By Karen Billing
Using the power of raw, uncensored expressions and feelings committed to the pages of teenagers’ diaries, Carmel Valley author Janet Larson has published “My Diary Unlocked: Stories of Teen Girls Heal the Inner Adolescent of Our Soul.”
The book combines real diary entries with insights from Larson, a self-esteem expert.
“My Diary Unlocked” is available online, at some local bookstores and is featured at the bookstore at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which has a new exhibit on Anne Frank, perhaps the world’s most famous diarist.
Anne’s words are among those youthful insights featured in “My Diary Unlocked” as Larson received permission from the Anne Frank Foundation to use excerpts of her work.
Larson, who lives in Carmel Valley with her husband and daughter, Clay and Angela Melugin, has been working on the book for 10 years, collecting diary entries and conducting research.
Her “light-bulb moment” for the book came during a move, when she unearthed her high school diary in a dusty box in a storage unit.
“I read the whole thing cover to cover and I laughed and I cried and I cringed,” Larson said. “I just realized what devastatingly low self-esteem I had. I had this negative self-talk revealed in my raw diary entries.”
Larson said she grew up in an alcoholic and dysfunctional home, and she felt very alone despite being a pom-pom girl, having a boyfriend and being on the student council. By the age of 19, she had gotten pregnant and had had an abortion.
She said the most powerful entry in her diary is the blank page the day after she found out she was pregnant, because she felt that her soul was crushed.
“I wanted to stretch my arms back across time and give that girl a great big hug,” writes Larson in the book. “Unlocking my diary gave me a greater appreciation than ever before of the contrast between the girl I used to be and the woman I had become. The realization of how far I had come empowered me to more purposefully chart a course to even greater freedom and to share my secrets with others.”
Larson has a master’s in human resources and psychology from the University of Oregon and worked as a HR consultant, motivating employees.
She was personally trained by Jack Canfield, co-author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series, to present self-esteem seminars for young women. She has worked with everyone from Girl Scouts to unwed teen mothers to women and children at emergency shelters. Canfield wrote the foreword for the book.
Larson decided to publish the book herself, training herself in design programs for layout and the book’s visuals, and hiring a professional editing team. After years of work, it was published on Aug. 4.
“I can’t even describe it,” Larson said of finally seeing the book in physical form, her personal copy filled with notes and scribbles.
The diary entries of real teenage girls are interspersed throughout research and insight from experts and empowering exercises crafted by Larson to help readers become aligned with their true selves and live more authentically.
She combed through thousands of diary entries, from girls in their late teens to women now in their 60s.
“The extremely powerful thing about the book is the universal themes we all go through, no matter what generation. There’s no boundaries on the issues we all ultimately feel: ‘Am I good enough? Am I lovable? Am I capable of achieving my dreams?’
“The diary entries are extremely compelling,” Larson said.
The book goes into territory that not many others do, Larson said, covering “taboo” issues that affect self-esteem such as body image, addiction, depression and suicide. She said that the book could offer a safe conversation-starter for parents on real topics that teenagers are facing.
“Mothers are not supposed to read their children’s diaries, but if you have kids, this is a way to get inside information on the issues and how girls feel,” Larson said. “A huge message I got from the perspective of teens is that they don’t feel listened to. The power of connection, that’s what we need at every level.”
The No. 1 message that Larson wants to share with others is, “You are not alone.”
“It was extremely hard to open up and I was concerned about what my family and friends would think about what I reveal in the book — a history of depression and anxiety. I felt extremely vulnerable,” Larson said.
“But it’s also a part of the message of the book, that as adults we’re the torchbearers for the next generation. We need to be vulnerable to share our stories so that others know that they’re not alone.”
Her anxiety returned when she published the book, so she turned to her own advice, doing an exercise from the book about positive visualization, getting rid of those “worry thoughts.” She recorded a message to herself and listened to it whenever negative or fearful thoughts started to pop into her mind.
“Your mind is going to focus on something. Why not focus on what you want?” she said.
Larson has created several accompanying items to go with the book, such as a pendant and a companion diary with inspirational quotes on each page. She is busy on a workbook and has ideas for a more structured diary and a leader’s guide or manual for a women’s group.
She would also like to do workshops using the book with women’s groups and book club.
“I want to go out and spread these messages,” she said.
Larson will do a book signing at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2, at Soul Scape in Encinitas. She is also slated to do two book signings at the Bay Club Carmel Valley (formerly Pacific Sports Resort) on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 11 a.m. and Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 6:30 p.m. In addition, she will appear at 10 a.m. on Nov. 1 at the Carmel Valley Library.
Visit mydiaryunlocked.com. The book is also available on amazon.com.