Therapeutic Journaling Part 8: Dreaming of Ideas

For today’s Workshop Wednesday post, I am really excited to share two types of journals that can be used separately or in conjunction with each other. There’s the Dream Journal and the Idea Journal, both of which can be very helpful in receiving the therapeutic benefits from journaling, as well as expand on your creativity.

The Dream Journal

The Dream Journal is where you jot down your dreams in the best possible detail you can manage. Dreams are so mysterious and elusive, we often forget them much quicker the more we go on about our day, so I highly suggest that you write them down as soon as you wake up.

The first stage in writing a Dream Journal is simply writing a narration of what you can remember happening in it. What kind of place did you find yourself in? Who was there? And what are some thoughts your dream self had within the dream itself?

Not sure if anyone else experiences this, so please let me know if you experience this too, but I often remember verbalizing certain thoughts in dreams that are even more out of my control than the thoughts I have in the waking world.

The second stage then is to re-read your entry and see if it holds up to what you think you can remember from it. This is where you’re free to add more details if more come in, or subtract some that you think might not have actually been in the dream because we do tend to add things we merely wish or thought were in the dream.

The third and final stage is the fun part: try to extrapolate personal meaning from them. While there are some websites that give you a rough guide as to what certain people, places, and objects are supposed to symbolize in a dream, it is ultimately up to you to decide what you think these things mean because only you know the specific idiosyncrasies of your life.

For instance, I’ve had the same dream twice in my life where I am lying in a hospital bed while rolling through a desert at night. I see myself in third person as a silhouette on that bed while my mom’s face is in the moon watching over me. I had the initial dream when I was a young kid, and then again when I was a teenager, this time with the addition of three doctor heads floating beneath the face of my Moon Mom.

Upon close inspection of this recurring dream, I think it symbolizes how disconnected I’ve felt from my body during the two of the open heart surgeries I’ve had in my life, and how my mom has always been there to watch over me in the hospital. She’s taken a couple weeks off work both times just to be there with me and praying to God that He’d guide the doctors, nurses, and surgeons in assisting my recovery.

Being in the desert at night symbolizes how cold and alone I feel when I go under the knife in real life, and seeing myself in third person I think might have to do with how I need to disassociate from my body in order to survive the kind of stress its put under during open heart surgery.

I often theorize that having had suffered heart failure as a baby, maybe my ADHD developed because my body was in such excruciating pain and fatigue that my brain fought to keep me alive by firing all the neurons it can to keep itself occupied and distracted from all that pain and fatigue.

The Idea Journal

The Idea Journal is a lot less emotionally heavy, but still fun to write as well. This is where you work out your ideas whether they are for a business, a creative writing project, or everything else in between. You spitball a ton of ideas without giving them much thought, then later see if you can separate the wheat from the chaff.

There’s a common misconception that you might end up exhausting all of your good ideas from the very beginning and will be left with no more in the future. I would argue that the ability to create ideas is a lot like a muscle that you need to train in order to maintain. You need to exercise it by dumping all your ideas out as freely as possible on a regular basis.

One of the things this will do is allow you to write out the bad ideas and make room for the good ideas. Then another thing it can do is give provide a compass for which ideas you actually feel excited about. You can do this in a grocery list form or even in long form describing certain things for a few sentences and paragraphs before you jump to the next.

Either way, the point is to jump around from idea to idea quickly without being too attached to any of them. If you do find an idea that draws your attention the most and you can’t stop writing about it in that session, it might be a sign of how important and engaging that idea will be to work on.

I will confess to the reason why I’ve been able to write two blog posts a week this year is because I wrote a huge Idea Journal listing and briefly describing 50 possible blog posts I could write. A lot of them are the ones you’ve seen since January while a few other ideas were left by the wayside because I either saw no use for them yet or I know they’re good, but I’m not ready to write those particular posts just yet.

However, all the posts in this particular series on Therapeutic Journaling were not from that Idea Journal, rather completely off the cuff every week this month!

Dreaming Up Your Ideas

And now putting them together, you can also use Dream Journals to come up with story ideas. Dream Journals are beautiful to gain some personal insight about your life, especially the dreams that illicit a strong emotion in you like that Ralph Wiggum dream I had. (It actually turned into a huge journey for me to take on personally and one of my favourite blog series to date!)

They can serve the dual purpose of giving you the personal insights that change your life and help you generate creative ideas like they have for me.

