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.

Therapeutic Journaling Part 1: How I’ve Benefitted From Therapy So Far

Almost a decade ago now, I wrote about how you can Save $20,000 on Therapy by Buying a $20 Journal. To this day, I still hold the same position as I did back then in how journaling can help you reduce mental clutter, increase your self-knowledge, and potentially make you a whole lot happier with yourself. Especially if you’re upfront and honest in what you write in your journal.

Despite the tongue in cheek title of that blog post, though, I wasn’t actually arguing that you can replace therapy entirely solely by journaling. It was more so clickbait for a simpler lesson: that there are cost effective alternatives to therapy if you’re tight on money like I was back then. Hence, buying a journal and doing the work all by yourself!

So after several jobs, a few entrepreneurial attempts, and many dollars later, I have given myself the honour and privilege of going to therapy—just like I’ve been wanting to since around the time of that original post (2014)—and I’ve got some insights I’d like to share with all of you.


There’s No Better Therapy Than Therapy

No amount of drugs, alcohol, or any other distractions will ever cure you from whatever pain and trauma you may hold within you. If you are wrought with grief, sadness, and despair, these are things you need to confront head on or they will persist in the background, pervading your very existence at every turn. You can mask the symptoms of these things, but like the nine headed hydra, you cut one head off, another will regrow in its place. Your pain needs to be confronted at the root, not the surface.

Even if you have good friends and family who ask you the right questions, and even give you all the unconditional empathy you need to feel validated, it will not rival the benefits that therapy can provide. I had the misconception that that’s all that therapy would be: I sit down and cry about my problems, then my therapist will pat me on the back and say “sorry to hear that,” ask me about my childhood to link a trauma from my past with a certain behaviour in the present, then it’s, “see you next week!”

On the contrary, a good therapist should also challenge your thoughts and beliefs about yourself, as well as your life circumstances so that you can cognitively reframe all these things in a healthy way. One that is as free as from your emotional bias as possible with some sense of objectivity that doesn’t weigh you down.

Sure, the empathetic moments are still there from time to time, but in my experience with therapy the past five months, I’ve found that the best sessions are the ones that challenged me to rethink my positions on love, life, and relationships so that I am better equipped at seeing how things actually are. Or at best, how things might actually be, since there’s no way to achieve true objectivity on a situation. This way, I can emotionally detach, healthily I must add, from certain situations that were causing me grief, and learn how not to get so attached to my own emotional bias.

A good therapist challenges you in a fair and helpful way. A way that is meant to guide you and question yourself without being judged or shamed for whatever dark deep secrets you may admit to in any of your sessions.

Not in that toxic way I have experienced from people who I thought were my friends, who I later realized were just be a bunch of concern trolls. You know the kind. They put on the air of “helping” you by challenging your perceptions, using your past history as a way to explain away why you’re so deficient now, but really they’re just finding a roundabout way to blame you for all your problems.

Even if it’s true, that you are the root of your own problems, that should never be thrown in your face to humiliate you. If you haven’t experienced this before, then count your lucky stars.

Offloading the Emotional Weight Off Your Shoulders

I started going to therapy at a time in my life where I felt drained from sacrificing myself for other people’s benefit. So many of my conversations would start with people crying to me about whatever problems they were facing and I would lend an empathetic ear, ask a few open ended questions, and just be there for these people. On the inverse, there were others who I also occasionally came to for emotional comfort on the offbeat chance I remembered to take care of myself and needed a helping hand with that.

In fact, for a lot of my adult life, I have spent in trying to form deep connections through this practice of shared pain and giving and getting as much unconditional empathy as I could. While this approach is still admirable even in hindsight, I’ve been woken up to the harsh reality that unloading your darkest deepest secrets with people, and expecting them to do the same, can lead to a lot of unhealthy relationships if not monitored correctly.

This doesn’t mean keep to yourself completely or never care about anyone else again, but learn to respect other people’s boundaries and set your own while you’re at it because not everyone should be an open book like this. There’s a time to share dark and deep secrets, but it sure as hell isn’t all day everyday because at some point, these kinds of friendships become unstable and too dependent on whether or not someone is troubled enough to help, let alone keep around.

