How keeping a journal changed my life

This entry is prompt #6 ofThe Book of Me, Written by You project.

Do you keep a journal or diary?

How far back do they go? What do you record?

Where do you keep them?

Do you always buy the same one or vary them?

Have you inherited any?

Do you intend to pass along your journals or destroy them?


Do you have a favourite?

What do you use to write with – biro, pencil, ink or fountain pen?

The subject of journals is one that leads me to one of the biggest regrets of my life …

When I was a child – maybe nine or ten – I started my first diary – or “dairy’, as I carefully constructed on the cover, in letters cut from the Guardian. I wrote a few bits in it about things that were happening in the world at the time – I can remember writing about a boy who got stuck and later died in an artesian well, and about Maze prisoner Bobby Sands’ hunger strike. Strange things for a young girl to be writing about, admittedly! I also had several of those little diaries with a padlock and key, often for birthday presents or in my Christmas stocking, and I sometimes started writing a journal but never kept it up for long.

However, once I became a teenager my diary was hugely important to me. I wrote in A4 lined notebooks, normally in blue ink but sometimes in other colours too, and I wrote pages and pages about my life – the boys I fancied, the tiffs I’d had with friends, the things I’d done, places I’d been, songs and films that were important to me at the time. I must have had half a dozen books completed by the time I left home at the age of eighteen. Most of them I kept in the wooden box my brother built me for my birthday one year. However, I knew the lock was easy to pick so I did have an extra secret diary hidden under the carpet under my bed!

Once I was out in the big wide world of adulthood I didn’t bother with writing a journal – I reckoned I was too busy living life to write about it! Eventually I settled down with my children’s father, who was quite jealous about the fact that I’d had a life before I met him. One day I went to my parents’ house without him. They were clearing out the attic and wanted to know what to do with the contents of the box, which had ended up there when my brother took over my bedroom after I left. I was worried that if I took the diaries back with me my partner would read them and cause a scene, so in a moment of madness I said they should just throw everything away – including the diaries. It’s probably one of the biggest regrets of my life and I have dreamt of searching the local rubbish tip looking for my diaries … I’ve often felt like I lost a part of myself the day I lost those diaries, and as the mother of a daughter myself, I have often longed to be able to read them to remember what it was like being a teenager. Nothing I can do about it now, of course, but I will go to my grave regretting my decision that day.

Roll on a few years and life with my partner was not good. In fact life had been decidedly not good for a long time but I had shut away the horrors of everyday life to be able to survive. Eventually I felt that I had to get those thoughts and feelings out of my head, and I knew that writing a diary would be the way to do it. So I found a red exercise book that my daughter had brought home from school one day, and I started writing. I was terrified my partner would find it so I hid it behind the tumble dryer – but I was constantly worried it would be discovered. My mum used to save the Guardian “Editor” section for me every weekend (How I miss that bit of the paper!) and one week there was mention of an online diary site: Open Diary. By this stage my partner was working nights and I had every evening to myself so one night I logged on, just to see what it was all about, and I quickly found myself creating an account so I could browse the site and read other people’s diary entries – the idea fascinated me. At the time I did an evening cleaning job and that night the car had broken down and my daughter and I had had to walk the last bit of the journey home, so my user name was easy … Sapphire, after our car, which was a Sierra Sapphire. A few days later I wrote my first entry:

I am so glad I have found this site! I have been starting diaries on and off for years, simply to soak up my frustration and anger at this thing we call life, but Im always so afraid that the MOG (miserable old git) will find them that I throw them away after a couple of days. So at last I can express my dreams and fears, my hopes and my anger whenever (well, kind of) I like, weithout fear of being caught! Its great!

Anyway, can’t write much today, the kids are having a late dinner after a fun afternoon in the paddling pool, and the MOG will be in from work soon, in one of his usual wonderful moods I suppose (ha ha). I was debating whether to make this diary a private affair, like they are traditionally meant to be, but then I thought, hey, what the hell? If anyone is mad or sad enough to be interested in my rather tedious ramblings, they must have an even worse life than me, so their welcome to any light relief I can provide!!! Anyway, better get going before he gets in. Been a good day today, I want to savour the happy feeling as long as I can!

I was hooked. Whenever I could I’d log on to the diary site, catch up on my favourites, leave a few comments and write my own entry. At first the entries were about day to day stuff …. what I’d been doing with the kids, my childminding job, the weather. But gradually I started talking of the hidden things in my life – the violence that had happened earlier in my relationship, the fear I lived with constantly, my wish to find a future for me and my children that was safe and secure. People started to respond, telling me I needed to get out and do what was right for me, and as more and more people started offering support I opened up more and more. Eventually I felt confident enough to tell a couple of friends the truth about my life, and then my mum. Mum was obviously horrified to hear that I had been the victim of domestic violence and she resolved to help me and the children escape.I found a house, she helped with the deposit and in April 2001 we moved out to start our new, safe life. If it wasn’t for my online diary I don’t know where I’d be now…

Over the next ten years my diary was the holder of all sorts of news and emotions, from my son’s diagnosis with ADHD to my daughter losing her virginity, from dates good and bad with men good and bad to my ill-advised marriage and subsequent divorce, from holidays to Norfolk and Portugal to day trips with the kids. I poured out my emotions day after day to my diary; it was my safe place, the one place I could vent about life as a single parent, about the dating game, about the constant battle I had with schools to support my son, about every little thing that was going on. But then life suddenly got good, and calm, and content – and I found I didn’t really have much to write about. Every now and then I dip back into it, write an entry or two when I’m going through a difficult time (recently I’ve written a little about the death of my ex-partner MOG, as he was known in the diary), but I don’t sit there writing for hours every night …. and in some ways I wish I did because I’ve lost that reminder of so many memorable aspects of my life.

I recently wrote a book about life with a child with ADHD and my diary helped provide much of the content for that book. It also showed up just how many holes there are in my life story – I have this amazing document detailing my life for the last fifteen years, but it’s incomplete. Perhaps writing this piece now, for the Book of Me project, will be the catalyst for me to start keeping a diary again. I have a feeling it might be.

Keeping a journal has changed my life, more than once. As a teenage it probably kept me sane. As an adult it helped me escape from a controlling relationship, and I haven’t looked back from there. And this year it helped me write a book, which has changed my life in all sorts of ways, including my initiation as a public speaker! So it seems crazy that I no longer do it, don’t you think?

Oh, I do still keep a diary of sorts, though – a physical diary, not a virtual one. My daughter bought me a special five year diary for Christmas last year. Every day has a question and the idea is you write a short answer every day, and then answer the same questions in a year’s time, two years, three, four, five. I’ve kept it up to date all this year and am looking forward to reading my responses on the same days next year and seeing how little – or how much – I’ve changed.


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2 thoughts on “How keeping a journal changed my life”

  1. I regret throwing out years of correspondence between myself and my mother and sister one day in a fit of moving away from the past and living in the present. If only I could rewind and save those letters!

    I have looked at those diaries with prompts but I never tried one.

  2. That is exactly how I feel! Just rewind the clock ….

    I am quite enjoying the Q&A diary …. very low level of commitment, works well for me!

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