Dreams are so interesting because they bend the rules of reality, yet feel very real when you are within them. Even if you become a bit conscious during a dream and acknowledge it for not being “real,” that feeling of hyper-reality still overtakes you if you don’t have the misfortune of waking up from them. Especially the good dreams and even the nightmares.

I’d even go so far as to say that if you become conscious of being in a nightmare, that you try and stay in it and see what kind of obstacle your mind is trying to get you to confront by way of that dream. And in turn you can use all those feelings and weird concepts you experienced in the dream to inform your creative writing ideas.

So for instance, back in 2010 I wrote a novel called Me, Myself and Who Am I? where a man is haunted by his own reflection in the mirror that has taken a life of its own, taunting him and acting like a cynical life coach to him.

I could not have come up with that idea had I not had this dream where I was in my washroom looking into the mirror, and instead of seeing my adult self in the reflection, it was my child self in the mirror. He was dressed in shrunken versions of my adult clothes, the very same clothes I’d often wear to to get drunk at parties and get high with friends outside all throughout the night.

I tried to look away from him because seeing him cry was painful to look at, but only his eyes shifted to the side while my adult dream self’s eyes were still fixed to the mirror. I woke up gasping for air because of this dream because of how much anxiety it provoked in me. It made me think about how I was betraying and suppressing my wounded inner child with all this substance abuse and hanging around the wrong crowd in my twenties.

I was a straight edge teen all throughout high school, but when I graduated, I got pretty addicted to the partying life because I felt lost and had no idea what to do. I had been so haggard and resigned from trying to graduate high school because I was held a back a little and needed to go to summer school for two years in order to catch up. I inevitably burned out after having put my all into my school work which is just absolute agony for the ADHD brain.

That dream alone saved my life because it forced me to confront myself not only in my journals, but also through the novel I wrote that year. The idea of your mirror reflection talking to you, pointing out to you and shaming you for how you can be better…I needed to experience that journey along with the protagonist Parker Davis in order to create some sense of resolution in my soul.

So you too, can probably some have deeply personal dreams that you can gain some personal insights from and/or get some inspiration for story ideas. Whichever way you slice it, Dream Journals and Idea Journals are another beautiful way to feel the therapeutic benefits of journaling.

See you next week for Parts 9 and 10!

Therapeutic Journaling Part 5: Giving Order to My Disorder

It’s not easy for me to admit this to anyone, especially since it was hard for me to admit it to myself for a long time, but I have what’s called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The symptoms beyond inattentiveness include difficulty multitasking, low impulse control, and emotional dysregulation among many others. While I won’t go into great detail of which symptoms I have and don’t have, suffice it to say this mental illness of mine has held me back in life for as long as I can remember—and for a lot longer than I care to admit.

One of the things that helped me to get my scatterbrain into order, though, is journaling. Because of the hyperactivity in my brain, it’s difficult to maintain a linear form of speech, let alone thought, and it can be quite the Hell to go through when I am presented with a task I need to concentrate on. As a result, my inattentiveness to the present moment has cost me better grades in school, concentration at the various jobs I’ve had, and most especially overall motivation to do anything in life—even the things that I love like writing, composing music, and even playing video games at times.

While my brain still fires at 1000mph making me think of everything and anything across all space and time, I have managed to slow it down a bit through journaling. Even if you are neurotypical and do not suffer from ADHD, you might still have some times in your life where you can’t stop your thoughts from racing because you have found yourself in a stressful situation in life.

For us ADHDers, though, that’s basically our default mode of being; constantly overthinking things and having branching thought patterns that lead in seemingly unrelated directions.

However, it is through journaling where I’ve come to understand where some of these branches actually intersect. There are certain things I often think about that if I were to convey them to you, you might not see how they’re even connected at first, but let my motormouth fly and maybe you’ll see how I associate one trivial thing to a more significant thing.

ADHD Tangent Alert!

For instance, I’ve gotten a lot strange glares whenever I’ve said that you can develop self-knowledge through video games. People often dismiss video games as mere leisure and possibly a waste of time, but I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I can confidently say that they are more than what meets the eye. Ask any gamer, myself included, what a certain game means to them, and more often than not, they are more than happy to talk your ear off about all the things they love about it. They might not know it, but I am hyperaware of those reasons being reflections of what we value in art and in life.

After all, art is what we are when we’re paying attention, and video games are an amalgamation of different artforms condensed into one interactive experience. The visual arts of graphics, the sound effects created to go along with well crafted animations, along with the music they have to heighten the feel of a level. Video games are interactive experiences where you learn how to master yourself in a given environment, all with its own set of rules, boundaries, and possibilities.

