Journaling has saved me more than once. As a result, I learned a great deal about just how healing journaling can be; many ways to keep a journal—the good and not-so-good; and the proven benefits resulting from a regular practice of writing about one’s thoughts and feelings. Along the way, I realized that sharing this knowledge with others so they could harness it for themselves was the calling I had been searching for my entire life. In service of this calling, I became a certified journal facilitator (CJF).
When I became a CJF in 2011, I looked back and saw how following my heart and my curiosity had brought me to this new work, blessed by many synchronicities and much grace along the way.
In the early 1990s, I struggled to escape from a stressful corporate job that left me with depression and growing physical problems. I began journaling in earnest during these years and often wrote pages daily. I had no particular aim in mind other than to vent and wring my hands, so to speak, about how horrible my job was and how I felt stuck there—not a very healthy strategy, but I didn’t know any better then. Fortunately, in early 1994, I liberated myself to become a freelance writer, which I continued doing successfully until 2011. I continued journaling occasionally while learning more effective, healthier ways to do it, often guided by Kathleen Adams’ Journal to the Self: Twenty-two Paths to Personal Growth and other journaling books.
Yet not until early 2004 did I first experience how truly restorative and therapeutic journaling can be. Exactly nine months after my marriage to Ken, a hit-and-run driver left him with a serious traumatic brain injury. Instantly, I became his caregiver—a task I lovingly accepted but which eventually left me diagnosed with secondary traumatic stress (cousin to post-traumatic stress).
The day after the accident, I knew I needed a safe, nonjudgmental place to release my thoughts and feelings, and instinctively I turned once again to journaling, often several times a day. In those pages, I could simply pour out whatever I needed to release and express—fear, panic, questions, anger, and love—as well as keeping track of what was happening to Ken and to me. The counselor who diagnosed me with secondary traumatic stress said to keep writing—it was good for me, she said. So I did, and it was. As Ken very slowly returned mostly to his old self, eventually I was able to celebrate more often in my journal.
Learning more about brain injury and what it can do to individuals and their families led me several years later to one of those life-changing, light-bulb moments: I realized that people with brain injury, who often face huge, involuntary changes in their lives, could benefit from writing down and exploring their thoughts and feelings about what was happening to them. With great good fortune, I was able to create and lead a journaling program for people with brain injury at a rehab hospital in Tucson, Ariz., where we then lived. This program lasted from late 2007 into early 2011, when Ken retired and we moved to Southern Indiana. At another rehab hospital there, I continued offering a journaling program for people with brain injury through 2016, as well as another one for family caregivers. Over the years, I have presented various journaling programs for state Brain Injury Association/ Alliance conferences, the National Guard Bureau and the Arizona National Guard, people with cancer, equine-facilitated therapeutic groups, Ivy Tech Community College, University of Southern Indiana, and elsewhere.
In 2009, I wrote After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, the acclaimed first (and so-far only) journaling book for people with brain injury. Around that same time, I realized how much the people in my groups had inspired me with their courage and honesty, and I determined to become the best journaling coach I could. That decision led me to the Center for Journal Therapy, where I became certified in Kathleen Adams’ Journal to the Self® program. While there, I learned I learned about Adams’ newly established program for certified journal facilitators and soon signed up. In 2011, I was certified.
Today, I present online and in-person journaling workshops under the umbrella of my principle program, A Living, Breathing Story: Journaling to Discover Your Empowered Self. I am also a faculty member of the online Therapeutic Writing Institute, write occasional columns for my local newspaper, and every now and then appear on a local lifestyle show to talk about journaling. (See Media for more on this.)