Journaling: A Path to Greater Clarity and Compassion
May 20, 2021
B. Lynn Goodwin adored her mother, a woman of tremendous beauty and wit who fought “tooth and nail” for years to hide the fact that her mind was degenerating. When she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the mid-‘90s, Goodwin was stunned. At that time there were few places caregivers could turn to for support.
Goodwin began journaling to cope with feelings of isolation and guilt, and with the anger she felt toward her mom and at times toward herself. A former teacher of English and drama, Goodwin is now a writing coach and the author of You Want Me to Do What? Journaling for Caregivers and two other books.
She will host a special webinar on journaling for Family Caregiver Alliance on May 26 at 11 a.m. PST. As Goodwin likes to say, “If you write, you’re a writer.” The webinar is open to everyone who is willing to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Register online.
Below is a Q&A with Goodwin about the nature of journaling, its benefits, and how it can help family caregivers.
What is journaling, exactly?
Journaling is the process of using free writing to get deeper into what you really want to say. If you don’t want to write something, write it anyway! That way your thoughts don’t get negated before you get them out. There are no mistakes, only new material.
How does free writing differ from other types of writing?
Free writing is not intended to be shared. It is unfiltered and has no structure. You might be writing about one thing and dig deeper and deeper until you get to why you’re writing about it. You may find yourself at an opening, a portal into worlds you don’t often verbalize.
You argue that journaling can help one find the meaning and purpose in caregiving.
Yes. For each of us, what we have done in life has meaning and what we hope to do has meaning. Journaling allows you to step back, confide in yourself, and find your purpose in relation to caregiving. And on the toughest days, journaling can reacquaint you with your own sanity.
What effect did your mom’s diagnosis have on you?
It was like I entered an hourglass that was very narrow in the middle and I came out the other side into a world I had never imagined. I began to understand that with Alzheimer’s, some connections in the brain vanish. Others remain intact.My mother was conscious of this and she was scared. I became more compassionate.
How did you know when you needed to journal?
When I felt a lot of negative emotions. I had a lot of guilt and self-doubt. Of course I could not “fix” Alzheimer’s, but when things were going poorly I tended to blame myself. Journaling helped me see things more clearly and gain healthy distance from difficult emotions.
I was also able to realize that my mom was treating me like a child because of a dysfunction in her brain. And that was on her, not on me. I could not control her behavior, but I could control the way I responded to it.
What happens in your journaling workshop?
The workshop is a time for participants to try journaling. I ask everyone to read over what they’ve written and highlight two or three lines that have energy for them. These are the places where to go deeper. I also try to help participants to recognize their strengths as a writer.
What are your favorite journaling prompts for caregivers?
Today I want…
Today I need…
What I really want to say is…
Can you generalize about some of the themes that tend to emerge in journaling by caregivers?
Many times, the person being cared for doesn’t want to need your help. And caregivers, too, often have a level of resentment that they would really rather hide. Journaling is a safe way to let it escape and to arrive at a place of acceptance.
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