Journals, and Diaries, and Letters, Oh My!

(Apologies for the lack of links in this post, but you can find all of these books on Amazon.)

The last few months have been a dry desert when it comes to reading. One of the stabbing pains of depression, for me, is the inability to lose myself in a book. I grew up reading. I always had my nose in a book, always. To me, it is the ultimate panacea, to be able to open a book and lose yourself in another world. And especially when you are sick, or sad, or life seems stale and dusty. You can go anywhere, do anything, be with anyone, just by diving into a book. But major depression affects your cognitive processes so severely, that it is impossible to concentrate on anything. Even the gentlest plot, such as you might find ina classic childrens book, becomes too tortuous to follow. It’s distressing and demoralising.

That’s when things are at their very worst. But time passes, and you start to make the long, slow journey back up from the depths, towards the surface again. Reading is now difficult, but not impossible. You can slip between the covers of books that you’ve read so often that you know them almost by heart. You can read gentle little books that don’t tax the imagination or the intellect. This is the point at which I rediscovered the joys of diaries & letters.

For a start, there’s no plot to concentrate on. You can slip into another world, a different time, someone else’s life and thoughts and heart. That is escapism at it’s best. In diaries you get to see intimately how other people think, when they let their guard down, the real them. This is extremely interesting, and comforting too, because it puts your own problems and feelings into the perspective. Humanity’s history has been filled with people who are just like you and me, even if they only showed that to their private journal.

L.M.Montgomery is a case in point. Judging by her books, you would think her to be a dreamy, optimistic, fun-loving, romantic soul. In actual fact she was tortured by years of depression, anxiety, and suffering. She had the most prosaic attitude to love and marriage, and freely admitted that although she was fond of her husband, she was not, and never had been, in love with him. She tended to be gloomy, and rather dramatic. And for someone who was so talented at drawing character portraits that lived and breathed in her many books, she certainly disliked people! She shrank from company, and found socialising exhausting and trialsome. She was obviously very effective at hiding her real self from the outer world, but her extensive journals were her vent, a place where she could be alone and truly herself.

Some of the diaries & journals that I have been reading, or am about to embark upon reading, are:

L.M.Montgomery; Fanny Burney; Anna Cabot Lowell Quincy; Virginia Woolf; Alison Uttley, Beatrix Potter; Barbara Pym; Joyce Grenfell; Louisa May Alcott; Lucy Peel; James Milne-Lee.

Reading collections of letters is a pleasure of a slightly different sort. I’m not so keen on the collections that include letters from two parties, such as Joyce Grenfell & Virginia Graham. I like to stick with one writer’s voice, and really get inside their head. Letters are less introspective but more entertaining. Some of the ones that I have read, or have on my to-read pile are:

Emily Eden; Sylvia Plath; Virginia Woolf; Joyce Grenfell; Emily Dickinson (she is utterly charming – how can you not love someone who writes to a friend: Always I have a chair for you in the smallest parlor in the world, to wit, my heart.

When you add to this the fact that diary and letter collections tend to be fat juicy volumes, you can imagine how large my current reading list is! I’ve had to make room for a whole new shelf, just to hold them all. This is the problem when life forces you to take a reading break: you tend to go on rather a binge afterwards to make up for it. If you have any recommendations to add to my list, do let me know!

I still have a huge pile of Anthony Gilbert mysteries to work my way through as well, but those will have to wait until my brain is functioning a little better than it is at the moment. Until then, you’ll find me dipping in and out (another plus, you can have several volumes on the go at once, and not lose track of plots or characters!) of other people’s worlds and lives. It’s fascinating stuff.

And it’s inspired me to start writing regularly in this blog again. I used to love writing my blog, I wrote it almost like a private journal, talking about whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. But then, during a time of trouble, I became aware that people in my personal life were reading the blog, and analysing and criticising it, and that took away all the joy of creativity, and made me feel stifled and uncomfortable. I tried to continue, but more circumspectly, but as a result, my words withered up and eventually died.

But I’ve come to terms with it now. I know that I’m something of an oddity. I am fierce when it comes to protecting my privacy in reality, and yet I’m happy to share my deepest feelings and thoughts in writing. I suppose that the act of writing gives me a sense of distance. But then it makes me uncomfortable when real life acquaintances speak to me about what I’ve written. That feels intrusive. Which it isn’t, since I’ve voluntarily opened up my soul in a public place.

What can I say, I’m a complex thing!

But when it comes down to it, I’m only truly happy and at peace when I’m writing. I’m able to express myself far better in written words than even in private thought. The act of writing seems to unlock my deepest thoughts, and I’m often surprised by realisations that emerge as I write. In my darkest moments, when the depression has such a tight grip that I am literally unable to speak a sentence, even to Tony, and my thoughts are a black hole of whirling nothingness, I seem to be able to access sense and articulation only by writing. So it is essential to me to write, I can’t exist without it.

As you can tell by this week’s splurge of posts, my blogging mojo is back, and then some. I am determined to be true to myself, to speak authentically without fear of criticism or analysis. As well as blogging, I have decided to start a private journal, for no one’s eyes, not even my own (meaning that I am resolved not to read back over what I have written – the thing that has sounded the death knoll for every journal I have started and lapsed with in the past). I am letting go of all my preconceptions for both journals, the private and the public. I will write what I want to, when I want to, how I want to. A journal is a creative thing just as much as any other written form, and should be allowed to grow and falter and change, as we do ourselves. Don’t you think?

4 thoughts on “Journals, and Diaries, and Letters, Oh My!

  1. Oh cool, my mother is friends with one of the editors of the LMM journals.

    For me, one of the things I lose when my brain’s not working right is the ability to do word puzzles. It’s quite frustrating.

  2. Have you thought of trying fictional diaries? I’m mostly thinking Diary of a Provincial Lady but I bet there are others that are fun.

  3. I’m sure you have tried everything for your depression and know better than I what works for you. I would like to mention, however, my doctor put me on “deplin” L-METHYLFOLATE 7.5 mg a day along with my depression meds. It was a 90 day prescription and I’m nearly done with the 90 days. I was prescribed this mostly because I’m anemic but also because it’s supposed to help with depression. Well, I have no idea if it has helped the anemia, but it HAS helped the depression. It has taken the screaming edge off. The “hanging by my nails, crying over nothing” episodes seem to be a thing of the past. I AM PLEASED, needless to say. I still have my black cloud with me and it sometimes settles on me but I don’t want to kill myself. You might consider this. It is by prescription but is not a medication – rather a vitamin, I guess – so my insurance doesn’t cover it. I thought it was expensive – $96.00 for 90 days – but, contrary to what I thought at first, it may just be worth the cost. Live well. Ruth