How Journaling Can Help You “Keep Moving On” Through Loss and Uncertainty



By Jessica DuLong, CNN

No one was more surprised than the poet Maggie Smith this writing a pep talk daily during the unwinding of her 18-year marriage actually made her feel better.

These little missives, notes to oneself tweeted every day, resonated deeply with readers, who printed them, made them screen savers, pinned them on cork boards and refrigerators, and even sewed them in embroidery.

This wave of reactions from people who wanted to hang on to Smith’s meditations led her to publish “Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity and Change. “The success of the book pushed her to release the sequel”Keep moving: the newspaper», A workbook of 52 exercises to cultivate hope and renewal, October 26. With passages, prompts, and blank pages, his latest post is the formal embodiment of the DIY approach some of Smith’s followers had once practiced – using his words to inspire them to write through their own challenges.

“It hadn’t occurred to me that a drowning person could throw a rope at someone else,” Smith explained, until readers convinced her otherwise. The proof appears on the page.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

CNN: An essential part of your message is that even tough times present opportunities. How can we open our consciousness to the good that so often accompanies evil?

Maggie Smith: I want to recognize that it is not easy or intuitive to be grateful for the good parts of the difficulty that you are going through. Sometimes it can feel like an injury when well-meaning people ask you to look on the bright side. You don’t have to jump right into a positive thought after bad news, pain, or grief. We all deserve some time to wallow. But then what?

Writing is a way for me to access these good songs. If I sit down to write down a list of all the things I’m disappointed, enraged, and frustrated about, it’ll be a long list. But then I also have to hold myself accountable for writing the other list – the “yes, and …” list that reveals the opportunities presented by the difficulty.

CNN: Writing has been your vehicle long before your divorce and the pandemic. You say you don’t have a daily writing practice, but you still managed to create the space to write your way through the turmoil. What could encourage others to engage in the questions of this journal, some of which are difficult?

Black-smith: I say in the introduction, “You do you.” I built this log with 52 prompts. You can set a goal of meeting one per week for a year. Pick which day and make it a ritual of self-care. You can just throw it in your work bag so you can open it and move on to any page whenever you have little downtime.

Or, if you want to dive in and tear it up, you can go through this whole book in a week. The goal is open. My hope is that the diary helps people decipher something open in their brain.

I think one of the keys to productivity and self-care is giving yourself permission to do it the way you want to without feeling guilty. Fighting over not keeping the journal defeats the purpose of having a journal to help you overcome challenges.

CNN: One of my favorite lines in the newspaper is, “You deserve the compassion you give to others. ” What do you mean?

Black-smith: Sometimes we have an aversion to what we perceive as self-pity. But self-compassion is all about treating yourself with the same care you would give a friend – or even your enemy – if they came to you charged with what you wear.

If someone said, “I’m going through a terrible divorce”, or “I lost my job” or “I’m so depressed I can’t even shower”, I wouldn’t say, “What? ‘Is that wrong with you? “Or” If you were another type of person, that wouldn’t have happened to you. “Or” Come together. Look at your beautiful life. But we sure do. let’s say that.

A big part of “Keep Moving,” both the book and the journal, is taking the time and treating yourself more nicely. After all, no amount of external positive reinforcement can defeat an inner voice that, frankly, is lying to you. It is essential to examine this inner voice and call upon it when it is not being honest.

Sometimes it’s easier to understand how terribly hard you have been on yourself when you see it in ink on paper. Imagine telling a friend or neighbor that withered thing you wrote down. You never would. So why are you telling yourself?

CNN: You write that repetition rewires the brain. What has been your experience of writing as a vehicle for healing?

Black-smith: Sometimes we think of the mind as this floating thing, but the brain is a physical entity that we can reconnect with our habits. You can literally change the way you think by engaging in positive rituals every day, whether it’s meditating, taking a long walk, or writing.

CNN: Studies have shown writing about emotions can not only help heal stress and trauma but also boost the immune system. Research says handwritten note-taking is more efficient than computer note-taking for storing information because typing “results in less processing.” Does all of this ring true for your experience?

Black-smith: This science means so much to me. Because I can’t type, the urge to write comes like the impulse to grab a pen and paper. There is power in seeing words in my writing. Even from afar I know they are mine.

Even the sound of my instrument on the page is part of my process. That little doodle sound as you furiously ram your pen into the page is palpable, sensory, something real and not just in the ether. I am drawn to it.

I didn’t think of myself as a “journalist” before, but we all have to find different ways to take care of ourselves these days.

CNN: People facing all the different unsettling changes – death, divorce, job loss, chronic illness, struggles with sobriety – have reached out to tell you that they have found comfort in your words. Why do the concepts of “Keep Moving” resonate with so many different life experiences?

Black-smith: We can all benefit from the difficulty of reframing to see the possibilities. If we only tell ourselves a negative story about what we’re going through, big or small, it’s easy to get stuck in that story and stuck in other areas of life.

Life involves constant reassessment and recalibration. Even “capital C” changes like death, divorce, or some diagnoses involve smaller changes nested within larger ones. “Am I staying at home? “” What do we do for the children? “

Change is constant. The goal becomes to find ways to move forward through difficulties with a sense of positivity or hope, teaching us to see even unwanted changes not as entirely destructive, but also sites of creativity.

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Jessica DuLong is a Brooklyn-based journalist, book contributor, writing coach, and author of “Saved at the Seawall: Stories from the September 11 Boat Lift” and “My River Chronicles: Rediscovering the Work that Built America”.


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