Betsey O'Brien

Betsey O'Brien

What journaling did for me (and what I believe it will do for you)

Betsey O'Brien, founder of pen & Hand

I’ve thought of myself as a writer pretty much since I learned how to hold a pencil. After being a student editor and news reporter in high school, I earned a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and began a career that, though varied, has been built on the written word.

But I didn’t know how recording my thoughts in a journal could help me until I was in my early 40s, when my life started coming apart at the seams.

My long-term marriage was ending, which plunged me into a wild spiral of anxiety. I couldn’t sleep. I was a disaster at work and struggled to handle even the smallest tasks in caring for my two kids.

One day, facing an immovable deadline my divorce attorneys had given me, I grabbed a notebook and went to a nearby park. I needed to get my head around the things they’d asked me to bring to the next meeting. 

What started as a laundry list somehow morphed into a long, wandering rant. The pen just kept moving across the page. I spilled out all my anger, guilt and fears for the future, holding nothing back.

You’d think I’d feel worse as I raged on and on, but gradually a sense of calm took over. 

It was like having a patient, loving friend listen to me. Affirming that my feelings were natural and yes, everything really would be OK. Maybe not right away, but someday. 

That night I slept more soundly. When I opened the notebook the next morning, I was blown away to see what was actually there.

Inside all that fury and fear were clues about what mattered most to me. Things I might be able to build on in working with my attorneys. I felt less anxious getting on the train that day and I came out of the meeting feeling more centered than before.

From then on I wrote in the notebook every time I felt overwhelmed, sad or scared to tackle a big decision. Spilling it all out on the page seemed to activate my thinking side. I felt less lost, more empowered. Better able to work with my legal advisors, family, business partners, even my soon-to-be ex.

I discovered firsthand that journaling gives us a unique way to calm and counsel ourselves. To see the patterns our worried minds often miss. To make the right calls when it’s crunch time. To make sure those choices are in harmony with our true selves.

A couple years later I began studying what writing experts and medical researchers had published about the power of personal writing. I began developing my own writing prompts and exercises. Now I'm ready to share what I learned with you.

I’ll create the space, skills and support. You bring your wishes and needs and the determination make your life richer and happier by making journaling a part of it.