2016 · Family · Life · personal essay · Writing

The Question of Keeping a Diary

I used to keep diaries as a child – recording my homework and visits with friends, trips to the cinema and regular family get-togethers. When my mother moved house in 2015, two years after I had moved out, she asked if I wanted the box she had of my diaries and notebooks from those years. At first I had the urge to hold the box and never let go – to hang on to whatever it was they represented. I looked at the ugly little books and thought of the old happiness and misery I knew they contained. There would be happy memories and nostalgia, but there would also be cringing embarrassment at my teenage self and a combination of dread, loathing, and depression when faced with records of the worst parts of my former life. The more I thought about it, I simultaneously wanted to keep the diaries forever – and to unceremoniously throw them out.

I sat on the floor with the box in front of me and slowly opened each of the books. First, I was appalled at my handwriting. Then I felt immensely sad about the passage of time and the fact that I was no longer six years old. Ultimately I felt awkward – these books contained a life I remembered, but that was separate from the one I now lived. I was a different person, then and now.

The diaries cemented my knowledge that I had drawn lines at certain stages of my life – at ten, when my parents divorced and the age of the child, the true child, ended; and at twenty when I finally went to university and started to work out how to be happy.The ten years in between offered a wealth of adolescent awkwardness and depression, and aside from a few highlights were not years that I wanted to relive. Reading the diary entries from those years veered between the banal, the embarrassing, and the depressing, peppered with excitement about new books and albums, or seeing a band in concert. Essentially I realised that revisiting these versions of my former self just made me feel uncomfortable. It made me want to return to my current life and never look back. After a few more moments of nostalgia for the way life could have been, I asked my mother to get rid of the diaries.

At university I mostly just kept a diary to record assignments and meetings, nights outs and trips home – more like a date book than a journal. There were just a few sentences about certain things that were really worth recording – such as the time I first spoke to my fiancé, or when we went on a date. For a year or so I wrote a really intense journal about my feelings and a particularly awful friend whom I lived with for that year, and for a while this was cathartic. But at a certain point and after many long discussions with my mother, I realised that this form of recording my feelings was not helping me. It only served to give me a place to be entirely self-indulgent and inward-looking to the point that I became more negative or upset than I already was. I was over-thinking everything in a Moleskine notebook.

This was also around the time that I decided to actually do something about my mental health and try to be more positive in my life. And so the idea of keeping a diary changed for me – it had to be a positive thing to do, a way to feel better rather than to wallow in bad feelings. Since then I have recorded my life only sporadically, and often it has been in the form of a blog post like this one. I have had date books and notebooks, but the latter has been used mostly for when I need to remember something, or review a book, or when I need to make a list. Sometimes I use my notebook like a journal and either record things in more detail or explore them in my head. I think I am reluctant to go full-journal and record everything – all my thoughts and feelings. Obviously these days I need to strike a balance between the two and remember that I like writing about my life and there is no need to over-analyse things (most of the time). Perhaps it is the form of diary that needs to evolve. I am a better version of myself than I have been before, and I think that is worth recording, definitely more so than the previous failed versions that were recorded in the ugly little books I have now thrown away.

I want a diary I make now to be something that I will like looking at in the future – a time capsule of important and happy moments. My life now is filled with memories-in-the-making. My fiancé and I just bought a house and are working out how to fill it, and we are planning our wedding for next year. This is prime diary material. The new challenge will be finding a balance between recording these things and taking the time to enjoy and appreciate them. The diary from now on, for me, will be a time capsule, a written scrapbook of the things I want to remember. Everything else can fall away with the bad feelings.

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