I’ve been writing in a journal since I was nine-years-old. It has been my way to process my emotions and understand what I’m going through on a daily basis. As a child, I didn’t have a concept of why I was writing, I knew that it made me feel good; and I focused on that. I’m 37 and I still have that journal I started when I was nine. It’s white and has vines written on the front and back cover. When I look at it, I impulsively smile because it reminds me of those bittersweet and sometimes painful childhood memories.
Now that I’m an adult I continue this process of daily journaling for a slightly different reason. I’ve been living with depression and anxiety since I was 15. It’s been a wild and emotionally exhausting ride, but it’s my life and I’ve come to terms with my complicated brain. Recently I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II, which I playfully refer to as bipolar the sequel. I often use humor as a way to cope with living with mental illness, and more often than not it helps me.
My journal entries these days are different from when I was a child. They vary from stream of consciousness poems that don’t rhyme to entries about my day. I write about experiences where I was angry so that I can process that emotion. It’s difficult for me to fully understand how I feel until I write it out and I continue to use writing as a form of therapy. Here’s where the title of this article comes in: journaling is the cheapest form of therapy.
I’m a proponent of therapy as a means of managing one’s mental illness. I see a therapist once a week as well as take psychiatric medication to manage bipolar disorder. I would not impinge on another person’s treatment plan. This is my personal plan to treat my mental illnesses, and this happens to be what works for me. However, you might find other means of treating anxiety, for example - using mindfulness and a naturopath.
The truth is though, in the United States, therapy tends to be cost prohibitive. In my experience, many therapists don’t take my insurance and the ones that do are either 1. overwhelmed by being on the phone with insurance companies 2. not competent in their jobs. Again, this is my personal experience, and I’m certain that there are competent therapists who take my insurance, however I have yet to meet these individuals and I live in one of the most densely populated cities in the world: New York City.
Many therapists have told me that they take “out of network” insurance coverage, which means that I can submit a bill for their services to my insurance company and get reimbursed for a percentage of this. This sounds like an ideal plan, however my insurance company only reimburses 50 percent of the cost for therapy and the time frame to get reimbursed ranges from six weeks to three months. Typically, from my experience, therapists charge $250 dollars a session, which is not feasible for me to afford if I’m seeing this professional once a week.
I have luckily found a therapist who sees me on a sliding scale, however that’s like finding a needle in a haystack. There are also competent mental health clinics in New York, but the intake process tends to be lengthy and laborious, though they do take insurance.
The point is, it’s not easy to get proper mental health care in The United States. If you are waiting to find a therapist; start with something you can buy on Amazon or in a local stationary store. It’s called a journal and it will help you record your emotions, no matter what they are. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it could be a composition notebook for all I care. What matters is that you are writing each day if possible. You will see your words on paper, and they don’t even need to make sense, they just have to be true real to you.
Journaling isn’t a replacement to therapy, but it is something that you can do by yourself. When you find a therapist that you can afford, you can still keep writing, and I encourage you to do so!
I challenge you to go to a store TODAY and buy a notebook or a journal. Do not spend more than $20 on it, and start writing about your today. You write what happened today, what your feelings are, if you had a fight with a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/co-worker, or a random rant. It is your choice and your truth, and those words matter.