The Way Back to Self

My first journal was gifted to me when I was only 9 years old, by a friend of my mother’s who I can’t even recall the name of now. It was right around that time that I was also beginning to bury myself into the pages of books—fictional stories and adventures were an escape from things my young mind wanted to escape from, yet couldn’t articulate. Things like the bullying I was subjected to every day at school, and my parents divorce the year prior were already leaving scars, even if they were ones that could only be felt rather than seen.

Once I had that first diary in hand, I tucked myself into the pages of it as a safe place, branding it with the phrase DO NOT READ, and drawing a poor rendering of a skull and crossbones in the front cover, just in case anyone got any ideas. When I look back at those early entries, they are so innocently simple—what I learned in school that day or who I played with at recess. Like most things, it began easy and light.

As the years wore on, I trusted deeper things to the pages of new journals. I whispered my secrets and longings and musings into the bindings of lined books with a ribbon down the spine, because it was the one place I felt like I could just breathe a little. But though I loved the thrill of getting a new journal and beginning that act of writing out my daily life, I never actually filled one cover to cover. Not until I became Elayna.

Seven well loved and worn in journals stacked on top of one another.

You see, two days after I decided I wanted to change my name and start going by Elayna (an awakening which I chronicled in the earliest post of my Elayna Musings blog) I went to Barnes & Noble to get a new journal, one that would belong to my new name, and thus, a new life. So I started writing.

And writing…

and writing…

and writing,

until I’d done it.

I’d filled up an entire journal, cover to cover, for the first time, at the age of 26, and I’ve been filling them up one by one ever since.

However, I found myself in a bit of a rut at the beginning of this year. Words weren’t flowing as easily as they had before, and even though I was up to The Journal of Elayna #7, I couldn’t dig myself out of the creative void I’d fallen into that was keeping me not just from journaling, but from working on my books as well.

Enter Suleika Jaouad’s The Art of Journaling. Suleika is a writer I have looked up to and followed for several years now, after discovering her magic during the height of the pandemic when she began the project now known as The Isolation Journals. I saw through her newsletter that she was going to be leading a 30 day journal challenge, and I thought, oooh, this could be great! I immediately set to writing a post about how I was going to tackle it over the next 30 days.

But the thing I’ve learned about myself is that often, I struggle with those kinds of challenges, where I announce, “Hey look, I’m gonna do a thing!”. Somehow, in announcing it, I tend to scare myself off from actually finishing said thing. I don’t know if it is the fear of others expectations that overwhelms me or what, but I decided that aside from engaging in the chat she made available to her subscribers, I wasn’t going to post publicly anywhere about this endeavor. Not until I’d completed it. So I opened to the first prompt and started writing…

and writing,

and writing,

until I’d done it.

I’d completed the challenge. So much so, that my thoughts filled up the last of that 7th Journal of Elayna, and spilled over into an 8th. I wrote a letter to my 50 year old self, and chronicled three nights in the hospital. I wrote a poem in the halls of my old high school after leading a poetry workshop, and attempted drawing a giraffe with my eyes closed. I wrote several line entries and ones that spanned six pages. It was heart opening.

A yellow journal covered in a flowering tree design sitting on a theater stage with a blue curtain in the back

Doing this challenge became so deeply personal and artistic for me. I kept all the printed (and annotated) prompts and essays in a single folder, and put a sticker on the folder for every day I completed. Even outside of my journal pages, I found myself drawing more, writing more poems, reading more books for the first time in forever. I developed a consistent practice where I wrote every day. And if I missed one, I picked it up the next, because there was no sense of pressure or fear that others might think I’d failed. These thirty days of words reignited my passion for journaling in a way I didn’t know was possible. I can’t say enough what a joyous inner journey it has been.

A variety of black and white print outs, the top of which features some black out poetry.

When I arrived at the last prompt, I was surprised to see it required more art than writing— it encouraged that I draw a self portrait, and then ruminate on it. I’ve only ever drawn myself a handful of times, and typically have never dared show anyone the outcome. Words are my main medium after all, not drawing. But I kept the same energy that led me to this last day and let my hand take over. When I was done, I stared at the roughly drawn, ill-proportioned illustration of me with constellations in my hair and a sideways smile. I was met with a calming sense of self-love that made me involuntarily begin to tear up. In a strange way, it was as if through these days of introspection and ink, I’d reconnected with the free, creative, hopeful, star-child I have spent my whole life trying to be. In this moving forward and relentlessly creating, I’d somehow found a way back.

A rough pencil drawing self portrait of the author wearing glasses and with little constellations across their face, neck, and in their hair. The drawing sits on a desk next to a keyboard and a candle.

I know that this won’t be the first or the last time that I lose my creative spark, but for now, I am just grateful beyond reason that this particular spark managed to burst into a flame, and that finally, I am storytelling again. (Even if the only story I’m telling is my own.)

Want to read more of my writing? Check out my website,

My latest book, Unveil Me: the complete duology & other poems, is available now exclusively on Amazon & through my Gumroad shop.

This post was originally featured in my newsletter, Queery Letters, which is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Featured Photo © Elayna Mae Darcy 2023

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