HOW JOURNALING GUIDED ME THROUGH OVERWHELMING CRISIS
Andrea S. Gould
My writing a book was unintentional. It started with my childhood diaries, then grew into a more dignified record of my living—my journals, now stored in an ordinary trunk in my Arizona garage.
Somewhere between the sketch books of my 20s and the MacBook Air that I use today, I experienced a period that would become known in my journal as “The Virgin Widow Chronicles.” I documented (sometimes moment by moment) the searingly painful experience of being suddenly widowed; my husband calling out “Goodbye, see you later!” on an ordinary Tuesday morning and then being gone, for good, that very same afternoon.
In the beginning, internal chaos was inevitable. Until I could stop the spinning and accept the grim reality, I employed all my coping skills—spirituality, deep breathing, making meticulous plans, allowing others to comfort me and themselves in physical and emotional ways. But once the spinning began to slow, it was a clean, fresh journal that offered me a way to write a new chapter—it commanded my attention and kept me tethered as I tried to piece together the next steps of my life.
The process of writing seemed to slow this new life down to a manageable pace. It shaped a discipline that guided me through the worst of an overwhelming crisis that was transporting me into unknown territory. The immediate effect was a reduction of anxiety, replaced by a feeling, however illusory, of control. But the greater benefit began to show when I would catch up with myself by re-reading my journal: I would see how far I’d come, comparing today with one week ago, and then one month ago, then six months ago, and so on. It was here that the true gift of this regimen emerged. Contrast is a valuable teacher.
What I had achieved during this exercise of journaling was a measurable and illustrative learning curve beyond what I could ever have imagined. What was I discovering? The way into my new future. Naming and noting and describing what was so, I was able to put handles and labels on the ineffable. When I used my power of honest self-assessment, the “whatever was strange and unfamiliar” began to take on a manageable proportion. I started to feel a more comfortable with my discomfort, and soon the un-experienced life became more routine, less scary.
Experimenting with possibilities set up new experiences and challenges—deadlines to meet and hoops to jump through—benchmarks to measure my progress. I named the chapters to underline their transitory nature. Dilemmas and problems opened before me and closed in resolution. Nothing stayed the same.
What did I learn? Primarily, to overcome fear. At first I seemed afraid of everything—of feeling too much, remembering too much, envisioning too much dismal depression and aloneness and emptiness. Those were the emotional fears. Skill-wise, I had always been afraid of numbers and intimidated by legal jargon. My late husband, a skilled executive, had handled these with proficiency and perfectionism. Now they were under my shaky jurisdiction.
Quickly, I assembled a team of advisers, composed of paid professionals and some friends. I know what I don’t know and I thus, when to ask for help. Thankfully, I was not too proud to do so. This lonely and painstaking period of estate settlement is rife with detail management, and I knew that I needed to learn quickly what had to be executed. After many months this exacting task drew to a close; I felt lighter. Only upon reflection and (as is often the case), while helping another woman find her way through this same maze, I realized how much intelligence I had acquired in the area of financial self protection and diligence. I was no longer the me I once knew. I had changed, grown. I had learned my way into a new feeling of competence.
Looking back through my journal pages—finally forged into a book—I see that whatever the complexities such challenges bring, a mind-set of constant self-confrontation the key to a vital life.The ultimate lesson from this adventure: While life produces inevitable loss, the willingness to learn produces inevitable gain.
Andrea S. Gould is the author of “The Virgin Widow,” a memoir and self-help book for those seeking solace in a time of sorrow. It can be found on Amazon.com. Andrea welcomes inquiries and speaking engagements and can be reached at DrAGould@lucidlearning.com.
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