Yep. That can happen sometimes. Friendships can definitely be formed in shared pain, as can romantic relationships, but that should not be the entire basis for any of these relationships since the whole point of unloading your pain is to eventually live a happy and fulfilling life. You can’t do that if there’s no measure for improvement and all you’re doing is using each other for free therapy that only ends up being a parody of the real thing.

So now that I’ve invested in an objective party to listen to me talk about my problems for an allotted amount of time every couple weeks, I no longer feel the need to burden other people with my problems unless it directly involved them or I know they have some experience in something similar and can actually help me. It’s very rare, but I will occasionally seek help from others outside of my therapist and myself when I really need it, which thankfully is not too often anymore.

Likewise, when it comes to people coming to me with their problems, as per my therapist’s suggestion, I should only do it if I’m happy enough to listen, which means I have to have had ample time to nurture myself properly before I can help anybody else.

Think of an airplane during extreme turbulence: you need to put on your own oxygen mask on first before you try and save anybody else. It’s like this in life because you cannot give what you do not have. So if you do not have self love, you’ll have no love to give to others, only a cheap imitation of it because you’re too drained to be authentic.

Such was my life last year in 2021.

So go to therapy, folks, as to help reduce the emotional baggage in which you might be coming into social interactions with, as well as become better able to handle the emotional baggage of others if you happen to be in the crossfire of it. But for the most part, try your best to seek healthy relationships based on fun, encouragement, and inspiration rather than the endless sharing of pain. There are groups for that.

Shedding Emotional Crutches

On top of over sharing my problems with people, and them doing the same for me, there were other things I used to use to distract myself from my problems. So while I did use other people to distract me from myself, I’ve also used alcohol and marijuana to cope with my emotions. Hell, I’ve even used work as an emotional crutch, both conventional work and my own business.

And while it’s not bad to partake in any substances in moderation, engaged empathetic relationships cautiously, or work hard at your job, using any of these things to cope with your emotions can have disastrous results. These can all be wonderful things to experience if engaged with when you’re free of emotional turbulence, because otherwise you can grow dependent on them to make you feel better in the short term rather than solving your problems for the long term benefit.

In fact, my dependence on marijuana is something my therapist challenged me on. Even if it is legal here in Ontario, it doesn’t make it not dangerous. I’m not trying to make a case about whether it should be legal or illegal, or even why you should or shouldn’t partake in marijuana. Just speaking from my own experience, I did grow dependent on it whenever I felt stressed in life, especially when I had a very under-stimulating office job between 2019 and 2020 before the pandemic hit, but that’s a story for another time.

Another story within a story I’d like to share is that there was a day where my dad had severe back pain and wanted me to go buy some back pain medicine for him. The problem was that I was high as hell, and as much of a rebel as I am, I’m not going to drive under the influence of marijuana, especially in the blistering cold and rain. All the while I was trying to get my dad to just do yoga, it’s natural after all, rather than hopping himself up with drugs. See where I’m going with this yet?

I shared this story with my therapist saying that I eventually got tired of my dad’s complaining and need for a quick fix, and walked to a pharmacy in the blistering cold with harsh winds nearly shoving me ever which way. I got up in arms about how my dad always just wants the quick fix, but then my therapist called me out on using marijuana as a quick fix for my problems. She asked me why I even go to therapy if I have this thing to cope with my emotions.

As I’ve always done, I made my excuses about how it helps me stop stressing quicker and makes media consumption, as well as therapy, a lot more fun and easier to engage in. And then she pointed out that I can definitely be doing both like I was saying I wanted to. You know, having my cake and eating it too. But then said that toking up would only solve things for me in the short term whereas therapy is more about long term healing.

Sixty minutes in therapy is a whole lot more work and requires a whole lot more time than packing my vape and toking up for about three minutes, but that only speaks to its superiority to a habit I had grown comfortable with in my adult life.

