Mental health

Paperback counsellor

Inspired by my late English teacher, I’d intermittently kept a journal since my pre-teen days. It’s almost embarrassing to relive old memories from the naïve eyes of my eleven-year-old self; once or twice I’d been tempted to throw the whole pile of diaries in an incinerator.

The time taken to keep up the habit every day means that, rather sadly, I’d dropped the habit entirely since I started sixth form. It’s a shame, really, because that was when life became really interesting. My brain is pretty good at preserving select memories, but it’s amazing what you can recall when you read back entries from years gone by.

I’d been aimlessly revising for the end of semester exams a few weeks ago when, looking for something productive to do in a study break, I came upon a thick refill pad and decided that the time is ripe to resurrect the tradition. With a well-intentioned aim in mind to write in the book every day, I began to record my life on paper again.

I hadn’t realised it at the time, but it was just what I needed.

Most of my old journals were filled with events, things I did, places I went to. I’d written in painstaking details about the aspects of each day. But in the monotony of revision week, I was almost forced to take the focus away from the things that were happening around me and instead write about my thoughts and emotions.

That was how I inadvertently ended up with my paperback counsellor.

Of course, a book can never replace a real-life trained counsellor. But, as a (human) counsellor told me on several occasions, her aim was never to give advice but rather to guide a person towards their own solutions. Writing a journal of my thoughts and emotions have definitely contributed to me coming to my own solutions.

It has been profoundly freeing to splurge on a piece of paper the thoughts that run errant around my head. There is no fear of judgement. There is no limit on how long I spend writing each day. It’s also helpful to physically match the speed of my thoughts to the speed that I write, giving me enough time to think them through. Once they’re on paper, it’s infinitely easier to look back and notice unhelpful thinking patterns that I hadn’t discerned in passing. Arguably it stops me from bottling up emotions.

Of course, it’s not perfect as coping mechanisms go. I’d written on days when I was in a black mood and ruminating on those particular thoughts wasn’t particularly helpful. I can also see that it’s never going to be a priority when work piles high and time is short.

Times might change: I might have to adapt how I use the paperback counsellor, I might have to stop altogether. But for now, it’s a pretty neat coping strategy that works for me.

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