Men have put personal thoughts to paper for several centuries now, producing everything from great novels to embarrassing diary entries. Here’s why I began the practice of journalling and how it made me a better ally to myself
By Sharan Sanil
There’s a curious video from 2022 where Hugh Jackman — the Aussie gigachad himself — breaks down a surprisingly delicate recount of his experience with personal journals. “It was a bit of homework, and I sort of went, ‘Journaling, ugh,’” admitted the X-Men star. “And now every morning I do it, obsessively, because I realised how stunted I was… I would write ‘confused’ a lot, and my therapist said, “Confused: That’s a red flag.”
Apart from smirking to myself at how much Jackman probably paid his therapist to tell him that being ‘confused’ is bad, there was a bit of self-care gold in his shrink’s key advice, which was to simply begin every journal entry with the words ‘I feel.’
This seemingly benign advice resonated deeply with my own practice of journalling, which has seen me fill a total of four 200-page hardbound notebooks over the last decade. I’ve fondly preserved these over the years with a mixture of embarrassment and pride — sometimes finding myself leafing through angst-riddled early entries, which morphed from hastily scribbled rants to brutally honest letters addressed to my deepest insecurities. Between these pages, I found a safe space that was connected to personal traumas, both felt and inflicted, along with the occasional stab at poetry and on particularly bad days, side-eyed oneliners about the futility of love, work, life and everything in between.
Jackman’s shrink touched upon an important truth for young men today, especially those of us who feel lost and anchorless. ‘I feel’ can be a deceptively challenging place to start in a world where men are constantly fed narratives — across all sides of the socio-political spectrum — that seek their approval, money, time and effort. Add in the moral failures of traditional masculinity, and you get a ton of unresolved guilt and anger. Most men are conditioned into clamping down on these feelings, sometimes for decades, often damaging their mental health and relationships in the process, too.
With nowhere left to listen to itself, the male psyche can often feel like TV static — amorphous, dissonant, and like Jackman succinctly puts it, confused. We carry around these narratives like a metaphorical boulder of Sisyphus, weighing us down with the opinions of everyone from our co-workers to Kanye West, packing millions of perspectives into a mind that should — at least ideally — reserve space for ourselves first and foremost.
It is this phenomenon that journalling aims to fight against, as a way of reclaiming our headspace and asserting our perspectives in a safe, healthy, and necessarily private manner. We all carry violence, pain, fear, and regret inside. And sometimes, finding an external place to put all of it down, can serve as an incredibly powerful opportunity to confront personal demons and heal ourselves. (Hell, if Wolverine can take a moment each day to pen down his feelings, maybe we all should take a hint.)
Photo by Edu Giorni
Like any quest of self exploration, developing a journalling habit largely requires two things that men often find difficult: lowering their expectations of themselves and subsequently, lowering emotional barriers. The former simply means that rather than producing a page or two of literary genius, sometimes, even sitting in front of a blank canvas can count as progress. Many entries of mine have simply taken the form of a single question, a doodle, a date and timestamp — an admission that while I may not have words, I certainly have feelings. And I have taken the time to feel them. It takes persistence and humility, but I promise; a moment of selfawareness can quickly grow into an idea, an idea into a sentence, and a sentence into a deeper exploration of oneself. In my experience, the first sentence is always the most difficult one. Even if it isn’t the most honest statement. Just resist the temptation to erase and rewrite what you’ve written, and you’ll be golden.
The latter is a bit more complex and varies greatly from person to person. Some people find it easier to develop a keener emotional radar by finding the right journaling medium, which can be a time-consuming, but rewarding process once you discover what works for you. Some prefer apps while others like good-old pen and paper; some write poetry, some prefer letters in the familiar ‘Dear Diary’ format, others need bullet points, and some even enjoy writing short stories or drawing cartoons, adding an lement of artistic expressiveness.
If you’re averse to writing or are just having a bit of a writer’s block, a good way to kickstart the process is finding a quiet, private space and recording a conversation with yourself, or even imagine having a chat with a trusted friend. This takes the edge off and allows you to explore forming thoughts at a more natural pace. While all of us may not be comfortable with writing, we certainly have a lot more practice with idle chatting — a tool that can be used to explore frustration, anxiety, insecurity and even the deeper nuances of happiness and humour.
Perhaps the most unique and mysterious thing about journaling becomes apparent after sticking to the practice for a few months. Over time, your entries will paint a three-dimensional picture of your psyche, allowing you to revisit not just old memories, but old states of mind as well. I can’t think of any other pastime that offers such an opportunity, and through some persistence, it’s allowed me to interact with my own past in an eye opening way. Many entries don’t make much sense when they’re written, but can offer a depth of self-knowledge when revisited in the future. And this can subsequently help contextualise mental health issues such as low self-worth or resentment for loved ones in healthier, more forgiving ways. Often, an old entry might dredge up suppressed emotions that can fuel a new journal entry, and pull thoughts away from our heads and onto our pages.
There’s a certain beauty and strength to building a vocabulary around your life — good times and bad — after all, no one will ever be able to tell your story better than yourself.
Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com