It Starts as a Whisper

Mona Khalil
6 min readFeb 6, 2024

Recently, my West Indian grandmother told me, “It’s good you write. I don’t write. I cry and cuss up your grandfather.” I wonder if she wrote in a journal, how different her life might be. Could she have honored her moments of joy, or would they be overridden by the pain? Would she reflect on her life in Guyana, England, Canada, and then the US? Could she have learned to love the parts of herself my grandfather couldn’t? Where would her pen take her on paper and in life? Most importantly, what are the stories she is holding onto inside of her body?

My mom told me there was a time when she would journal often. My dad took her journals following their divorce. She didn’t think there was a point in writing after that. Her privacy had been violated, and so much more. My mom knows there is power in writing. She said, “I believe in the power of the written word.” My mom used to love to write. I invited her to keep a journal this year, to rebuild her relationship with herself and her writing. Her home is now safe and empty. No one will read her words. No one will take them away.

I didn’t know how to honor my voice from a young age. I’ve kept my voice in a journal for most of my life. My honest and vulnerable voice. My safe place. My private art.

I bought my first diary before starting the sixth grade. I planned to write in it, but had no plans about what I’d write. My earliest memory of journaling was in the sixth grade, starting each school day by answering a journal topic in a 70-sheet notebook. I would write honestly, not caring that the teacher would read it. And every time, the teacher would leave me comments reflecting on my writing. One of the prompts asked, Do you think boys or girls have it easier? I gave 3 reasons why boys have it easier:

“1. They don’t have to buy a lot of clothing items– shoes, pants or shorts, and a T-shirt. 2. When girls grow up and have a baby they have to take care of it all day from morning to night. While all the boys do is go out and make the money or just leave. 3. The boys when they’re older all they have to do is come home to a cooked meal.”

My first, white, male teacher, a twenty-two year old from Texas, left me a comment that read, “I hope no man ever does that to you,” in response to #2. In another entry, I wrote about how I want to be known for being smart in school. He left me a comment that read, “You are.”

Nearly two decades later when I decided to move to the Bay Area as an adult, my therapist gifted me a journal and told me to continue writing my story. It was, at that point, my fourteenth journal.

What is your earliest memory of journaling? What is your relationship with journaling?

Similar to how your body communicates with you, a voice deep inside asks you to listen. Do you give it space and welcome it? Do you immediately dismiss it? Do you lock it away? Do you write it down? Is the voice mostly negative or positive? Can it be hopeful? Can it be grumpy?

Journaling can be an ecosystem. A gift to your future self. Re-reading what you wrote to yourself at a later date can deeply connect with a future version of yourself. Your precision of words to describe an experience or feeling, the wisdom you didn’t even realize you had. Your own words can provide a mirror of insight, patterns, and growth.

The beautiful thing about journaling is it’s a one-size-fits-all practice. Everyone can do it. All it takes is pen and paper. It can happen anywhere and everywhere, for any reason, or no reason at all. The words can be about everything or nothing. There’s no wrong way to journal. I journal when I feel broken, when I feel happy, and through every emotion in between. I journal when I’m seeking to understand myself or solve a problem. I journal to untangle the thoughts that are knotted in my throat.

Be still. Be brave. It’s the pauses you take that welcome the answers in.

It’s natural to feel fear and resistance when facing a blank page. Bravery is deciding that you can take up space. Being brave is giving power back to your words. It’s confronting what you think you want with knowing what you truly need. It’s learning to write to and for yourself. Bravery is being honest with yourself when you write and speak to what is true for you. It’s feeding your intuition soul food. You have to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with anyone else.

Bravery is creating boundaries. Being brave is not stringing people along for the sake of ego, status, or possession. People will come for your heart with good and bad intentions. The work is feeling your way through the differences. Journaling can be affirming, clarifying, and truthful. It can give you enough distance to let go of the people who make your chest tighten up, and connect you to yourself enough to open yourself to feeling love so deep you don’t need to question its intention. Journaling about your experiences validates your reality and honors your feelings.

You have to work at being whole alone so you can be whole in partnership with others. They will not do the work for you. And you cannot do the work for them. Beauty seeps from the inside out, not the other way around. Brave is thinking about what could-have been. Throwing the message in a bottle into the ocean and knowing something greater is happening. It’s doing the work and asking the hard questions. Some answers come soon thereafter, while others come later in life. Journal about your past, present, and hopeful future. There is space for all of it.

I am okay and I am not okay. I am a constant work in progress. So much about me today is a product of my journaling. Even my tattoos are an outcome of my journaling. Writing stops the bleeding. Journaling is my safety blanket. My writings have gotten me to the present day. I find strength in revisiting my writings, in seeing how far I’ve come, how much I’ve dreamed, how much hope I hold. Writing helps heal my body. To journal is to love yourself like you’ve never been loved before…oh what a feeling.

Embrace the person you become, over and over.

It starts with a whisper…

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Mona Khalil

Name dipped in mango | منى خليل |EMBA|Ex Peace Corps, Tesla and LinkedIn |Author of #iwritelettersinmythoughts |Views My Own 📍 | www.monakhalil.com