At the beginning of 2018, I set myself a resolution of writing a personal blog post every week – a resolution that bit the dust very, very early on into the year. I did have very good intentions, I thought it’d be a cathartic pastime that would give me a break from academic writing, but instead it turned into a guilt-inducing chore that joined the long list of things I was avoiding doing.
For a long while, I couldn’t even work out why I didn’t want to write a personal post. There’d be no academic standards to meet, so it wasn’t like I’d be proofreading for factual inaccuracies, I wouldn’t be constantly checking the comments section for the inevitable moment an expert appeared to tear apart my amateurish reporting, but there was something getting in the way. Every time I drafted up a post of, ‘hey, everyone! here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week!’ I ended up leaving the tab to go stale and then eventually abandoning the post. The mass graveyard of potential posts littering my drafts serve as constant reminders of this inability to write for myself, and even though I’m two paragraphs into another attempt, I’m not sure about where it’s going to end up.
A month or so ago, I read an old blog post from a new friend, Kip. The post, which is a short, personal insight into a particular time in Kip’s life struck a chord with me, not necessarily because of the emotions laced into each sentence, but because of the sheer honesty of his words and how perfectly they illustrated the downsides of self reflection. I wanted to write a similar post at the time – but every post I wrote didn’t quite hit the mark. I was too defensive in my writing; I was supposed to be reflecting on the things that were happening in my life, but I just couldn’t, all I could do was recount them. I didn’t know how to get over the disconnect between explaining events, and analysing events. I’d write about my failures, but I wouldn’t be honest about why I failed, and I wouldn’t be open with exploring where to go from this failure. It was the same with my successes too, I’d write all about them and how great they made me feel, but I wouldn’t go into any detail about how they’d affect me in future or how they’d help me, or how I got there, or whether I felt I deserved it, or the factors that helped me achieve it. In short, my posts were faceless, shallow and impersonal, and I never published any of them.
It was only when I started my final year at University that I began to think about why I was so disappointed in my personal posts, and what I could do to start afresh and make a go of personal blogging. I’d had a lecture on the art of self reflection and the chance to really learn how to do it, and it was at that time that all of these revelations about why I was falling short clicked into place (thank you, Kat.) I realised that I wasn’t actually reflecting, I was just listing, and from then on I started to think about taking another stab at being honest with myself. However, I had seventeen hundred looming deadlines, three jobs, a stable mental health to maintain and my priority became the SciComm side of writing, given that I thought that’d be most beneficial to me at the time. I figured that it counted as practice towards my career and personal blogging didn’t, so that was that.
Spoiler alert: I was avoiding it again!
Yes, I was putting it off because I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to self reflect, I didn’t want to address my shortcomings and failures, and I definitely did not want to analyse my life in such great detail. My brain was already full of other equally stressful things, and after a lecture on how long term stress affects the body, I decided that avoiding as much of it as possible was definitely the thing to do. Acknowledging rubbish stuff was placed in a locked box in the back of my brain, to be dealt with at some other time, maybe when I was older and wiser and could just dismiss it after five minutes of excellent reasoning.
..however, as you can clearly tell from this post, this coping mechanism did not last long. Sooner, rather than later, negativity was starting to build up and I recognised myself sinking into a mental state that I didn’t want to be in. I began critically analysing and reflecting on everything that was happening, and now that I’d learnt to do it properly, I found that it made the world of difference. I was finding that my failures didn’t seem so bad when I really looked at them, and more importantly, they didn’t seem as big a deal when I considered how I could come back from them. Taking the time to think and process things properly gave me the opportunity to sort them in my head and file them into the correct drawer, meaning that there was more space in my brain, everything felt more manageable and the feeling of overwhelming negativity abated.
This part is where this blog post comes in – my next step forward is holding myself accountable, and also serving as a public example of how hard it can be to muddle through. Even the simplest tasks like ‘write a blog post about your day!‘ can leave you feeling deflated and like nothing will help, but it may just be because nobody’s ever said how to write. Nobody tells you that there’s more than one way to write a personal post, and nobody tells you that in the end, it’s not the act of writing that helps, it’s how you think about what to write that really makes a difference. Starting with this very post, I’m going to invite anybody else who needs it to join me on my self reflective personal blogging journey – I’ve only just realised what I need to do, and I’m not 100% sure on how to do it. So I’ll learn. Once I’ve learned, I’ll share it. Then you’ll know too. Even if you’ve no intention of taking up blogging, or even self reflection, there’s lessons that we can all learn to help us deal with our thoughts and the day-to-day workings of our lives, and these lessons will always be here for you to come back to.
We’re all in this together, and you’re not on your own.