And much like a video game, journaling also allows for the freedom of expression the way an open world sandbox game could, as well as provide a clear and concise experience when constrained by linear level structure more commonly found in the games of yesteryear. The former kind of game makes it hard for me to find much value because too much freedom can feel aimless, whereas the latter is just what I need to make some order out of my disorder.

Let me explain!

While you can type a journal entry in a word processor, I highly suggest you handwrite your journals because there is no way your hand can keep up with your brain, ADHD brain or not. Whereas typing you might write everything off the cuff at the speed of light, and sure your output will be plentiful, but it might not be as bountiful as I’ve found handwritten journals to be in the past decade.

The reason being, of course, that handwriting forces me to slow down my thought process and choose my words carefully. Typing out a journal could lead to too much randomness and a lack of structure the way an open world game can, but ultimately it’s really choose your own adventure at this point.

But for me personally, I prefer the linearity of older gamers as it provided a structure for me to follow so I don’t get lost doing one pointless side mission after the other, constantly getting sidetracked from experiencing the main story, but anyways.

How I Strive For High Scores in Journaling

I write with a fountain pen and the ink for it runs out faster than your typical ball pen. The ink can also become quite expensive if I’m zipping through ink capsules and refillable ink bottles when I’ve got lots to journal about as I have the past few months. My 2021 was quite eventful and there is a lot to process, so I’m going through ink as fast as I go through underwear.

So because of this, I come at every session with the sole intention to at least try to stick to one topic so that no blot of ink is wasted. My entries aren’t always perfectly linear and on point with one track of mind, but at the very least, the past 10 or so years of this habit have helped me improve my capacity to reach near perfect linearity in my entries in ways I never thought possible before.

When I first started journaling in my early twenties, my entries started off as blatant rip offs of the New Age Spirituality and Self Help books I was reading at the time. They served as reminders of how I should approach life with a positive attitude as to not get crushed by the weight of cynicism and nihilism.

It wasn’t until the second volume where I started actually writing about my life at the most local sense rather than the universal and woo-woo sense. Simply put, I started becoming more honest and vulnerable, not to mention specific about my life, writing about things that I’ve gone through and trying to extrapolate lessons from them. All this, though, unfortunately brought out some cynicism and nihilism in me, but they were attitudes I was willing to challenge and improve from.

When this more open and honest approach to journaling began for me, it was an ADHD hell-scape because my thoughts were so much more scattered than they are now. I had almost no idea what to write about consistently because awakening to my own self-consciousness, it made me realize just how much I’ve repressed throughout my life and haven’t put much thought into.

This is why, even to this day, I’m still an avid advocate for self-knowledge. I surprised myself so many times in my journals admitting to so many faults I’ve had to correct, obstacles I’ve had to overcome, as well as realizing how fortunate I actually am as a human being despite how hyper-focused I might have been on negative emotions.

And that’s another symptom of ADHD that causes emotional dysregulation. While hyper-focus can give rise to creative and productive hyper-fixations—like I once had with studying Korean and playing video games, and that I now have with music production writing—it can also make me obsess over my negative emotions and get me lost in my own thoughts. Journaling about these thoughts and emotions have allowed me to take a step back and look at life in a broader picture. Reading back to a lot of my entries, I often scoff and chuckle at how seriously I took something that now feels trivial in hindsight.


Reason #873 For Journaling

So whether you’re an ADHDer like me, have some other mental illness, or are simply neurotypical, I highly suggest journaling for the same reason. To create an honest narrative of your life and discover what you truly. It is in journaling where you begin to notice certain thought patterns and what kinds of things you busy your mind with on a constant basis.

You may not even be aware of a lot of them, and that can be scary, but that’s the beauty of journaling. You can surprise yourself with not only how much you can remember or how much you actually desire in life, but also with the amount of strength you might actually have in tackling the challenges of life. Especially when you’ve verbalized what those challenges, what you think about them, how you feel about them, and what you choose to do about them.

Journaling, after all, in my eyes, is kind of like writing our own personal instruction manuals to this game called life. As we discover new rules and boundaries in life, jotting them down gives us a clearer picture of what’s possible for us and what isn’t. Then, and only then, is it up to us how much of personal agency will be spent toward the things we can control, and how much we are willing to let go of the things we can’t.