JournalSpeak is the recovery tool that totally worked for me, in more than just removing my chronic pain. This practice totally changed my perception of personal development. It's unlike other forms of journaling I've heard of and is the dedicated daily practice that changed me to my core and totally turned my life around... I would even go as far as to say it saved my life.
I wrote a separate article on the unexpected side effects of JournalSpeak if you'd like to read that also.
You can listen to my first interview on Nicole's Podcast here, when I first recovered, or the latest one here catching up on the life changes I've experienced since - if you'd like more information on her podcast The Cure for Chronic Pain.
JournalSpeak has taught me many lessons, not just how to unravel emotions. I've learnt how to set boundaries, I now understand why I am how I am, it's taught me total self-acceptance, how to stop being who others want/need me to be, how to stop people-pleasing and trying to be someone I'm not.
Practising JournalSpeak also comes with the added benefit of the unwavering support of thousands of others who are practising the same method, healing and helping one another in an amazing online support network - the JournalSpeak with Nicole Sachs LCSW Facebook group.
JournalSpeak is a daily expressive writing practice, but also a sort of language or a suggested tone of voice in which to write it in. This method of offloading onto paper (or keyboard) is a way to give your unfelt feelings a voice. A voice in a safe space, where ONLY YOU can hear what is said and how it is expressed. JournalSpeak is an intimate practice between you and your innermost self.
Every day, you grab a notebook or a computer and purge out your negative emotions, traumatic experiences, stresses and hidden feelings. Anything occupying space in your brain that causes you stress. JournalSpeak is the place where you can really let go and rant it all out, brutally, honestly, messily, swear and shout if you need to, get it all thrashed out onto the page. Imagine it almost like releasing an internal toxin, like puking or pooing. No one else is going to read it, you won’t even read it, you’re just giving your suppressed self a voice and letting it out. The words don’t have to even be legible. Write a letter to someone that hurt you (you will never send it) tell someone off, imagine that little child inside you kicking and screaming your hurtful feelings.
Start with writing three bullet-point lists of stressors. Then in those three lists, you outline all the things you can think of that occupy stressful or hurtful space in your mind.
Think about what's made you unhappy, incidents where you felt grief, embarrassment, fear, guilt, anger, resentment, jealousy, abandonment, anxiety, unworthiness, sadness, loss, desperation, trauma etc. As big or as little as it may seem to you now, write it down if it upset you. Take a look at the Journaling Topics & Themes page for more information on this. Categorise those feelings into these three lists:
List 1) My past stressors - for example; traumatic childhood, difficult relationship breakups, emotional abuse, parent stuff, sibling stuff, school stuff, relationships, difficult friends. Your childhood is a crucially important time of your life where you learn patterns of behaviour and ways to cope that you will carry with you into adulthood, so don’t brush over something seemingly unimportant or what you perceive to now be nothing to worry about. If it hurt you back then, it needs voicing now.
List 2) My present stressors - for example; your job, family, money worries, relationship problems, health fears, family struggles, difficult friends, loss/grief. You will probably find yourself listing a lot of stress in regards to your symptoms here. It's fine to start journaling about your frustration of the symptoms, but try to shift your focus onto the underlying emotions, rather than the symptoms themselves.
List 3) My personality traits - this was my biggest list BY FAR. TMS sufferers are inherently self-critical, so there might be a lot here that you pick out. For example; unworthiness, not feeling good enough, shame, validation seeking, perfectionism, body-consciousness, being easily offended, catastrophising, blame, self-pity, guilt, things that make you live in constant conflict with yourself etc.
At first, I thought being a perfectionist was a good thing, but I’ve come to learn that it's a form of self-hatred in a way, always expecting to mess something up at every turn, making sure I triple-check everything and do only my absolute best at everything or I will be a failure. Obviously now I see that as a detriment to my overall wellbeing and I can see how I was starving myself of the self-compassion I needed to break free of these cycles. Look deeper into your own personality traits, what feeling do they give you deep down? There could be some gems in there that you don’t see at first glance. I continue to add and change this list, if you're anything like me it might take time for you to peel back the layers of yourself you’ve built up for so many years and really look at yourself objectively in this way, but it will come.
The lists don’t have to be very long or detailed (nobody is going to read these but you), and if they seem overwhelming, just start with one or two things on each list and go from there. I built my lists over a few months, and have actually removed a lot from the present and personality ones since doing this work...things have changed THAT MUCH.
I found it easiest to do my JournalSpeak practice in the morning. I get up, grab a cup of tea and go back to bed with my computer. Obviously, this won’t work for some people, so pick a time in your day where you can have uninterrupted privacy for half an hour or so AND DO IT EVERY DAY, no excuses. Later on, when you are out of pain, you can pull back al little on the frequency of your journalling, but keep it consistent. I journal every other day or so now, and it's enough for me now that I am pain-free.
