Australia’s first Isolation Journal from war survivor Leila Chalk

Leila Chalk, Isolation Journal, 2020 (detail)Australian lawyer, mum and war survivor Leila Chalk has drawn from her childhood experiences in war-torn Bosnia and her time spent in a detention camp in Northern Croatia to create what might be Australia’s first Isolation Journal: a beautifully designed notebook with questions and writing prompts to help people document, process, and flourish during the self-isolation period brought on by COVID-19.

“When mass lockdown started, it took me a while to realise that the anxiety of war and the anxiety of mass isolation were becoming quickly interlinked,” says Leila. “That coping with mass trauma was something I already had a toolbox for and that other people could benefit from those tools.”

The journal contains guided questions and opportunities to identify emotions and document experiences during mass isolation. It is also a means of creatively documenting a unique moment in a person’s life and in history.

Leila grew up in Bosnia in the 1990s and revisits the topics of societal grief and coping mechanisms in the writing of this journal. “When I was nine years old, I lived in a detention camp in Northern Croatia,” says Leila.

“One of the counsellors charged with looking after the little children suffering from war trauma would assign me tasks to help me express my emotions. I was having some pretty terrible nightmares at the time, and, looking at it from an adult perspective now, I suspect that she thought journaling would be helpful.”

Although the Isolation Journal was created as a coping mechanism during COVID-19, Leila hopes the Isolation Journal will help others document their feelings and emotions during any period of isolation, uncertainty or trauma in their lives such having a loved one going through chemotherapy, a family having to go into isolation prior to a major surgery and even new mums combatting the lonely ‘fourth trimester’ after having a baby.

The benefits of journaling have long been cited as a means to get in touch with one’s own feelings, process anxieties and plan future goals. Although mindfulness, gratefulness and success journals exist, Leila found herself unable to write in any of them when the Coronavirus pandemic started to have an impact on life around her.

“I would stare at a blank page and I would not know where to begin. Many people that I spoke to mentioned the same situation.” – Leila Chalk

Leila called on her own experience, drawing pictures to express her emotions as a nine-year-old trapped in a processing camp, and created the journal formatted with writing prompts for daily contemplation, as well as more structured tasks that serve as check-ins to keep track of feelings and emotions over the course of the writing experience.

The Isolation Journal also includes suggestions on how to stay connected during social distancing and activities to encourage creative expression through art, games, and writing. For more information, visit: www.leilachalk.com for details.

Image: Leila Chalk, Isolation Journal, 2020 (detail)

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