My Journal, My Lifeline by Kathryn Leigh Scott
Your journal can be your therapist, your best friend and a lifesaver. Actress and author Kathryn Leigh Scott explains how her journal went from diary to serving a larger purpose.
As a writer, I’ve always kept a journal of some sort. Even as a youngster I wrote in a small leather bound diary, confident that a flimsy lock kept my secret, most private thoughts secure from my brother’s prying eyes. For years I wrote in spiral bound notebooks before graduating to a desk file on my computer labeled “My Day.” I still rarely go to bed without jotting down a brief overview of my day, often in quick, descriptive phrases with snatches of dialogue as though conversing with myself. Is it any wonder that I tend to write novels in first person?
Therefore, when the doctor who diagnosed my husband with a rare degenerative neurological disorder suggested I keep a daily record of the progression of the disease, I assured him that I was already doing so. The daily mishaps and changes in my husband’s behavior and demeanor had already seeped onto the pages of my diary. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) had slowly insinuated itself into our lives so stealthily that we mistook stiffening joints, forgetfulness, changes in vision, stumbles and even an occasional fall for nothing more than the vagaries of advancing years. There was no pain or suspicious shadow on an X-ray to alert us. But, as I noted in my journal, the falls were becoming more frequent, more severe, and that’s how we came to realize something was wrong.
Soon, my husband, the founding editor and publisher of Los Angeles Magazine, the first major-market city magazine in the country, could no longer hold a pencil or write in longhand and I had become his caregiver. Our way of dealing with the insidious, relentless advance of his disease was to go on living with as little disruption as possible. Denial was the mechanism we both found most useful in coping with the inexorable decline in Geoff’s physical and mental condition.
“No pain, no discomfort,” Geoff would say when someone asked how he was doing. “I’m lucky. Could be worse.”
It’s rare for me to flip back and reread my journal entries, but one day I looked back to see when Geoff had begun taking a particular medication. Indeed, I found the information I needed, but I also discovered something missing—me. I realized I’d begun to leave myself out of my diary entries, which were becoming increasingly sporadic and more stilted with the advance of Geoff’s disease. As my husband required more assistance, I found myself making ever more concessions to care for him, cutting back on my work as an actress and writer, and eliminating many of the social activities I enjoyed—and lying to my own journal about how that made me feel. Did I really want to record my whining reactions to missing a book club gathering when Geoff was dealing with far worse setbacks? Owning up to what I was actually feeling was just too hard. I couldn’t bring myself to put on paper what sounded like bleak, self-pitying rambles, certainly not when I was at my lowest, just barely coping.
But I also realized that there was a degree of denial I couldn’t indulge in if I was going to be of benefit as a caregiver. I had to face my own feelings and reactions honestly. I changed course and poured my heart out in those pages, freely expressing my fears and raw emotions about losing the person at the center of my life. Doing so awakened me to the importance of living in the present and recognizing the complex emotions that are a part of caregiving. The journal I kept throughout my husband’s illness is now of great comfort to me and a resource I refer to constantly now as a volunteer spokesperson for CurePSP, the foundation for the disease that claimed my husband’s life.
Kathryn Leigh Scott is an author, actress and a volunteer spokesperson for the national CurePSP Foundation, who has written Last Dance at the Savoy: Life, Love and Caring for Someone with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, an intimate memoir of caring for her husband, Geoff Miller, Los Angeles magazine founding editor and publisher. She provides insight and practical caregiving experience for a rare neurological disease that afflicts some 20,000 Americans, roughly the number diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). Learn more at: www.kathrynleighscott.com
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