. Instead of being embarrassed by how I fell apart about it, I think, “Well yeah! That’s horrific!” 

It’s funny how 16 years can pass without you giving much mind to something, having safely dismissed it as silly teenager stuff, but then at 31 you think, “No wonder I have trust issues.”

And, I keep reading.

I read about how desperate I am for validation. I think how sad that is. Now, I see how much I meant to people at the time. But then, I was convinced no one cared. I record every compliment I receive but be sure to note I don’t really believe them. The sheer body dysmorphia is hard to stomach.

In return, I easily hurt people. I am, again, floored. At the time, I clearly had no idea I am doing this. I thought so little of myself, I had no idea I was even capable of hurting someone.

But there it is–the truth etched into the pages in ink.

I tell my dad about all this and he says very matter-of-factly, “It’s hard work growing up.”

Photo Credit: RPG Pictures

Seeing Growth

The first time I see myself actually compliment myself in my journals, I am 15. 

It’s after a different breakup, with a different boy. Instead of falling apart about it, I write that I am sad but proud of myself for trying with him. I write that I am proud of myself for ending things with him at the first sign that he isn’t able to meet my needs instead of dragging it out.

I’m shocked that I had learned that lesson at 15 but, at 31, seem to have long forgotten it.

Roots

More than anything, I am shocked at the ways this person is still so me. I read how desperate I am to live my life to the fullest. I want to get out, to break out of the identity other people are forcing onto me, to live an interesting life. I write about how frustrated I am because there is someone so much stronger and better inside of me but no one can see her. I feel stifled in my hometown; I feel like a sidekick in my own life. 

I have a sense of direction: I record all my grades, I study, I fall in love with learning, I paint, I write. I try to balance how wild I can be and how well I can suck the essence out of life without screwing up my future.

That’s basically still me.

I always assumed this life motto was one I discovered later. I’d always attributed it partially to the shooting, and a lot to living in Budapest when I was 20. 

But that person was inside me long, long ago. Apparently, all those insecurities and negative self-talk I’ve battled for years have much deeper roots than I remembered. 

Maybe I have long dismissed my adolescence because I didn’t like who I was then. But I don’t think I give myself enough credit. With every new journal, there is so much growth. With every passing year, I become kinder to myself and a little less tolerant of people walking all over me. 

In the end, none of that stuff held me back much. Perhaps needing to prove something to myself fueled some really amazing adventures.

Ultimately, the happy ending to that unhappy teenager is just that I think she would be so proud and excited to know what is coming for her.

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