Two weeks ago, my diary had its eighth birthday. I hadn’t even noticed this milestone because I had been preoccupied with writing an entry about how my parents had cancelled their cruise vacation due to Covid-19 concerns. Until a few minutes ago, I had never even checked how many total words I had written in these seven years. 113,846 and counting.
Using Microsoft Word and an old, clunky desktop computer we had in my childhood home, I started my diary in 2012, and I am so thankful that I did. Since then, my diary was with me for each significant beginning and end in my life and anything that could possibly come between. Every emotion, petty or justified. Every story I could tell, because it was my story.
I described everything: my eighth grade graduation and the dress I had carefully picked out for it; the new friends I had made in my first high school homeroom; my lacklustre senior prom; my first real university party; the relief I felt after finishing my first-year exams. It talks about my most embarrassing moments, like the time I period-stained my shorts during ninth grade gym class, or the week I ran for tenth grade treasurer and lost, or the sadness I felt when I wasn’t invited to a classmate’s birthday party. There are plenty of good moments, too, like the pride I felt when I got my driver’s license, good grades on school projects, and my first kiss (which, admittedly, was in itself not very good, but that diary entry was certainly well-written).
I also took care to write about events happening in the world to give my future self a sense of what life looked like. Amongst the entries about high school gossip and daydreams of wealth and fame, there are paragraphs about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, the ALS ice bucket challenge and, of course, the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Now, more recent entries discuss the onset of coronavirus. They discuss how the world is locking down, with businesses and schools closing and how surreal it all feels. These entries talk about how sad I felt to pack up my dorm room prematurely and leave my first year of university behind before I was ready to say goodbye. They talk about how worried I feel for my family and my friends who are far away. It’s me, talking to myself, about how scared I feel, and how I don’t talk about these feelings with anyone else.
Right now, we’re all quarantined, isolated from each other and the outside world. Our only glimpse of the earth’s state comes from the media, which can afford to skip over good news and cannot afford to ignore the bad news. Now, more than ever, we need to talk to ourselves and in turn, listen to ourselves. With the help of my diary, I am able to process the emotions I am feeling because it’s just me having a conversation with myself. It’s simply me, talking to my past self, reading about what my world looked like in the seventh grade. It’s me, talking to my present self, thinking about my friends and relationships and the panic I feel about all of these recent and sudden changes. And, of course, it’s me, talking to my future self, hoping that she’s doing alright, and that she’s happy and thriving and making the past version of herself extraordinarily proud. And, of course, that she’s healthy in a world where this version of the present has been left behind.
I strongly encourage anyone to pick up a pen or open an online document and begin writing letters to your past, present, and future self. When connection with others becomes difficult, it only becomes more important to connect with ourselves. In a time like this, it can most definitely help with mental health and mindfulness, and I guarantee that it’ll make you feel like someone is really understanding and relating to you— because you know yourself better than anyone.
More than anything, my diary is a symbol of who I am. It’s a complete collection of every change I’ve gone through, and even all the things about me that haven’t changed at all. But, the changes in me are what stand out the most, like more reflections on my own mental health and a new perspective on my place in the world. The value of having your very own primary source detailing the moments you experience in your life is immeasurable.
I sometimes wonder if there will ever be a time that I stop writing in my diary. Right now, I can’t imagine not sitting down at my laptop at the end of the week and typing out the date, preparing to recall any important thing that had happened to me in the past few days and any big shift in the world that has occurred. I don’t know what my life would be like without it. But one thing I do know for sure is that if a day ever comes when I sign off for the final time, it will be not because I believe my story is complete, but because it’s time to write a new one.
For now, my diary will continue to be my refuge. I’ll read these letters to my past, present, and future self, and I’ll laugh, cry, and maybe even learn something new.
113,846 words and counting. Here’s to 113,846 more.