I am not typically one to discuss politics on my social media or with people I don't know well. I've spent most of my life in situations where I've been the odd person out with my political views and even struggle to find community that's open to my opinions about politics on the internet (I'm getting there, it's just taking time). So when major world events happen that deeply affect me--like a global pandemic or a blatant attempted coup of the United States government--I sometimes struggle to find community in those moments.
One of my resolutions for 2021 is to spend at least 30 minutes every Sunday journaling for my mental health, and week one 1 of the new year, I was processing both of the issues mentioned above. So, I took to my journal, and started searching for prompts to help guide me through the events unfolding around me... and I didn't find prompts to help with events of this magnitude. So, if you're trying to process these events, hopefully the following journal prompts can help you get grounded and process what you need to. Of course, always see a mental health professional if you're experiencing greater distress or depression than you think you should (or you know what, just check in if you haven't in a while). But if you just want to wrap your head around where you're at right now, getting these thoughts out of your head and onto paper can help, too.
1. What happened?
Naming the events or writing out the sequence of events as you remember it can be exceptionally helpful. So often, as we process events in real time, we can forget the chain of events as we're just caught up getting information. A timeline helps clarify what actually matters to you in this situation.
2. How did you find out?
This is a good way to document your news intake at the time of the event or to create context around your emotions in the situation. It's a different experience hearing the news from a stoic newscaster or getting it from a crying friend, and this experience matters.
3. What was your initial reaction?
Were you shocked? Afraid? Angry? Did you take action? Did you go straight home? Processing how you reacted in a moment, even if it means documenting that you got on Twitter for two hours, matters.
4. What words from leaders stuck with you?
World History was never my favorite subject, but great leadership always has moved me. I love reading the words of leaders guiding their people through a situation. If you've listened to a leader speak and some of their words resonated with you (for better or worse), write those words down. It gets more difficult with time to try and find these quotes or the exact words you were thinking of, so capture them as soon as you hear them.
5. What images impacted you the most and why?
Describe the image you saw, cite the source, and dive into why that particular image mattered. An image of a single person in action stirs different responses than an image of thousands gathered together.
6. How do you feel reflecting on this event now?
Feelings are the worst, but if we don't acknowledge them, they stay with us forever. So you might as well set a timer for ten minutes and get the feelings out onto paper.
7. What do you think the long-term impact of this event will be?
If you're journaling these responses, there most likely will be long-term impacts for the events you're writing about. This question can also help you pinpoint what the critical moments of the event were and help you identify what you value.
8. How does this impact your view of your community?
Maybe you've felt detached from your community and this event makes you feel isolated. Maybe you've felt deeply involved in your community and you feel broken by the event. Maybe the event feels weirdly far away, but you're still feeling a communal loss. Consider that and write it out.
9. What went wrong?
I recommend keeping this response short: three things that went wrong. What stands out in the events leading up to the event, what were pivotal moments during the event, and what were incorrect responses after the event? Please don't doom spiral, just acknowledge.
10. What went well?
I recommend making this list as long as you can. Whether the heroic actions of first responders, if people in danger were successfully removed from the scene, if the internet cried in protest to a terrible thing, if one person's heart was changed for the better. If you can find one scrap of anything that is good in this world in the midst of hard things, it can be the push to keep you going.
Hold your loved ones close and know that there are so many good things in the world. Please let me know in the comments below if there are any prompts that have helped you through difficult times.
Taylor Vogel was a public school teacher, and isn't any more. She is the creator and host of the podcast, Now That I'm Not Your Teacher.
Now That I'm Not Your Teacher is a podcast that helps you tackle the responsibilities of adulthood with the support and structure of a (former) teacher's guidance.