Illustration by Gabrielle Conlon

There’s something about journaling that, if you let it, sets you free. When I first started keeping a written journal at the beginning of 2015, I had no idea just how valuable a skill it would prove to be.

When I added an art journal into the mix in December of 2015, I knew I was in for the long haul. That first page of my art journal was the first drop of rain after over a year of nothing but dust and barren landscapes. For the first time in months, I felt inspired. It felt like coming home.

Speaking from my own experiences, I know that inspiration, especially for those of us with chronic health conditions, can be downright elusive. Sometimes it’s the timing that’s off, because you’re not trying to plan out your next painting at two in the morning, you’re trying to sleep. Sometimes it’s so fleeting that you can’t help but think, what’s the point in even starting? And sometimes, sometimes it’s so elusive you start to suspect it’s a distant relative of Santa or the Easter Bunny.

If you’ve been searching for another tool to add your self care toolbox and have yet to give journaling a try, I urge you to try your hand at it. I’m going to do my best with my bullet points to give you a feel for the true beauty of the journaling experience.

  • Reason #1 Why Journaling Is Beautiful: Abolishes Perfectionism

Ever since starting journaling, I’ve adopted the mindset of: “There is no such thing as a mistake, only unexpected brilliance.” It’s not quite that fancy, but I jazzed it up for the sake of this article. This mindset has done wonders for me, in that it has set me free from my suffocating need for perfection. When I journal, I don’t make mistakes. Something might not end up looking quite how I imagined it would, but you know what? That’s what gives it personality. That’s what makes it unique to me. Journaling isn’t solely about the finished product, it’s about the process. Don’t worry about whether or not the journal spread will turn out nicely. Immerse yourself in the knowledge that you are creating something, that you are giving birth to something that previously did not exist. You are breathing new life into each page of your journal. Romanticize the hell out of that, because it’s beautiful and it will do wonders for the artist within you.

  • Reason #2: Flexibility

There is no right or wrong when it comes to journaling, there is only what you feel like doing on any given day. Some days I fill entire pages with silly doodles, other days I create complex collages. Some days I create poems from newspaper clippings, other days I take crayons and scribble until my mind quiets itself. Your journal is whatever you need it to be. Write in it, draw in it, paint in it. Burn the edges, submerge it in water, rip out pages. Make a page just for pictures of happy dogs, for all the stickers of the fruit you eat, for recipes you want to try, things you want to make. Make your journal yours. Don’t worry about what others might think, because you’re doing this for you. If it makes you smile, if it makes you cry, if it makes you feel an emotion you can’t even put into words, put it in your journal.

  • Reason #3: It’s Therapeutic

I don’t just journal when I’m happy. I journal when I have any emotion I want to express. Not every page has to be sunshine and good vibes. Some pages will tear at your heart, others you might not ever want to look at again. Bottling up your emotions will only hurt you in the end and your journal will never judge you for the way you feel. It’s the perfect listener, so let it all out. If privacy is an issue, electronic journals can be password protected against any unwanted visitors. Another alternative is keeping your journal in a separate location (your locker at school, a trusted friend’s house, etc) where you know it will be safe.

  • Reason #4 Why Journaling Is Beautiful: Accessibility

Journaling is one hobby that you don’t need deep pockets in order to participate. Just like with any other hobby, it can certainly run into money, but it doesn’t have to. As far as journals go, you can use sketchbooks, journals, notebooks, hardcover books, even just a binder with loose leaf paper. And if writing isn’t an option, no worries, voice recordings are a wonderful substitute, as the majority of electronics today have that technology. As for the contents of your journal, the possibilities are endless! Free magazines and publications can be found just about everywhere. Grab a pack of glue sticks at your local craft store, dollar store, etc, and you’re good to go. Cool labels and packaging, cards from friends and relatives, random knickknacks you find around the house, all of these things are perfect for journaling. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by fancy, expensive journal spreads on Instagram and Pinterest. Journaling isn’t about the money, it’s about personality and your own creative vision; they say more than money ever could.

In short, you’ve got nothing to lose by giving journaling a try, and potentially everything to gain! It’s stress free, customizable, therapeutic, and not too hard on the wallet either.