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In Which Trina Shares the Structured Journaling Exercise She Uses for Coping with a ‘Dyslexic Spin’

By Trina O’Quinn for the NABBW

One method off journaling, though I prefer to manually write everything down on paper.

In my last post I explained how an ordinary course of events – like traveling and not immediately being able to find something – can create much anxiety, even a panic attack – actually, a “Dyslexic Spin,” is how I label it.  It is part of my lifelong learning disability, with which I’ve learned to cope over the years. Journal writing is one effective tool in this process of coping.

In my earlier discussions of journaling technique, I have been promoting unstructured, or free form, journaling. When using this type of journaling, I write what ever comes out of my brain directly onto the paper. Usually I do it within the first  hour after rising. Since I sometimes have trouble getting the words started, I always start the same way: Date, Day of the Week, Time and “Good Morning and thank you for one more day, or this new day”. Less structured writing may also start with “once upon a time.”

But Structured Writing, which I am discussing today, employs a series of questions or sentence completions which I need to answer. The day of my dyslexic spin, June 15, 2022, my structured journal entry looked like this:


Today’s date: June 15, 2022, Start Time 8:00PM.

Three words that describe how I feel right  now:

Anxious – I am beginning to worry that I forgot my medication. It would be three or four days before I could get a refill. My husband is losing patience with me.

Tired – We have just finished traveling around 14 hours today and we are both hungry and tired.

Confused – I know that I packed that medication this morning as we left. It was checked off my medication list as I put it in the duffle bag. Am I losing my mind? I have almost 1000 more miles to go with my thoughts, and I’m very overwhelmed. That was the second thing I forgot. I forgot to check with Joe to see if we had our CD’s for when we lose the radio connection. There is no music to distract my thoughts and help keep me centered and balanced.

I want to explore why I became anxious: What was the driving fear?

The first thing that comes to me is that I am losing my mind. I have 1000 miles to go with my thoughts, and I’m very overwhelmed. No music to entertain and distract me.

Beneath the surface I find:

I’m worried about my physical health being so far from home, especially since I don’t have blood pressure medicine. I am worried about my husband’s eyes, if he’s stressed. I did not make this trip perfect and stress free.

I feel anxious (scared, resentful, mad):

About forgetting things that will help with my heart (medicine) and spiritual well-being (music). My terminal perfectionism has been activated. (Terminal perfectionism is a disease I have that will not let me make a mistake. When it is active, I beat myself up or I redo and redo what I am working on. It can raise my anxiety level to a point where it gets so high I experience stress-related conditions, or I get very depressed. If not stopped it could cause a terminal situation.

I feel hopeful (good, at peace, OK):

About knowing that both of these things could have been easily resolved by actions I can take tomorrow. I can call my Primary Care Doctor and she can send a prescription to the Walgreen’s by my home. Then they can transfer it to a Walgreen’s in Issaquah, Washington. As for the music, my son-in-law can burn me some CDs from his collection for use on the trip home.

My next step is to:

Stop the spin by centering myself inside the tornado and listening to the quiet for the answers. More specifically, I center myself by taking three deep breaths, holding them and letting them out slowly. Then I sit down with the paper and pencil I always carry and begin to write. I want to stop the spin before it starts, or as soon as possible.

Three feeling words I have after doing this:

calm, hopeful and joyful.

End time:

8:20 PM. My thought is if I had done this in the beginning when I first couldn’t find my medicine, the frustration would have been eliminated, or at least eased, for both my husband and myself.


By the way, after I finished with End Time, my husband and I went to dinner. Later, while he was taking a shower, I unpacked my entire duffle bag and found my medication in the sleeve of a top. I repacked and put all the medication together in the mesh compartment on the inside top flap. Now my issue was solved and my medication stayed there, until I got home and unpacked from the trip.


Now: Getting back to my structured journaling technique:

  1. The headings in bold italics, help organize and structure the journal entry. 
  2. The space between each part helps organize it visually, so that I can write and read with more clarity. 
  3. You certainly do not have to be dyslexic to use this method of journaling. But if you are dyslexic, by practicing and developing your journaling skills, this is one great way for dyslexic me to prevent going into a spin and thus avoid a panic attack.

In future blogs, I’ll demonstrate some other kinds of journal writing.

Before she retired, Trina O’Quinn was an actively licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Entering the profession as an older adult, Trina was in private practice for 30 years. During her career she was a lecturer at California University Dominguez Hills in the Marital and Family Therapy Program, where she supervised many students and mentored many associates.

Now retired from counseling, Trina keeps busy enjoying needle arts, reading, Journaling and writing, as well as singing with a women’s chorus, peer networking, volunteering at a senior living center and reconnecting with old friends. 


NABBW Contributing Author

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