How journaling got me through the pandemic lockdowns

Pen and paper prove to be my best tools that help untangle my thoughts and emotions

I’ve always had the impression that creative journals, like travel journals, have to have beautifully drawn illustrations: a cup of coffee with a plate of cookies on the side, perfectly outlined and shaded to depict what one had for an afternoon snack;. or a vignette of an idyllic cabin in the woods, drawn in carefully layered strokes of pen and dreamy watercolor. 

I knew I could never come up with such fabulous spreads because I can’t draw a straight line even if my life depended on it (wait, do stick figures count?). So, I became content with just browsing Pinterest for inspiration. Until one day, out of curiosity and this intense desire to do something new during the lockdown, I searched YouTube for a tutorial. Behold, a revelation: Drawing skills aren’t a prerequisite to putting together a decent journal spread. All I need are just a few materials and an open mind to try new things.

Journaling as therapy

I credit journaling for helping me keep my sanity during the tougher months of the pandemic lockdown. There was only so much I could do within the walls of a modest condo unit. While I’m used to staying and working from home, getting holed up for days on end was a totally different story. Cabin fever became very real, so being able to do something new became some form of therapy.   

Writing on the first few pages of my journal was my attempt at coming to terms with my (everyone’s) new reality. I purged all my negative feelings, transposing them with the help of a pen and paper. To some extent, this exercise helped me process my thoughts in a way that talking about them couldn’t. Until now, I still reach for my journal whenever I feel like unloading and untangling my mind.

It also became my gratitude log (after all, one can’t just gripe their way into sanity). Being thankful, even for the most mundane of things—the afternoon golden hour, the flock of birds circling the sky, a new leaf sprouting from one of our potted plants—has been proven to be good for one’s mental well-being.

As the pandemic restrictions eased, my social calendar was resuscitated (if you can call a once-a-week run to the grocery “socializing,” that is). Al fresco dining was thrown into the mix as soon as positivity rates indicated it was relatively safe to go out. Suddenly, I now have weekly highlights! All these I chronicled on the grid pages of my notebook, along with Instax photos of selfies and food shots and just about anything worth photographing (for someone deprived of the outside world, everything was worth photographing).

Creative focus

I spruce up the pages with stickers and washi tapes that best go with whatever color scheme or theme I feel like doing. It can be pastel-themed one day, rustic and cozy next, or dark and gloomy—it’s mostly arbitrary, depending on what I’m writing about and how I feel about it. Journaling is practically a creative outlet, as if I’m putting together a physical mockup of a layout. The former magazine editor in me rejoices every time! 

Decorating my journal took me an hour at first; writing took another half hour. As I got more attuned to the process, the entire activity now takes me about an hour. That’s 60 minutes of deep focus. With all the things going on in the world these days, and how we’re all subjected to a barrage of information, those precious minutes of mindful activity help me block out all the stressful noise. 

Constant work in progress

My journaling practice evolved when I discovered the joys of digital planning, which also became an extension of my journaling process. Having more than one platform made me more intentional whenever I sit down to journal. I’ve reserved monthly and weekly highlights for my digital planner, while introspection is for deep journaling.

When I started two years ago, I only had the basics: my Leather Fellow leather journal cover and two or three Moleskin 3.5 x 5.5 refills, a Lamy Safari fountain pain, stickers from my old stash, less than a handful of Washi tapes, and a few calligraphy pens from that time I attempted to learn calligraphy (the few fonts I learned come in handy). Whenever I’d need some decorative backgrounds, I’d just rip out pages from old magazines.

I eventually upgraded to a regular-sized Traveler’s Notebook system from Analogue Lab. A TWSBI Eco became my default journaling fountain pen. The Intax Mini from my husband has also become a crucial part of my journaling kit.

I’ve since expanded my stationery supplies to include more stickers of varying themes and materials (most of these I got from online stores like Inky Notes, Paper Society, and RTistry Manila). And because I have a stamp pad lying around, I decided to collect a handful of clear stamps from Everyday Explorers. I use a postcard holder with clear pockets to organize my sticker stash, and I bought a generic-looking medicine box to store and organize all my other journaling supplies.

I keep a Pinterest board where I collate memory-keeping pins that inspire me. They serve me well on days when I don’t know where and how to begin decorating my pages. Instagram is also a good source of inspiration from avid memory keepers like Aina Kristina, Nica Cosio, and Tercia Goh. I’ve also chronicled some of my spreads in this account.

Freedom on the pages

I’m not going to lie and say that everything came naturally to me. It didn’t. Second-guessing myself almost got in the way. What if the pages aren’t pretty enough? What if I won’t be able to do what other journalers do? What should I write about next?

It turns out that all these questions don’t matter. What matters is that I pick up that pen and paper and simple begin. There’s no right or wrong way. How I journal and what it means to do so are different from others. And because my experience, my thoughts, and my feelings aren’t the same as other memory keepers’, what goes into the pages of my journal will always be different, and that is absolutely okay.

And while I admit to not journaling as often as I did when I first started, I still make sure to find time to sit down and just be with my thoughts. It’s a therapeutic practice I will always come back to.