While I’m not perfect at it just yet, I can already feel my need for emotional crutches get left by the wayside thanks to the coping mechanisms and cognitive reframing strategies I’ve learned from therapy.

As of earlier this year of 2022, I have quit consuming marijuana and I’ve also stopped seeking out co-dependent relationships to ease any of my suffering, and that of others. There are still some individuals I keep in touch with and care for genuinely, but shared pain is no longer the central focus of our relationships. I’m also beginning to work on my business for its own sake rather than using it as a an angry response to an unfulfilling day job, a distraction from unhealthy relationships, or even just outright boredom and loneliness.


“And that’s how the cookie crumbles…”

Which cookie, you ask?

My mental health, of course.

Nah, I’m just kidding.

It has been a while since I’ve shared about my personal life here at Your Write to Live, so if you’ve made it this far into the post, I want to sincerely thank you for reading and possibly relating to what I’ve written. I hope you’ve also gleaned some value out of it as is my mission here in seeking to help other writers develop a better relationship with themselves in order to express themselves more freely in their creative endeavours.

That’s it for today’s Meaningful Monday, stick around for Therapeutic Journaling Part 2 for this week’s Workshop Wednesday where I will delve even deeper as to how to journal effectively.

Resisting Rejuvenation

For as long as I can remember, I have contended with resistance to expressing my own creativity. This has ranged from writing novels, writing music, and editing videos. I often question how these things I find so enjoyable can also become so difficult to jump back into, especially when it gets to the point where I constantly have to remind myself how good it feels to get into the flow state because I can’t seem to as quickly as I once did when I first started a project.

Couple that with life’s little curveballs and it could be a recipe for disaster. Competing for our attention, there’s work, maintaining an active social life, and other responsibilities that seem to get in the way of our creative self expression. When all of these curveballs are successfully caught, evaded, or even if they end up hitting us in the face, it can seem pretty easy to feel like we just don’t have any energy left to work on any of our creative projects.

The crazier thing is that even when you do have a full day, week, or even a month to do whatever you want, resistance can still creep up on you. I’ve certainly experienced this throughout my life where I’ve had a significant amount of downtime from working, while all these creative projects I know I want to do work on fell by the wayside. Despite remembering the joy these projects brought me, I rationalized that I deserve to sit around all day like a potato, binge watching stuff on Netflix and YouTube, playing the hell out of video games, and then dozing off in the middle of the day when all entertainment options have been exhausted.

If you can relate to this, then I’ve got the solution for you, and it’s actually quite simple. It may seem counterintuitive and pretty obvious in hindsight, but what we must do in the heat of resistance is push through it and get to work anyway.

Even when you’re not feeling it, nay, especially when you’re not feeling it.

Here’s why:

Creativity is Our Life Blood

If you are a creative person with a ton of ideas, with little to no execution of said ideas, you know very well how excruciating it may be to “not have the time” or “not have the energy” to create something. All the while your other creative friends and family members, along with other creatives who have their work put out into the world, are pumping out piece after piece, and you’re stuck staring at a blank page or canvas.

Or maybe you’re not even at that stage, and instead choose to distract yourself with TV and video games, but no matter how hard you try to pay attention to your distraction, the back of your mind is nagging you about that thing you know you should be working on. That project you tell all your friends and family about with the utmost gusto like it would be the coolest thing put out into the world, but you’ve yet to put pen to paper.

Something I learned recently is that creativity actually fuels us, not drain us. You may feel mental and/or physical fatigue from the stresses of life, but actually starting a project can wake your soul back up and bring you back to life. Creative people die inside when they’re not creating because all of these ideas get locked up inside our minds and the overwhelm of having things left unexpressed brings about a ton of anxiety.

The funny thing about anxiety is that it’s really just a bunch of unspent energy. At the psychological and emotional level, anxiety is all about fearing death and being too afraid to act in the face of it. Yes, there’s a sense of possible death when we dare to do something creative because if you plan to put your work out there you risk getting criticized and having said criticism make your work feel like a waste of time. It would hurt to admit your ego was right, that you’re not that very good at the thing you do.

