This lockdown journal is a personal record of daily life during the first lockdown from March to June 2020 caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It served as a tangible place to safe keep thoughts and emotions, but simultaneously acts as a token of living through such a remarkable time and adds to a long history of journal writing.
This journal specifically is a bullet journal. Bullet journals have a blank layout on their pages, with only a dotted grid pattern. This open layout gives the user complete freedom to fill in the pages however and with whatever. This specific journal was used as a diary during the first lockdown in Maastricht, the Netherlands, during the global COVID19 pandemic. The entries within this journal go from March 2020 to June 2020, and describe feelings and thoughts about this extraordinary and remarkable period in history. Yet, not only the content of the text within the journal is worth mentioning when describing my object. The material and sensorial properties are just as important when contextualizing an object, as these can also evoke certain emotions that can contribute to the meaning (Lester, 2018). When glancing at the object, is it obvious that the journal has been used a lot. The pages are full with writing, the cover is not stiff anymore, the writing and the brand on the cover are fading, and there are things stuck between the pages like pictures and drawings that cause the journal to not close entirely anymore. All in all, there are tracks of usage seen in multiple ways on the journal, which adds to the significance of the object and story it has to tell.
“During the first lockdown, I really felt the need to just write. First of all to give my own feelings and emotions a place, but second of all I had this urge to have a physical reminder of these remarkable days to look back on in the future.”Julia Grijspaardt, 2021
Personal Meaning in Relation to the Pandemic
Now, the physical qualities described above automatically direct towards the special meaning that this journal carries for me in relation to the global pandemic. This journal I specifically used during the first lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Netherlands. At the time, I was living in Maastricht as a student and was having trouble adapting my life to the new restrictions. As a result of the lockdown, I had all this time on my hands that I wanted to use to start understanding these negative feelings that I was experiencing. I used this journal to write down all of my thoughts and possibly track negative habits that were causing them.
Most of all, I wanted to give all these thoughts and feelings that felt so abstract and hard to grasp, a physical place. Therefore, the physicality of this object was very important to me. It felt like a way to make these emotions and thoughts tangible so that they would be more structured and maybe even become more real. Having them in this one place that was not in my head, made my thoughts easier to grasp and reflect on. Personally, this felt like the most important step towards dealing with the abundance of change in my day-to-day routine.
Subsequently, it also gave a feeling of relief when I wrote my thoughts down, and was then able to put the journal away. Some days it even felt like the thoughts stayed in there, and I was able to move on without them. Yet this was not the only reason I started writing in my journal, as it was always specifically supposed to be my lockdown journal. This time in lockdown was so unique, something the world had never experienced and never thought it would. I wanted this journal to be something to look back on, a token and a tangible memory of this unusual time. This object could function as a keeper of all my memories and thoughts that would allow me to reflect on the experiences of this time, even years from now.
The entries in this journal end in June of 2020, making this a journal of only the first period that the Netherlands was in lockdown. When this lockdown ended, life got more hectic again, which made me unable to keep up with writing in my journal consistently. Life simply got busy again, and it felt like the world just resumed after a long sudden pause. Additionally, the drive to write and document that I had experienced during the lockdown, now faded away. The state of the world seemed less remarkable and noticeable to capture. The sense of immense and sudden change seemed to have passed. Additionally, with fewer restrictions in place there were less negative emotions to get rid off. Essentially, the “need” to write in my journal had faded away. Therefore, this journal will always be emotionally connected to the Covid-19 pandemic. When I see this journal, I think back to this time and re-experience some of the feelings from that extraordinary period in history.
Wider Societal, Cultural and Historical Significance
Inevitably, many people also struggled with adapting to the lockdown and experienced similar emotions. Recent research indicates that specifically among students, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was clearly noticeable. Students all over the world suffered from increased anxiety due to the restrictions and for example the added stress that was caused by online education (Savage et al, 2020; Qui et al, 2020; Hasan & Bao, 2020). As described earlier, this lockdown journal was used as a coping mechanism to deal with these negative effects of the pandemic. According to James Pennebaker (2000) the mental and even physical health can significantly improve when someone writes about his or her emotional experiences. Additionally, purposely making a story out of these feelings can actually help to understand the self even better.
