Phillipian Commentary: Love Letters to Myself

On January 1, 2020, I finished a yearlong project: my “One Second a Day” video. Once a day over the course of 2019, I would take out my phone and record a one-second video which would then be stored in the app. Simple enough, right?

For such a basic concept, the app had a profound impact on me. Part of the reason was that a lot of the seconds in my compilation were taken during my Lower year, a time when continuing at Andover felt impossible. After some time at Andover, whether it’s two days, two months, or two years, everything, including our problems, fades into dreamlike normalcy. This enabled me to ignore how painfully out of touch I had become from serious issues in my life. I knew that I was struggling with something, and badly. What that something was, though, eluded me, and I had never tried to identify it.

I had found it difficult to cope with the increased amount of work and new personal and social dynamics. I had fallen back into habits of disordered eating, isolated myself, and found myself crying for hours on end for no particular reason at all. I was scared, alone, and had no idea how to climb out of the hole that I hadn’t noticed I was digging. I found myself scrolling through my phone’s camera roll trying to find something, anything, that would make me forget about how miserable I was. I stumbled across the wealth of short clips and replayed them.

When I rewatched my year, I realized just how much life I had forgotten about. Most of the moments were just snippets of the everyday—spontaneous and mundane all at once. Shots of a friend’s birthday at Chipotle, a Paresky Commons table bedecked with Valentine’s Day decorations, or a particularly pretty Andover sunset. Joy and love and stress and every emotion that I had felt every day radiated out at me through my screen, one second at a time. To me, “One Second” was so much more than an app and a New Years Resolution.

I promise this isn’t an ad.

The summer after Lower year, I went on a trip to Alaska that banned technology—the only way I could record and reflect on my days was physically writing them down in a journal. I was initially resistant to the idea, having actively avoided introspection for years, but One Second had unlocked, if not opened, the door for me to better understand myself. So, I gritted my teeth and began writing. And writing. And writing. I wrote about the near-24 hour sunlight, the hypnotizing silence of a calving glacier, about how much my feet hurt from hiking. And I wrote about myself. I took to my glorified diary and smashed open the bottle of anger and fear and nastiness that had been building inside of me for a year and a half.

While I have experienced the benefits that journaling has had on my own mental health, it’s something that can be easily brushed off as superficial, or worse, inauthentic. The important thing with journaling is the intention with which you do it: it doesn’t have to be daily, like “One Second,” but the moments of self-reflection and understanding have to be there. While writing doesn’t make me less sad, I can tell it makes me more aware of how I can be happy, and medical research agrees with me.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker[c] is the Centennial Liberal Arts Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a leading researcher on the study of “expressive writing”. An article from Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat[d] explains how he and other researchers on the topic have conducted several studies where expressive writing is linked to a decrease in things like chronic stress and pain reliever use. Additionally, in a 2014 study[e] done by researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of California, Los Angeles, brief expressive writing was linked to better math test performance and easing math anxiety.

Obviously, “One Second” wasn’t a one-and-done fix to my mental health, and neither is journaling. No one thing is, and I’m far from cured. Journaling has since become the main way I organize and articulate my thoughts and emotions: negative, positive, and everything in between. While “One Second” had a huge impact on me, I’ve taken the greatest strides towards being mentally healthy as a result of journaling. Whether it’s just a summary of my day, a collection of words and random thoughts, or even a bad doodle, having this private outlet to figure out how I’m really thinking and feeling has been invaluable.[f] “One Second” was simply a bridge to accepting myself as a whole person.

Andover stops being special when we’re not paying attention to it. As the amount of stress and competition in my life snowballed, it was easy to get overwhelmed. Even easier, especially, when I wasn’t paying attention to myself. I started to forget about all the little things that made me love Andover in the first place. At the end of the day, the best and most unexpected thing that “One Second” did for me was make me remember all of those little things. It brought me to journaling, which has helped me organize and deal with the various stresses of Upper year more than I could have ever predicted.

Most of all, when I was forced to pay attention to every part of my life, my wellbeing became a priority. It’s my problems, insecurities, and flaws, as well as my successes, that make me the person that I am: the person that is compelling and interesting and has a three-minute story of choppy seconds that is, frankly, worth watching.