Do You Ever Read Your Old Diaries? I Don't -- Here's Why

Every once in a while, I'll read some article about how keeping a journal is good for managing stress, and I'll feel tempted to start up a diary again. Then I get over it.

Oct 13, 2013 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

Sometimes, in the course of random conversation about jobs or life or my "being a writer," my mom likes to remind me about how, many moons ago, her friend (whose name I don't remember, so let's call her Anne) gave me my very first diary when I was all of seven years old or something.

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Some of my diaries


Said diary was small. And pink (I think -- or maybe it was gray? gah, OLD). It had tiny hearts all over it. And most importantly, it had a LOCK. So I could stash away all my most sordid girl-child confessions ("I stole 4 jelly beans from Nan's candy bowl"-style) and keep them safely protected from the prying eyes of … whoever. I'm an only child, so my parents, I guess.

I loved that diary. I loved all the diaries that followed, too, and there were TONS AND TONS. (Ask most writers how many long-forsaken journals they still keep hidden in boxes around their house -- or their parents' basements -- and I suspect most would admit the same.)

Though my journal-keeping dried up in adulthood, for nearly 20 years, I obsessively chronicled my highs and lows and fears and foods and crushes and heartbreaks and drunken escapades and everything in between, in my little paper companion I'd keep at my bedside, or under the bed, or hidden in a sock drawer. And, oddly, starting around age 12, most of my entries began to sound suspiciously ... the same. They started to focus on boys -- how I feared I'd NEVER be good enough (aka cute enough?) to find an all-important male to love me, or be nice to me, or even just hold my hand in the movies, or WTF-ever. Oh, they also focused on my profoundly imperfect body, and how much I hated myself in general, in pretty much every way.

It's pretty disheartening, reading through my old diaries. Which is why I hardly ever do it, and why I'm not tempted to start one up again. My junior-high-era diaries so accurately and painstakingly revealed the progression of those miserable pre-adolescent changes that happened to me then -- ones that continue to happen to girls today. It's an established thing -- girls' self-esteem peaks at age nine. And after that, it's kind of a downhill shitshow.

Add depression to that whole low-self-esteem and bottomless-need-for-approval cocktail, and you have a potent blend of all-around ugly awfulness. I wasn't ugly, of course -- none of us are. But I was so convinced of my own worthlessness, and that core belief infused every word on every page I wrote, starting around age 12 and -- this is the worst part -- never totally ending. Sure, I matured as I grew older -- my diary entries grew slightly less all-misery, all the time. But honestly? They didn't really change enough. And I think that's partly why I stopped keeping a diary at some point in my twenties; it just got too miserable to keep rehashing and rereading the same tired thoughts and feelings over and over again. (I also started a LiveJournal in my twenties, which might have helped kill the paper diary for me, too.)

A few times a year, I get nostalgic for my old ways. I might read some fluffy article about how journaling helps combat stress or depression or anxiety. I might even pull a half-empty notebook from my bedside table and begin halfheartedly chronicling my current mental state of the union. I might, momentarily, have every intention of keeping it up. But I never do. Sure, I want to keep working on my issues -- I have to. But I'm not sure how much happiness or peace or comfort obsessively scribbling about them in a paper notebook will really bring me these days.

Do you keep a diary? Did you ever? How often do you revisit your old entries?

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