Pick one topic you have occupying the most space in your stress head at the time from one of your lists, in any order you like, and just start writing. Nicole suggests writing for a minimum of 20 mins, which is the 'sweet spot' of time where you’re giving in to resisting writing, and you’ve wriggled your way through a few thoughts and got to the good stuff - THE FEELINGS. Start telling the story and describe how it made you feel. Let yourself be brutal and childlike....no need for proper English or even full sentence construction here, just allow your primitive self to rant. See if you can observe what those thoughts or memories make you feel inside and sit with that feeling no matter how hard it is.
FEEL your feelings, don't overTHINK them
This is a weird concept to figure out if you're forever only THOUGHT about your emotions. Have a read of this quick tutorial on how to feel your feelings physically and find out why it matters for TMS recovery.
Check out my ideas and journaling prompts article for some help here if you need a nudge to get started.
Then when your time is up, just screw up the paper and throw it away, or delete the words you typed on the computer screen...and you’re DONE. You've now let your true feelings surface and be heard and they now have the chance to be let free from your heart. You don’t need to fix anything, change anything or forgive anyone, just look at the feelings, sit with them and really feel them, see them for what they are and let them vent. Sometimes your feelings will flow like this, sometimes they won’t..and that's OK.
Your chronic pain is a sign that there is something inside you that hasn't been felt, it is just a messenger letting you know that something needs to be addressed. You are safe and well, you just need to address these emotions that are struggling to arise and keeping you in fight or flight mode and fuelling your suffering.
Sometimes your writing will flow like a raging river, sometimes it won’t. You will probably expect to feel like you're not diving deep enough, you might not be doing it right, but that's normal and that’s OK! Have a read through the what to expect section too. Sometimes you’ll be stuck on what to say, it takes some practice and some days it feels impossible, but consistency is KEY. Show up for yourself, especially on days you are resisting and trying to find excuses to NOT journal. The emotions might feel worse for a little while as you're unravelling this stuff, but keep going, it's part of the process and it quickly fades and loosens its grip.
When I first started JournalSpeak, I only ever wrote like I was telling someone a story about a past event, but I soon found out that I wasn’t really getting to the visceral filthy truth of those thoughts. Here’s an example that Nicole often uses to explain the 'switch' in the tone of voice she now teaches, which allows you to properly express the true core of your negative feelings.
Instead of writing:
“Man, my kids really wind me up, I’m tired all the time and my husband is always working and I’m finding it really hard to cope...”
Write something like this:
“I fucking hate being a parent, sometimes I hate my kids...”
Do you see the difference in the rawness of those thoughts? This is utterly shocking stuff to write, you certainly wouldn’t ever admit this to anyone, even yourself, but nonetheless, she had FELT it! PLUS, it doesn’t even have to stay true, of course she doesn’t REALLY hate her kids, but at times she felt it, and that’s where the real truth is, IT WAS TRUE AS SHE HAD FELT IT, and that’s what needs to be heard, felt and purged.
Not all journaling sessions will be like this, they certainly weren’t for me, a lot of the time they stay in 'storytelling' mode and sometimes dip into this heavier mode, but I did have breakthrough moments like this and it certainly taught me how to be more brutally honest in all sessions and never skirt over stuff superficially.
When I come to the end of my 20 mins or so of heavy heart journalling, I like to close with a few minutes about positive things, things that are thriving in my life, things that I'm looking forward to or things I am grateful for. It's a huge cliché that gratitude journaling helps your mental wellbeing but it really works, think of a few things that come to mind and really sit with those feelings and observe what those thoughts do to your body and mind. They could be as simple as 'I'm thankful for my comfy bed, my partner, my home, this online community, this learning', things like that.
Sometimes my journaling has ONLY positive thoughts, some days you will feel like you've got nothing left to say, so to keep things going and keep showing up maybe write about all the good things in your life, hopes and dreams, even something as simple as how fortunate you are to be able to give yourself this time each day to focus on YOU.
It’s likely that your emotions could be in full rollercoaster mode at this point, so plenty of self-soothing is required next, my preferred method is meditation. Not only does this settle down your emotional state, but it also switches your nervous system into rest and repair mode.
Check out the unexpected side effects of JournalSpeak page also for more information and inspiration on what to expect from this practice.
Go to the SOOTHE section of my recovery journey roadmap to carry on reading the next steps, or check out more information on Nicole's JournalSpeak method in the resources below...
Check out my Recovery Journey Roadmap if you would like more details about exactly how I became pain-free! Or you can watch a video interview about my recovery here. Follow me on Facebook or Instagram for more resources and updates on everything chronic recovery.
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