Thanksgiving can be a feast of joy for some HIVers. But for others it can mean swallowing holiday-season anger and fear and pasting on a smile. A healthier response may be to put your thoughts and feelings on paper—whether to vent about what’s going wrong in your life or to record for posterity what’s going right. Studies report that journalers who write about unpleasant feelings and memories are more resilient and depression-free than those who keep everything bottled up. And listing your blessings—especially when you think you have none—offers similar benefits.

Brian Risley, the lead treatment educator at AIDS Project Los Angeles, recommends journal writing to most clients and says, “The writing doesn’t have to have a narrative flow or be grammatically correct.” Writer/performer and longtime HIVer River Huston agrees, saying, “Anybody can do it. Don’t judge it; don’t edit it; don’t have any expectations.”

Greg Morgan, a successful Kansas City artist who’s been positive since 1992, says he uses journaling both to rant and to  “write about what I’m thankful for.” When asked if our tell-all culture ever tempts him to publish his 15 years of intimate entries, Morgan smiles wryly and says, “It’s probably not a good read for other people.”

Russell DuHaime does have artistic aspirations. A flight attendant diagnosed in 1995, he says, “Writing lets me vent my worst fears. With HIV, unless you’re sick, people don’t want to hear about it.” And since DuHaime would like to one day see his life immortalized in film, he adds, “A flight attendant with AIDS would make a great HBO movie.”

As for “gratitude lists,” one study showed that those who keep even the simplest weekly tally of blessings report fewer physical symptoms and a healthier life outlook. Mark Sichel, a psychotherapist and author of Healing for Family Rifts, suggests saving the lists, and reading them during especially dark days. “When times are bad, people forget things they can be grateful for,” Sichel says. “A good place to start is ‘I have survived. I’m still here.’”    

Starting Off Write
To journal, all you really need is a pencil and paper, but if you want some extra help, here are some primers:

The New Diary
By Tristine Rainer

The Journal Wheel Guide Book
By Deborah Bouziden

Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude
By Sarah Banbreathnach

Count your blessings: the healing power of gratitude and love
By John F. DeMartini

Keeping a daily Journal

Expressing Gratitude