Notes To Self: One STELLAR Writer Rediscovers Her Lost Habit Of Writing A Diary

Niamh Devereux revisits her teenage notebooks.

When I was last “down home”, rummaging around my old bedroom for lost treasure, I came across some scribblings from my teenage years. No, not my lovelorn letter to Busted that I never ended up posting (although that was also uncovered) but my secondary school diaries, all three of them.

There was the small, striped hardback, the pages of which I filled with glittery gel pen, detailing a breathlessly exciting holiday romance, eye-rolls over nagging teachers and nights of sneaky underage naggins. There was the floppy fuchsia pink notepad, where I professed my love for a different boy what seemed like every week – I may as well have written ‘Niamh 4 (fill space in here)’, it was such a common sight.

There were passages on petty drama with friends, worries about school subjects and how my family were driving me mad (“my parents are ruining my life” was declared more than once, in what I now read with an exaggerated Paris Hilton-esque accent). And then there was the sophisticated, leather-bound book, that wouldn’t look out of place from a Harry Potter scene in Dumbledore’s office. A gift from my first serious boyfriend and first love, who featured heavily throughout, it also contained my fears for the looming Leaving Cert, insecurities about my looks, hopes for getting into college, and, eventually, heartbreak over breaking up with said boy.

It was a revelation, reading back over these pages and pages of the innermost thoughts of teenage me. It was like a snapshot into a time in my life that feels alien to me now, yet when I read back over the rambling descriptions of the latest guy I fancied or the reason why I had made the decision to NEVER talk to a certain friend ever again (that probably lasted the whole of 48 hours), I was brought right back.

I could vividly picture myself curled up in my fluffy pyjamas with the gold gel pen, frantically writing my rushing thoughts down as if I couldn’t pour them out quick enough. My handwriting most definitely reflects this; at times it mirrors the kind of signature you scribble down for a courier as you snatch up your ASOS parcel.

My discovery got me thinking about how, after so many years of documenting my feelings, my experiences, the mundanities of my school-going days… I just stopped. No longer did I reach for a pad and pen when I nestled up at night. And it’s only now do I realise what a shame that is.

See, as well as reminding me of hilarious stories or situations from my younger years that I might have otherwise forgotten (like the time I was banned from our local cinema for sneaking into Borat, then tried to get back over the following weeks by wearing glasses as a ‘disguise’. It was actually quite the stressful dilemma when I was 16) the diaries served as a reminder of how far I’ve come; how much I’ve grown. I can follow, in my own words, some of my most significant journeys; that especially painful first heartbreak, those seemingly end-of- the-world friend fall-outs, or the *actually* apocalyptic LC. And they show how I came out the other end stronger, and (hopefully!) wiser.

In hindsight, I would like to be able to read back over my college years, with all their messiness and imperfections; the tales of €4 bottles of Tesco wine-led parties, Koka noodle dinners and last minute assignments, pacing my teeny campus bedroom at 3.30am as I tried to reference an entire paper off the top of my head. But also to revisit the years that I learned how to fend for myself, the beginnings of my deeply independent nature, a trait I now hold with pride.

I also wish that I’d journalled when I secured my first exciting magazine role. Yes, I have the Instagram pictures of some thrilling moments, but that’s all social media is, really: a highlights reel. I want to read passages of the early starts and long nights that I put in, of the times I felt like I wasn’t good enough, that I considered throwing in the towel. When you look back, and recall how vividly you felt these kinds of emotions, yet persevered and ended up where you are now… that’s when you realise just how resilient you truly are.

As renowned writer Joan Didion noted in her essay On Keeping A Notebook, the practice of journalling is essentially all about keeping in touch with yourself, whether it’s in your past, present or future. To some, the whole idea may seem incredibly self-indulgent, and it might feel more than a little cringeworthy. But, the benefits go far beyond charting your journey; of fleshing out all the mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned.

Psychotherapist Maud Purcell says that diary keeping forces our minds to be calm, for example. “Writing about our thoughts and feelings triggers an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, and once this area is activated, a more primitive part of the brain related to strong emotions and images becomes relaxed,” she explains. She adds that the practice is so cathartic, because when we write, for our eyes only, it is filter-free.

“Our online selves are totally curated but people are more honest in a diary and there are huge benefits to that,” Maud says. It’s true – you’d never share what’s really on your mind on Twitter for fear of coming off neurotic or melodramatic; you may not even share it with loved ones. But in your journal, you can be as gloriously self-centred as you like about any problems, big or small. Having your very own space to do that, with zero judgement… it’s liberating, and incredibly empowering.

Joan Didion

In fact, Jennifer Aniston has supposedly kept a diary since the age of 13, and her way of dealing with things like having boyfriend issues, is putting it down on paper before having a discussion in person. That way, she always has the upper hand in fights – and there’s nothing more empowering than being fully in control of your feelings.

With all this in mind, I’ve started to record my life on paper once again. Like every new habit, it didn’t click into place straight away, and I don’t think it’ll ever be something I commit to daily – ain’t nobody got time for that. But, when I do settle down to channel my inner Bridget Jones, I’ve started somewhat of a ritual. Cup of builder’s tea in front of me, my record player crackling in the background, I pick up my pen and vent, rant, share my anxieties, jot down an idea, set a goal, make a note of something kind someone said on my lunch break, ramble on about a particularly cute dog I saw on my way home.

It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, whether it’s emotional or trivial. I’m aware now of the beauty in preserving memories, thoughts and feelings, whether they’re bright and shiny or ugly and shameful. It sounds like a lot of commitment, and in a way, it is. But if you make it a priority, a notebook for €1.50 in Dealz might just be the cheapest therapy you’ll ever buy.