The world has always been scary. It was an odd day when I found out that the man with the finger on the button of the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal in the Cold War once starred in a film with a chimp. I tried to cure my worries by arming myself with knowledge. I wanted reassurance about the innate good sense of the people making decisions over my life. Instead I got Ronald Reagan starring in Breakfast with Bonzo. Could a man who had once tried to play dad to a monkey really make the best informed decisions about the delivery of Intercontinental ballistic missiles? I thought not. At aged fourteen I decided the entire adult world was clearly completely insane. And it went downhill from there.
No one important would listen to my concerns, though. I was just a no-name adolescent living in a rural part of England. My part of the world was full of farmland and American airbases, making me (and my neighboring root crops), a prime yet inadvertent Russian nuclear target. It seemed so unfair and terrifying — me and the carrots had done NOTHING. We were innocents; and threats seemed to be everywhere — even when George Bush Sr. took over. Being evaporated in a big mushroom cloud was one of my darkest fears, as was NOT marrying Tom Cruise, dying a virgin, failing my exams and being caught masturbating. In fact, in my most anxious moments I realized it could all technically happen in one dreadful day. I had terrible dark fears and dark secrets. I thought bad things. I self harmed. I binged. By age 16, I’d already been in one psychiatric ward. I was sick of being the weird fat one. I needed a friend who I could tell ANYTHING to. I needed a place where I could be horrible, sad, sexy, mad and bad, in total safety without judgement. A place where I could threaten world leaders, lust after boys, and be every shade of me… in perfect safety.
My diary was my sanctuary. It was just a scruffy exercise book, stolen from school, but it provided a place where I could write anything. I didn’t have to conform; it was an instant confessional box that was tucked underneath my bedroom mattress. A place where I could be liberated from the smiling public face I felt I had to put on, and just slam everything down in a private thing that was JUST mine. Thoughts and feelings I was ashamed of, or I thought could start a war (not a global one, a school war), could be shut tight in its beige pages. It looked dull. It was anything but. It was my little place of safety. But with all the secrets within it, it was also my own little weapon of mass destruction.
My diary was my sanctuary. It was just a scruffy exercise book, stolen from school, but it provided a place where I could write anything. I didn’t have to conform; it was an instant confessional box that was tucked underneath my bedroom mattress. A place where I could be liberated from the smiling public face I felt I had to put on, and just slam everything down in a private thing that was just mine.
It seems very last century now, but lots of us still keep old fashioned paper diaries. It's quite a sublime and subversive act in the age of public sharing and social media. Even the most personal blog or vlog will never beat the little journal you create JUST for you without an audience in mind. It is perhaps the only book written, that isn’t meant to be read. It’s written because at that time the person writing it NEEDS to write. They need to make sense of what’s going on around them, or record what they are really feeling. There is very little left that is truly taboo, but most of us have things we can’t reconcile in life, or things we want to record. In this sense, diaries are a beautiful and most accessible form of therapy. Something that will hear your darkest secrets, yet will never share them. Cross its heart and hope to die.
Unless you do decide to share them, of course.
You can now read my teenage diaries. Every dark secret. You can even watch the TV adaptation of them on Hulu. The show and book are called My Mad Fat Diary because that basically sums it up. I share (nearly) everything with you: my time in a psychiatric ward, my adolescent struggles with my weight, and the difficulties of living with my Mum’s third husband who just happened to be a North African bodybuilder.Why am I comfortable about sharing it? Because I’ve discovered the teenage girl experience is so universal and transcends any time period or country. We’ve all been through a lot, OR we are going through it. I don't mind people knowing about teenage Rae. Not even the masturbation, or my attempt at a cardboard cock. That is a ME that I'm at peace with, because we've all had the sort of moments I've had.
The embarrassing moments, the dreadful times, the agonies, the lost loves and the enduring friendships that can get you through just about anything. Diaries can help us transition through the most difficult stages of our lives by just by being there. Even if it’s just one line a day, a diary lets you just be you, or cherry picks the best part of the day in YOUR opinion. You get to own your history. It’s taking other people out of the equation, and allowing you to say what you really want to say. For many of us it’s a liberation – whether we are 17 or 77 - and a way to get our heads and hearts straight. I think we intuitively sanitize our lives so much, that it’s good to get dirty once in a while, in order to come clean. Then we have the words in the real world to tell it like it is. And it STILL needs telling.
Diaries can help us transition through the most difficult stages of our lives by just by being there. Even if it’s just one line a day, a diary lets you just be you, or cherry picks the best part of the day in your opinion. You get to own your history.
I still keep a diary. Several, in fact. Would I share my diaries now? No. You’d be very bored by the fact that my six year old spent the whole of last night singing ‘Umbrella’ by Rhianna. But I know that in years to come, when he’s a surly adolescent, I will remember a very cute kid, and will have my own written proof. Plus, I get huge satisfaction from re-reading my tremendous RANTS: pen slamming paper, abundant swearing, instant relief. Even after all these years.
Diaries are like a good bottle of wine, without the hangover. You may find them useful if Trump ever gets in. After all, the world never stops being scary.
Images: Cristina Mari Arreola/Bustle