Dear Diary: With Whom Can I Share My Deepest Secrets
This a question we have asked ourselves since our very first secret. Curiously, girls keep diaries, and boys do not; women share feelings easily with friends, while men struggle to talk about their feelings. Is keeping a mood journal useful?
My Love Affair with “Dear Diary”
Growing up, one of my favorite places was the stationery shop in the neighborhood shopping mall near my old apartment. I would always go up to the shelf with beautifully decorated notebooks adorned with a cute little lock that secured the pages. It was such an intriguing idea to imagine that I had secrets to put a lock on. Of course, I owned quite a handful of those little notebooks, the secret diaries.
I started penning down my daily activities with my small but growing grammar library in any decipherable language I knew. To give you some context, it would look something like that:
Dear Diary, (because that’s the professional diary entry opening!)
Today English spelling, I got 10/10; Mrs. Lee said I did well. I feel happy. I have to study for tomorrow’s Chinese mo 写; I’m not fond of it because Mr. Chong always talks too fast. Xiaoling gave me one candy during recess time; the candy was very nice. I like Xiaoling. I hope we can be best friends forever.
Thu, 23 May 1985
*mo 写 – The Chinese Hanyu pinyin for dictation; we often replace the Chinese character with Hanyu pinyin when we don’t remember how to write it.
My love affair with “Dear Diary” has been an on-and-off thing. It’s hard to tell if I started writing because I wanted to justify owning the pretty notebooks with a symbolic lock. Or that my desire to share my life with someone propelled me to hunt for the books. It may be a bidirectional motivation.
Different Modes of Expression
When I became older, I realized that I have different expression modes in which the focal point shifts with my coping abilities. For example, my verbal capabilities can be drastically compromised and crippled under immense stress, and it becomes relatively challenging for me to express myself vocally. I find myself releasing some emotions and rushing thoughts through drawings.
Credit: Tortoise and Roadrunner sketch by Lis Sun Crandall
Once, I drew a roadrunner riding on the back of a tortoise with conflicting mood expressions seen on the animals. The tortoise looks sad, and the roadrunner looks hyper-excited and impatient to charge off. I talked to people about depression and anxiety, and I realized that the opposing emotions make it extremely difficult for people to explain what it is like to be depressed and anxious simultaneously. Depression makes us uninterested in mostly everything, and time moves slower than we remember. On the other hand, anxiety is like a hyperactive kid that is all over the place, having sporadic thoughts in a split second. The image represents the internal struggle of two opposing energies arguing relentlessly. We express ourselves differently at different times and in different circumstances. We ought to find various ways to accommodate changing situations.
Some people use the diary to pen down ideas, short-term plans, and long-term goals. The advantage of writing down ideas and goals is that it serves as a form of reinforcement for our determination and a visual guide to progressing toward our goals. We will record the successes as well as the setbacks. We document our celebrations when we hit a milestone and write encouraging words to nurse our wounds when we bump into a hurdle.
Gender differences in journal keeping
When marinating in the writing ideas for this article, I anecdotally sought clarification if men and women felt the same way about and shared similar experiences in keeping a journal. It is interesting to note that boys generally do not keep diaries. In many ways, the marketing of pretty diaries with floral prints on the covers and pages has targeted girls. Boys would probably be mocked if they kept diaries decorated with a princessy touch. It would be interesting to observe if boys would be as expressive as girls if boys were encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings at a young age without fearing being shamed.
When we encourage children to write down their thoughts, we are helping the little ones to cultivate metacognition – to be aware of their thought processes. When they revisit their journal entries, they may develop renewed perspectives on an old idea or remember the initial formation of a specific emotion. Metacognition is like richening the internal structures of a young mind to think about what they think, how they think, and why they think it. This mental process will gradually be the transferred skills when understanding how others feel. When we prolong the thinking process (not too much, rumination can also be problematic), we also process the emotions accompanying the thoughts.
Clues from Pattern-Forming Habits
I was a quiet child with an active mind. While it was unintuitive to understand the confusing social cues, I found a compensatory coping strategy to help me understand the world and people – I recognize patterns, behavioral patterns, to be specific. Pattern recognition is one of the pivotal tools in cognitive psychology to interpret the meaning of repeated thoughts and behaviors, which often helps form the prediction of future responses.
Some may have heard psychotherapists or counselors ask people to keep a mood journal. A mood journal helps us keep some form of record of our feelings and changing moods. The snippets of information for each entry can be crucial in answering critical questions about what makes us feel the way we do and how we can recreate the positive emotions and mitigate the less desired ones. I firmly believe in documenting positive and negative moods to identify pattern-forming behaviors, which can be helpful to reinforce or cease specific outcomes.
The Birth of Digital Mood Journal (with a Dramatic Twist)
As adults, some of us with a professional image to upkeep may not feel comfortable keeping a physical diary. If you were as dramatic as I, you would be gravely concerned that a physical diary can expose the vulnerability of your deepest secrets if it were in the hands of the unintended – isn’t that how all the horrors of the darkest secrets get leaked in the movies? That is why we now have a digital mood journal! (Maybe that’s not the only reason why we have a digital mood journal)
A digital mood journal is gender-friendly; no one needs to know you are keeping one as long as you keep your device protected. One of the most advantageous reasons to keep a digital journal is a quick visual reference to how we are doing over some time. For example, referencing the image of the mood journal for May 2020, I could quickly see that I have more green and purple circles, which roughly means that my averaging moods for May were happy and pleasant. Orange and red are the less desired emotions, such as anxiousness and anger, so we may want to study those too. We could click on a particular date to review the entries and see if there are common themes that result in anxious and angry moods.
Keeping a digital mood journal is similar to maintaining a fitness diary. We keep a fitness diary to track our food intake and exercise routine and review the regime’s effectiveness in meeting our fitness goals. Similarly, keeping a mood journal is not only for intervention but also for maintaining our overall mental well-being.
(This article was originally published on CARA Unmask website, dated Aug 03, 2020)
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