It’s safe to say that the last nine months have been chaotic, to put it mildly. Unpredictable. Borderline apocalyptic and dystopian. This inevitably leads to brief periods of respite, which for a short time is euphoric. Then, reality is shattered once more. This cycle has become our collective new normal, but it occasionally feels like I’m drowning. My life jacket has been this black journal, which seems to hold the key to my sanity. Having a safe space to grieve and mourn, to dream and express exhilaration, and to process the unpredictability of life has allowed me to keep my head above water.
Pre-pandemic, on some level I felt indestructible. There had never been a problem that I was unable to solve, nor a challenge I had not overcome. I felt secure. No matter how stressed out or hopeless I felt with school, work, or any sort of relationship there was never a point where I felt truly at the mercy of whatever cosmic force was moving my life in whatever path I was destined to take. I had a firm grip on reality. I felt like I had the power to bend fate to my will, as I had apparently done for seventeen years. Life owed me a certain happiness and was indebted to provide me sanctuary.
This philosophy began to splinter on March 13, 2020. The stress of junior year was reaching a boiling point. One of my best friends was having a really hard time in college and we probably would not be able to see each other over spring break, which was really sad. This twinge of panic I had been suppressing for months about COVID-19 was becoming harder to control, and of course, Poudre School District had just decided to give students an extra week of spring break.
This news should have provided me with some relief. After all, it was an extra week to calm down and recuperate before my SAT and ACT tests, but I am naturally a pessimist. I quietly preparing myself for online school. However, I had always taken comfort in my pessimism because no matter how bad I imagined things could get, they never reached the levels of dismay that I had conceived.
That night I went grocery shopping with a great friend, my old Editor in Chief, who had managed to make it back from college before the snow closed the roads. We confided in each other about our growing fears about the spiraling economy, the virus, and we joked about how upset I would be if I couldn’t see this boy over spring break if everything shut down. The gravity of the situation still had not hit me yet. After all, I was owed certain kindnesses.
My last day of normalcy was March 15, 2020. I went over to Anna Henning’s house to watch Jurassic Park, eat some junk food, and meet some friends at Alley Cat. Nothing was out of the ordinary. We ate a shared cinnamon roll and drank Honey Buzz lattes. I snuggled into my friends’ arms and felt my anxiety begin to melt away. There was nothing I could not handle. I had everything under control.
This was a lie. I had been telling myself this little lie for weeks, but it was unable to diffuse my growing sense of dread.
The next day, March 16, 2020, the Dow Jones fell by 2,997; the largest drop in history. Colorado announced it would be shutting down all restaurants, bars, theaters, and gyms. On March 17, 2020, this went into effect. Grocery stores were empty, gun sales skyrocketed, my anxiety piqued. The world held its breath.
Over the next couple of weeks, things got worse. I watched in horror as the President of the United States used racist and xenophobic language when describing the virus. I watched the stock market fall. I watched people slip into poverty. I watched people die as the official death toll rose. I watched our reality crumble. For the first time in my life, I was unable to solve a problem. There was literally nothing I could do to protect myself or my loved ones, and this feeling of acute vulnerability had started to take its toll.
I was hardly sleeping or eating. Watching my pessimistic view of the world manifest as reality was genuinely scary. I could feel myself losing control, and I was forced to helplessly watch the life I had built for myself disintegrate. 2020 was supposed to be my year. I had been accepted into a Pre-Law program at Yale, I was on track to have an internship for journalism, my family was going to travel to Europe for the first time. My friends and I had planned for so many concerts and road trips. I was going to be a senior. I was on the cusp of truly starting my life. I felt happy. I had so much to look forward to. The rage I felt when this was suddenly taken away from me because of something I could not control was unmatched.
Then my rage melted away into sadness. All of those big events I was looking forward to could still happen in the future, but all of the small things I took for granted really began haunting me. I was becoming very aware of what felt like wasted time. I missed my friends, who truly are my whole heart. I missed my Grandma and all of her hugs. I missed taking a quick trip to Target after school with my brother, just because we could. My heart was hurting, and I was unsure of how to fix it.
My sadness eventually dissipated, but it was replaced by harsh truths that I did not know how to handle. For the first time I was forced to relinquish control, and because of this, I had time to truly reflect: Nothing in life is guaranteed. Life does not owe me happiness and security. My life is just an awkward combination of hard work, dumb luck, and privilege. I was unsure of how to process all of my new truths. I was still rather angry and sad, and this new philosophy had changed the way I interacted with the world.
I felt overwhelmed. I could feel that I was starting to come undone. I panicked that I no longer had any control, and I was worried I was never going to regain it. I was starting to drown.
Then, on May 2, 2020, I had stumbled upon an unused black Moleskin journal in a random drawer in my house. I decided to just jot some things down that were on my mind, but it ended up being seven pages of rambling anxieties mixed with angst and the occasional glimmer of hope. Everything that had happened over the last couple of months exploded into this little book, and the weight of the world was lifted off of my shoulders.
It’s hard to explain the sense of immediate relief I felt. I had opened my heart, I unlocked every shred of uneasiness I had been hiding away for months, and poured it into paper. I had been completely honest with myself. I was not smiling so others would not worry, I was not diluting my truth so others could stomach it. I felt free. I could keep my head above water, all thanks to this little journal.
Everything that has happened since May of 2020 has been equally crazy as everything that happened in March and April of 2020. The only difference is my journal. No matter how unhinged, sad, scary, or chaotic something has been, writing it down makes it seem manageable.
The process of physically writing something really forces me to slow down and organize my thoughts. When I slow down and really evaluate, I process everything in a healthy way. I am able to give myself context for my discomfort or dissect my joy. Journaling has regiven me a sense of control. Not necessarily control over my life—as that is uncontrollable—but now I feel like I can control my reaction to whatever comes my way.
I try to write a single page everyday right before I go to bed. At the top of each page, I write the date and the time I started writing. It feels like I am able to put everything to rest. I have literally put all of my troubles out of my mind, into a little book, where I can leave my anxieties on my shelf. I have a place to express all of my hopes for the future. I have a place to express my gratitude. I have made a space for myself to be introspective without any judgment. Taking the time every day to reflect makes me feel like I’ve found some sort of comfort in chaos. That feels wildly empowering.
Journaling has made 2020 bearable, and if something so simple can make this year manageable, I wholeheartedly recommend it.