Journaling with ADHD

Nov. 13th, 2017

It has been five years since I began journaling daily. Whenever I tell someone this I always add “No one is more surprised than I am.” An unmedicated ADHD woman has managed to write about her thoughts and feelings in a journal every single day for five years. What’s more, the beginning of those five years was before I established any kind of routines or real habits. So how did I manage to start, and maintain, this practice?

The short answer was I made it 100% doable for my ADHD.

Almost 6 years ago now, my husband was researching Tarot cards and decks as he built a card desk to be used in his book series. He and I got really into the fascinating concept and culture of Tarot reading. Now, I also like to explain that I don’t believe I have the ability to tell the future. I use the cards as a method of self-reflection and meditation.

One of the methods recommended for getting to learn the cards is to draw a random one every day and journal about it. This I did. I enjoyed it very much. Every day I had the excitement of not knowing what card I’d draw and then getting to learn about its meaning. After a while, I needed a new notebook because I’d filled up the first one and after a little while longer I discovered I didn’t really need to draw the card. I was journaling daily.

That was the beginning. It wasn’t always easy. There were many days when I struggled to think of something “worth” writing about. I adopted and then abandoned systems for recording specific information every day, such as weight, location, time, last person I texted, and mood.

Here are some things I’ve learned through the process of daily journalling:

1. It’s impossible to record everything

I’ve already talked about this in a previous blog. It simply cannot be done, and trying is detrimental at least to me and my practice.

2. There is no perfect, but there is 'good enough'

There is no perfect pen with which to journal, but because I purchase a supply of pens dedicated to my journal practice, I always know where they are and when to buy more. There is no perfect book to use as a journal, but a book that takes me 3 months to fill is far superior for my ADHD than one that takes me 6 or 8 because I’ll get bored too quickly. There is no perfect time of day to journal, but journalling before suppertime means I have more brainpower to do more and higher quality (more thoughtful and emotionally incisive rather than a dry recitation of the events of the day) journaling than if I did it right before bed.

As with everything, when I figured out how to work with my brain and not against it, everything became easier. Not easy per se, but doable rather than impossible.

3. Wiggle room is not cheating

The number one biggest reason I was able to continue journaling for this long is my “journal notes”. I implemented these one night when I was too exhausted to write in my journal. I jotted down point-form notes on the events of the day and went to sleep. I then transcribed those notes into my journal at my earliest opportunity the next morning. I now do this anytime I find myself unable to journal for some reason. My one rule is I must transcribe the notes the very next day.

I have a great deal of anxiety about this practice. It feels like cheating. As if I’m not actually journaling every single day. However, even if all I got into my journal was a bullet list of the day’s events, that would still be me, writing in my journal that day. This wiggle room has meant the difference between me being able to pick up the slack the next morning and throwing my hands into the air and saying “Well that’s it. I failed.”

I actually write journal notes every day now, because I find it a good way to focus on the writing. I quickly get my thoughts down on paper, then elaborate on them in the journal. It’s like an emotional shorthand. And I very rarely have to do the transcription the next morning anymore.

4. Decoration is awesome

It’s sometimes hard to make the time, but when I include drawing in my journal as part of my writing, I really enjoy it. Similar to the content of the writing, it doesn’t matter what I draw (sometimes I’ll pull up something simple on Google Image and copy that), it’s the act of drawing that’s nourishing. And it gives my spirits a lift when I flip back through the journals and see color mixed in with the black pen.

One last thing. I've found that when I do something daily it's more likely to get done. This is not often the case in those with ADHD. However, another reason I've kept this going is I don't want to break my streak and that can be a very powerful strategy for ADHD.

What role could journalling play in your life?