Diary of Anne Frank & Diary of Samuel Pepys
Therefore, it might come to no surprise that there is a long history of journal writing. According to Peter Heehs (2013) the goal of early diarists was to simply record their thoughts and actions. Yet, as the concept of the diary developed further, writing started to contain more “self-expression”, “objective documentation”, “self-reflection”, and “the desire for self-improvement” (Heehs, 2013, p. 8). Throughout the course of history an abundance of diaries have been written. Numerous famous journals are even widely known, for example that of Samuel Pepys and the diary of Anne Frank.The diary of Anne Frank records her days while hiding from the German Nazi regime in Amsterdam as a Jewish girl in World War II. As her diary is widely known, she was definitely not the only Jewish person in the World War II that kept a diary.
According to Amos Goldberg (2017) this was a widespread phenomenon among the Jewish in this period. He elaborates that this phenomenon is not surprising as “diary writing is a practice that has been identified with intimacy on the one hand, and chaos on the other hand – particularly when the “outside” is repressive and menacing” (Goldberg, 2017, p. 9). Ultimately, Goldberg (2017) concludes that diary writing thrives in times of crisis.
“The genre (diary writing) becomes particularly popular in periods or situations of tremendous change and mentous historical events, alongside massive personal repression and individuals’ growing need to reorganize what remains of their own identity, and document the extreme changes occurring in and around them.”Amos Goldberg, 2017, p. 9-10.
Therefore, people could feel a greater need to record during times of crisis like the global Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused extensive changes in everyone’s daily life because of the lockdown, and a fear of the Covid-19 disease was present. These occurrences could possibly stimulate the need to document the period as mentioned by Goldberg (2017).
Ultimately, the documentation of historical times in history through various tools, such as journals, is helpful and important for the future. According to Heehs (2013), diaries are important because they provide direct insight into public and private events. Yet, when using diaries and journals for historical purposes, it has to be taken into account that the information is personal and therefore not objective. Nevertheless, obtaining personal opinions and a personal perspective on specific events from certain individuals in history, can also grant interesting information. Nowadays, diaries have been recognized in academics as a method for social research as it is recognized by scholars that they can provide relevant data for analysis (Alazewski, 2006).
As for the Covid-19 pandemic, there are actually many institutions that are making an effort to document this pandemic. Many organizations like museums and scholarly institutions are attempting to collect as many materials, like for example this journal, as possible. To name just a few examples of initiatives from all over the world: UChicago, House of European History, MIT , and the 3D Covid Collection you are visiting right now!
Alaszewski, A. (2006). Using Diaries for Social Research: Introducing Qualitative Methods Series. SAGE.
Goldberg, A. (2017). Trauma in First Person: Diary Writing During the Holocaust. Indiana University Press.
Hasan, N. & Bao, Y. (2020). Impact of “e-Learning crack-up” perception on psychological distress among college students during COVID-19 pandemic: A mediating role of “fear of academic year loss”. Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105355.
Heehs, P. (2013). Writing the Self: Diaries, Memoirs, and the History of the Self. Bloomsbury Academic.
Lester, P. (2018). Of mind and matter: the archive as object. Archives and Records, 39:1, 73-87. https://doi.org/10.1080/23257962.2017.1407748
Pennebaker, J.W. (2000). Telling Stories: The Health Benefits of Narrative. Literature and Medicine 19(1), 3-18. doi:10.1353/lm.2000.0011.
Qiu, J., Shen, B., Zhao, M., Wang, Z., Xie, B., & Xu, Y. (2020). A nationwide survey of psychological distress among Chinese people in the COVID-19 epidemic: implications and policy recommendations. General psychiatry, 33(2). https://doi.org/10.1136/gpsych-2020-100213
Savage, M. J., James, R., Magistro, D., Donaldson, J., Healy, L. C., Nevill, M. & Hennis. P. J. (2020). Mental health and movement behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic in UK university students: Prospective cohort study. Mental Health and Physical Activity, Volume 19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2020.100357.