How many times have you gone to write something, and just not known where to start? There are so many places to start, it’s hard to just pick one word or thought. And as you stare longer and longer at the blank page, the more crippled you feel – and the words in your mind seem to disappear.
This is not writer's block. It’s that our busy minds are too noisy to find focus. And as an anxiety sufferer, this is exactly how I’ve felt for years when I’ve tried to keep a journal.
Journaling was prescribed to me back in 2008 after I suffered a mental breakdown. I’d lost my mum to suicide two years before that and had never dealt with my chaotic childhood of living with a bipolar mum.
Instead, from the age of 5, I was told by mum to never tell anyone what was going on at home. Especially my dad. They were no longer together and mum wanted to keep her life private from everyone. But the promise I made had a deep and long-lasting effect on me. Not talking meant not expressing how I felt. A nd as I got older and mums condition stayed undiagnosed and got more erratic – I locked up my emotions even further, eventually becoming emotionally numb to everything.
So in my mid-teens, I turned to drugs and alcohol. I was pretty much stoned throughout all of secondary school. And by the age of 18, I overdosed one night after partying too hard following a suicide attempt by mum. Several more attempts later and she finally succeeding in ending her life in November 2005, when I was 19.
It took me until April 2008 to finally seek help. By then I was utterly broken. No longer functioning as a human being – I could barely eat, sleep or talk.
But when I did eventually make it into therapy and I sat there in the counsellor's chair, I didn’t really know what to say. I’d not spoken to anyone about the things that had been happening for all those years with mum. Because she told me not to. And just because she was dead didn’t make any difference. Mum was a terrifying person. Don’t get me wrong, she was incredible and the most loving mum you could ever imagine. But the bipolar side to her was this extremely intense, paranoid and sad person that had no relation to who she really was.
Not knowing how she would be from one day to the next meant you lived in fear of this alternative side of her being unleashed.
So sitting there in therapy and being asked to talk was one of the most uncomfortable things I’d experienced. It felt disloyal and I was paranoid that mum would find out. So I skirted about the issues, gave top level facts about the suicide attempts but sat there waiting for my therapist to fix me.
Turns out that’s not how therapy works. It requires talking – a key part that was far from normal for me.
With this in mind, my therapist prescribed journaling and it literally changed my entire life. Nine years on and I’m still going strong, with my journal by my side through all the things that life throws at me.
But I’ve never found it easy. Finding the time, the words and the feelings is a huge barrier for me even now.
The amazing thing about counseling is that it’s a lot like having a personal trainer at the gym. They provide the workout, you just have to do the work. They lead the session and keep pushing you to say more, do more, try harder. You just have to be there and provide the effort.
With a journal though, it’s just you and the page. You have to do all the work yourself.
So after researching and trying to find a journal that would help me to write – and not being able to find one, I knew it was something I had to create. Being a de3 signer helped but knowing what I wanted from a guided journal helped even more.
After 6 months of designing and testing, me and my girlfriend launched Mind- Journal on Kickstarter in February 2016 – the world’s first guided journal just for men. And it blew up.
Now over a year later, MindJournal has helped thousands of guys from all over the world kickstart their journaling habit. And the reason it works so well is that every time you go to write, you always have something to say. MindJournal has been designed with a carefully created writing program.
The program is compiled of 30 exercises that start off relatively easy and get tougher and tougher the more you work through the journal. Every exercise also provides you with an opportunity to check in with how you’re feeling and there’s motivation from me every step of the way.
The reason it’s such a powerful tool is because it works. Us guys rarely like to talk about our feelings or what’s on our minds. And that’s OK, as long as you’re still looking after yourself. MindJournal is there when guys either don’t want to talk or are unable to do so – providing them with a space to privately look after themselves.
My name is Ollie Aplin and I’m the creator of MindJournal. You can find out more about the movement, along with the new edition of the journal over at www.mindjournals.com.
If you’ve been affected by anything I’ve written or you’re looking for help — the guys over at The CALM Zone offer amazing support for men no matter what they’re going through.