'Dearest Mole,' How Journaling Helped With My Depression.

 Written By Sam Stewart

Written By Sam Stewart

Around about New Year 2012, I made the resolution to keep a journal. I’d seen a video explaining how to keep a ‘bullet journal’ and wanted such sleek and satisfying organisation in my life. A counsellor who was helping me sift through my drug problem had also suggested that I write down my feelings; she compared the release of scribbling down my soul onto scrap paper, before tearing it up or setting it alight, to my routine of rolling up and burning my weed. 

I’m too messy and scatterbrained to be able to direct my life by bullet point alone, and I found that whenever I managed to pour my soul onto a piece of scrap paper, that scrap became precious somehow. Perhaps because I wrote while stoned, I realised that my paragraphs could become time capsules and that some jumbled ideas or some muddled reasoning about my depression might end up being interesting or helpful to my future self. So I stopped scribbling on scraps and started to intersperse the bullet points I shot towards the next day week or month with ramblings that tried to be far-sighted. I tried to be reflective, and to empty myself onto the page so that shreds of my depressed self would be preserved. It was like I was allowing a shit time in my life to become formative by putting it into fragments that I might later piece together, or destroy. 

Perhaps because I wrote while stoned, I realised that my paragraphs could become time capsules and that some jumbled ideas or some muddled reasoning about my depression might end up being interesting or helpful to my future self.

What emerged from this part of my life was the habit of talking to Mole. I bought a Moleskin journal - beautiful and hardbound in black leather, with squared pages rather than lined to let me write in any direction. I would begin every entry with: ‘Dear Mole,’ and, as if writing a letter, pile in details of my life, before bulleting goals and plans that Mole and I would come up with together. I thought of Mole at the time as an uncle or aunt, someone who knew and loved me well, and who would patiently wait for me to grow up and get to know them. Mole helped me get my head through the trauma of A levels, and my heart through relationships that fell apart as I moved away from home and went to university. I told Mole about girlfriends, wrote things that could never have passed through my lips. Writing to Mole would make me realise that I was being unfair or cruel, but also, at times, helped me to accept that I was being used or mistreated. I went to university and transferred Mole, who was stuffed to the binding with teenage angst, into a new Moleskin - purple and soft-backed. 

That year was a disaster. I hated my course, and Mole was subjected to long streams of miserable consciousness. I’m grateful now for Mole’s patience, but it wasn’t the healthiest of practices. There’s a sharp change in the pages a week or so into my first term, as I returned to strict day-by-day bullet journalling in order to attempt to salvage the degree I’d already given up on. My college’s pastoral tutor had told me that “depression is a fact of life in Cambridge - one should simply go with the flow”, and Mole is stamped with bullet-point attempts to do so. I dropped out of university for a year, and the trip to India I was lucky enough to take is recorded in yet another incarnation of Mole  (black, soft-backed, blank pages) as a conversion of my life away from depression. 

There’s something about reading your own handwriting, especially if it’s a while back, that makes you feel as though you’re meeting someone from your past.

When I read back I’m sometimes shocked by how dramatic I felt my life to be, but as my memory is triggered I don’t regret the experiences that led me to write to Mole. There’s something about reading your own handwriting, especially if it’s a while back, that makes you feel as though you’re meeting someone from your past. Often I laugh at the typical pretentiousness of my paragraphs; sometimes I read a note that I’d swear was written by a complete stranger. But almost always the shapes and mistakes in my handwriting make the muscles in my hand remember having written them, and a memory of my mood at the time of writing leaks from the journal into my mind. I remember my frustration with the philosophy I had to study in my first term at university, feelings of alien sunlight on my skin on holiday. I cringe at some of the things written about ex-girlfriends, but reading makes me happy for what we had, and glad it ended when it did. If I read my entry about that comment from my tutor I laugh, because now I know him to be an extremely kind man whose well-meaning words misjudged our conversation.

There are also notes I’ll have scribbled into corners, secrets I have entrusted to Mole when fucked up after nights out, that I’m extremely glad I didn’t splurge into texts or the internet.

There are some pages in my journal that represent moments of bliss in my life that I might never recreate; I read them and smile, they prompt me to type quick messages to the old friends who shared those times. There are also notes I’ll have scribbled into corners, secrets I have entrusted to Mole when fucked up after nights out, that I’m extremely glad I didn’t splurge into texts or the internet. There’s a page tucked into the keepsake at the back of my original Moleskin - the only page to ever have been ripped from Mole’s body - that was torn out by a friend in Berlin, 2015. I woke up to become furious with him for violating my journal, until I unfolded the page to read: ‘Gone to get ganja - back soon’. I forgave him shortly after his return. I like the idea that Mole’s notes token my past, and are safe in my journal - that if I want them to, they can stay and exist only there, unread. Perhaps when I am old and bored I’ll make a New Year’s resolution to read through my journals cover to cover. Until then, whenever I take up a pen to journal I’ll assume that there are pockets of myself that I have forgotten, that only Mole knows. I sometimes think the physicality of writing with ink and paper helps me craft my memories and tie them into old ones; even the weight of my journal in my backpack or the sight of it on my desk are things I use to boost my mental health. I guess at this point I’d like to implore anyone who has read this far and does not already journal, to acquire a paper journal and to keep it. 

Journalling has bled into my life enough that I talk to Mole as I walk from place, and if I’m bored in a lecture I’ll kill some time writing ‘Dear Mole…' into my notes or on a handout. Oddly though, these days I’m hardly reliant on Mole at all, but I’m resolving as I write this to journal more regularly. So to wrap this article up, I’ll make a scrappy entry now: 

Dearest Mole, 

Having shared you for the first time over the internet ~ I hope you don’t mind ~ I feel as though we have done something together that might be described as dauntless. I’m sure you know what it means, but I didn’t really (other than from the Divergent series) so I gave it a quick google. Here you go, copied and pasted: 

  • Dauntless, adjective. Incapable of being intimidated or subdued : fearlessundaunted, a dauntless hero.

The word dauntless can be traced back to Latin domaremeaning "to tame" or "to subdue." When our verb daunt (a domare descendant borrowed by way of Anglo-French) was first used in the 14th century, it shared these meanings. ( Merriam-Webster

 

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