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Co-Journalling: Finding Togetherness from Otherness

In this piece we wanted to share our reflections on our writing process, that we have termed ‘co-journalling’, through carrying out a piece of co-journalling which responds to the theme of writing and diagnosis.

 

We haven’t formed a definition of co-journalling but hope this example of writing highlights some of the potential benefits or applications of it; and shows how it has become an important part of our reflective processes.

 

Apart from some initial spoken discussion, where we decided to write this piece, our post has been entirely written and discussed through synchronous collaboration. As this piece is a series of images of handwriting, we have included a text-based version to be compatible with screen readers. 

Jess’ thoughts are in purple. 

Rebecca’s thoughts are in blue.

Transcript

Jess:

I’m sat here at my desk, I’m looking at 13 notebooks of all different sizes and styles that hold my experience of life. I named the first one ‘Thought Book’ because I did not want to limit what I could store in it – they contain images, doodles, museum tickets, poems, short stories, rants, quotes that I loved, postcards – anything that I was keen to treasure, process or revisit. What about yours?

Rebecca:

You gave me my first thought book: a Pukka Pad Project Book with green and blue stripes, I’m coming to the end of volume 9 now and all my thought books have been the same since starting, I like the continuity of them all being the same, got to hope they don’t stop making them.

You helped me get started.

It’s always been important that they’ve been handwritten (even when printed things sometimes get stuck in). There is a freedom in being able to physically write – no spellcheckers or grammar underlining telling you you’re wrong, you can put in diagrams, draw pictures, no writing in full sentences, use arrows, have all the messy thoughts. You even told me you could tell how I was feeling just by looking at my handwriting. Writing has become the place for free and unrestricted communication / expression. When verbal language doesn’t seem to be the right way to get thoughts out then writing is always there, the deep thoughts come out better on paper than in spoken word, there isn’t fear of judgment of getting the right words out in the right moment when writing in the thought book. Where eloquence doesn’t matter in intelligence and there isn’t a need for sophisticated/ fancy language.

A drawing of three faces hovering above a figure that looks overwhelmed. BLAH BLAH BLAH is coming out of the faces' mouths. Text in lower right corner reads TOO MUCH TALKING.

Jess:

Yes, well I suppose that came from my own realisation that I, too, could get a better understanding of what I was thinking and feeling on something from the way I entered it into my Thought Book. Sometimes I didn’t have the words, but images, or actually I couldn’t explain the complexity but I could draw it (Figure 1). And then I realised there could be power in sharing that processing with others – to help them understand my discovery or even frustration. The Thought Book became more than just communicating with myself, I realised it could be a tool to communicate with others. 

Figure 1: Too Much Talking (April 2013).

Rebecca:

It’s hard to articulate the thoughts and feelings on demand at a time when you’re with a friend and you want to talk about stuff sometimes and in that time with the pressure to talk you can end up saying nothing. That’s where, over time, we’ve shared snippets from our thought books. I’ve used my thought book to process thoughts and feelings, to try to make sense of things, sharing that has helped me to understand more, to be able to articulate things, there was always a feeling of otherness in the background.

Jess:

It’s really interesting that you raised that feeling of otherness. I feel my own experience with otherness was also charted in my Thought Book. This is where I perceive a strength in co-journalling to be – we shared our perceptions of our otherness which allowed it to be seen and heard; by you writing a response to me on that meant that I had almost a tangible acknowledgement that I could return to it later when self-doubt kicked in. Through journalling I’ve come to understand that my otherness could be linked to neurodiversity. But I’m still exploring that. 

Rebecca:

That shared aspect of our journalling has been really important. For me, having the space in my Thought Book to process and articulate feelings of difference and share that with you led on to being able to contemplate the possibility of diagnosis. First, that came with my dyslexia diagnosis and a few years of feeling that that didn’t fully explain my experiences and differences, I did manage to get my autism diagnosis while I was at university. The diagnostic process is words and conversation, it’s necessary to be able to answer questions and explain feelings which probably wouldn’t have been possible without years of self-exploration through journalling. And that still continues.

Jess:

Beyond whatever ‘official’ labels have been picked up, sharing our experiences, thoughts and feelings through journalling has built our friendship and has really helped me to not feel so alone as personal experience of neurodiversity and otherness can be incredibly isolating...(Figure 2) it’s hard to explain in words! 

Two figures labelled J and R in separate containers that say stuff and feeling. In between the containers text reads "it's the same stiff but alone and separate". Below the two figures have come out of their containers and stand next to each other with text "shared things" beneath them. Text above reads "then" with an arrow pointing to "not alone."

Figure 2. Shared empathy – it's sometimes hard to find the right words (September 2023)

Rebecca:

Sometimes it’s easier to draw out feelings but, when written words have been hard to find and perhaps our own illustrations do not capture the sentiment accurately enough, we found and shared images and text such as from graphic novels and cartoons to capture our thoughts and feelings. 

Jess:

That’s one of the joys of journalling (and co-journalling) and particularly when it’s a habit (i.e. a frequent part of one’s life) that it’s possible to turn to it to make sense not only of the moment, but the journey, which in fact, others are on too. I think it should be encouraged that people journal about their autistic self so that it can be explored with curiosity and I suppose responded to with acceptance and hopefully, ultimately, self-love.

Rebecca Holmes

About Rebecca Holmes

Rebecca Holmes is an Autism Specialist Mentor working with students in Higher Education. She is interested in exploring autism, Higher Education and mentoring and has written:

Holmes, R. (2022) '“My students say ‘you get me’”: Benefits of autistic mentors for autistic students in Higher Education.' Journal of Inclusive Practice in Further and Higher Education. Issue 14.1 pp 130-148.

About Jess Jasper

Jess Jasper

Jess Jasper is a Learning Enhancement tutor at the University of East Anglia. Her specialism started in dyslexia and literacy difficulties and has grown to include autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is Jess’ first article.

Both are hoping this collaboration is the start of many more co-writing opportunities.

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