Or if you never plan to put your work out there to share with the world because you’re more of a solitary hobbyist, you can still run up against that perfectionism and potential fear of death. You may be doing it just to entertain yourself, but being your own worst critic and hardest fan to please, what would it say about you if you can’t even entertain yourself?

All these anxieties and more are there because creating art is a risk for the reasons above and more. While valid, you shouldn’t let them stop you from simply expressing the depths of your soul in whatever form you choose.

At the physiological level, anxiety and excitement are exactly the same. That surge of adrenaline coursing through our bodies that makes our hearts race? That’s our body’s way of readying itself for action, and if that action isn’t taken, that energy stays locked up inside and eats away at you.

It’s pretty much the same thing as wanting to confess your love for someone. The longer you keep it in, the harder it becomes to take the next opportunity to do so, all the while just feeling the pain of having something meaningful to you left unexpressed. Art is the exact same way, except it’s you confessing your love for yourself, and by extension, your love for the world and expressing how you see it so others can see it the way that you do.

This is why it is of utmost importance that if you do have a creative project constantly brewing in the back of your mind, that you get to it as soon as you have the time. In fact, I’d say you should make the time. It’s important. It’s in your soul to express it, so instead of creating excuses as to why you can’t or shouldn’t do it, just create the thing to begin with.

Free Yourself From Your Ego

Even when you have “good reasons” as to why you shouldn’t start that project, what it really comes down to is your ego getting control over you. It’s afraid that it’ll die once you start working on something, and so it tells you you’re not good enough to start yet, that you’re not ready, and no one is going to care about what you create, so why bother, right?

If these excuses sound familiar, then it’s time you recognize your ego for what it is and learn how to fight back. If you’ve ever been in a flow state while creating something, you know very well how good that can feel. Time seems to fly by and all your worries go away.

That’s the death of the ego.

The ego wants to stay alive by robbing you of the present moment because all it wants you to do is think about your past failures and regrets, and all the fears you have about the future. Creativity, on the other hand, brings you straight to the present and converts your mind’s proclivity to obsess over the past and future into a wonderful tool.

If you’re writing a novel, then you start to think about what has happened in the story so far and use that to inform the current scene you’re writing, and that’s a useful function of our ability to recall the past. And since novels aim to have an end goal in mind, you also start to think about what needs to happen next as a natural consequence to what you just wrote, and that’s a useful function of our ability to think about the future.

Life only happens in The Now, the present moment. When you experienced the past, that was the form The Now took, and when the future comes, it only happens in The Now as well. This is all we ever have and then seemingly in an instant, it’s gone. So why waste time worrying about the things that have past and things that may yet to be when you can seize the moment and create something that immortalizes your soul for eternity?

How to Achieve Immortality

If it’s the fear of death that stops us from creating, perhaps it’s the very act of creation where we achieve immortality. When you stop to really think about it, all of the artists that have come before us still live on in their work.

Jimi Hendrix’s physical body may be dead, but his spirit lives on in the music he bestowed upon the world. Those tasty guitar licks and funky vocals of his are the encapsulation of his soul at certain points in time of his life. Every studio track and live performance is a record of not only his existence that we can experience from now until eternity, but also the deepest depths of his soul with what he expressed through his music.

You may or may not reach the level of stardom Jimi Hendrix has, but one thing is for certain; if you too create something that is the genuine expression of your being, a piece of your soul will live on in that artwork for all time. Assuming, of course, that you have a means to preserve it and ensure that it remains preserved long after your physical being fades away.

Just having anything created is one step closer to immortality. If you’ve got a painting, a document containing your novel, or a sound file containing your music, that is a piece of your soul you’ve captured for any potential audiences to experience long after you’re gone.

Whether you do it for yourself and/or for the world, that is how immortality can be achieved. To what degree do you want others to remember you by is completely up to you and that’s why there are many services out there that provide ways in which your work can be shared and preserved.

So next time you’re not “feeling it,” take a moment to stop and think. If we’re all destined to be dust one day, why not express what big emotions we have in the very little time that we have?