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The New Kind of Journal My Therapist Recommended

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Two years ago, when my therapist thought we were almost done working together, I was terrified. How was I supposed to be OK on my own? What would help me when I was depressed?

Often, one of the goals of therapy is to work on answers to those questions. But truthfully, we hadn’t really done that. When I got depressed, my answer was typically “well it’ll be OK, because I see a therapist. That’s how depression is treated.”

Which is true, therapy can help treat depression, but being in therapy doesn’t mean you can’t get depressed.

Anyway, I told him I was terrified. I told him I didn’t trust myself to be OK. So he told me to write a journal for myself. (I already journal daily and he knew this. I was confused.) But this wasn’t any journal, this was more of a blueprint for life. It’s goal was to help me answer the questions: how would I be OK on my own? What do I need in my life?

I immediately found an empty journal and got to work. I choose a journal without lines and with smaller pages than normal. Then, I decided that each page would have a different topic. I would start by brainstorming ideas for those lists, and I would add to them over time.

This book isn’t something I look at often, but every time I do I learn something. It reminds me what I need in my life and what to do when I’m struggling. When I have to make big decisions or am at a transition point in my life, I check that it aligns with the things I need in my life. If it doesn’t, I try to find ways to add them in. It also has sections that are more for times when I’m specifically struggling, that tell me concrete things I can do.

Here are some of the topics of the pages (and some examples of things I wrote):

  • Things that make me smile: planting garlic, watching videos of fainting goats, running in the rain
  • Things I need to do: journal everyday, volunteer, go outside
  • Things I can’t do: watch Netflix, tell lies
  • Growing: talk to new people, do things that scare you, learn new skills
  • Values to live by: compassion, honesty, gratitude

Then I made sections for what “well-being” looks like in these areas of my life:

  • Emotional: trust yourself, see your friends, set boundaries and follow them
  • Physical: exercise in a way you enjoy, eat real food, take naps
  • Career: work with people you like, be yourself at work, challenge yourself

As you can probably tell, my goal on these lists is not to be vague, and not to give myself useless rules to follow. It’s to think about the things that actually matter to me. Not the things that “should” make me happy, but the things that I can’t help but smile at. The internet can always give you lists of “self-care ideas” or “things to improve your life,” but you probably know better what works for you.

I hope you make a book of your own. Make it personal and don’t feel like it ever has to be finished. My book is always growing and changing as my values and experiences change. Do you have similar lists for yourself? What else would you include?

Getty image by Anastasia Malachi

Originally published: April 28, 2021
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