Journaling your journey of life with bipolar disorder

After I experienced my second manic episode over Christmas in 2005, my Dad had a brilliant idea. It was something so simple, yet so tremendously important in the process of helping us to figure out what was going on with me. Over the course of five months I had been put on so many different medications and the doses were constantly changing as we worked to find what ultimately would be the one to “fix” me. To try to keep track of it all, my Dad suggested that I keep a small daily journal with details on just three things: what medications I took that day, any side effects I was experiencing, and how I was feeling.

I began in April of 2006 and have continued today. Those journals are my life in a nutshell. I have looked back through them many times through the course of managing my illness to recall the medications and dosages I was on at different points in my history of living with bipolar disorder. They have been an incredible resource to me and the doctors I have seen over the years. I am forever grateful to my father for coming up with this idea.

The amazing thing about these journals (I have 5 small notebooks filled by this point) is that when I open to a page and read the entry from that day, I can be instantly taken back to that day simply by reading the words that are written on the page. I usually stuck to one page a day, so as not to make the process too time-consuming that it would seem like a chore.

Most of 2006 was filled with pages of me describing crying spells and anxiety attacks. I get sad when I read those pages. But it also helps me to stay focused on my goal to stay healthy and balanced, so as not to have to experience that pain again. When I read my entries from the times I was in the hospital or from my days back at home immediately following the hospitalizations, I recall how much stress and heartache I caused my husband and family and I know that I don’t want that to happen again.

Usually after a hospitalization when I’m working with my psychiatrist to get my meds back to a good point, I’ll use a mood chart for awhile until I become stable. I tried to find the exact one I used online, but wasn’t able to locate it. I did find an online mood chart that looks similar though. I’m pretty sure there has got to be an iphone app for a mood chart, but since I don’t have an iphone I don’t know for sure. I used to bring my completed charts to my doctor so that she could review them in our monthly sessions. She found them helpful, but I seemed to prefer my journaling technique, so I did both.

I find it therapeutic and over the years it has pretty much become a habit – something I do right before I go to bed. I do enjoy blogging, but it’s nice to have my paper journals too. Something about putting a pen to paper I guess. My journals are an invaluable resource to me in documenting my struggles and successes over the years. Lithium may not always work for me, and in the future I may have to transition to a different med. It’s nice to know that I have my history written down, from my viewpoint. It is something that can never be taken away from me.

Do you keep a journal of your experiences managing your illness? If so, how do you think it has helped you?

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  1. I actually have a three-inch-thick binder, with medication records (doctors’), medication records (mine) consult reports from other doctors, mood charts, you name it – and that is in addition to my blogging and free-form paper journaling. This is a wonderful thing for me, because I have been on so many medications and seen so many doctors, plus I went through 16 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy, so my brain can be pretty forgetful and fried.

    I did mood charting at first, and I got my chart from the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance). I found their version helpful, until I was on so many medications that there was no room to write them all in! But I agree that this has been an invaluable tool for me – sometimes I am amazed at how incredibly comprehensive my notes are.

    • It is amazing how well we can document things for ourselves, isn’t it? I like to look back at my journals from time to time so that I can remind myself how far I have come. Puts things into perspective for me.

  2. I recently found a new psychiatrist and one of the questions she asks (before she takes you on, actually) is: what medications have you tried? Did it work? What side effects did you experience? I wish that I had kept journals for all the meds I have taken in the past. I ran out of room. I wrote down names of meds that I thought I had tried but honestly couldn’t remember. I know that Paxil makes me manic, Klonipin calms me down, Lamictal makes me (mostly) stable and Depakote makes me really sick. The rest are all just names on a bottle. I was misdiagnosed for so many years and I’ve tried so many medications that it’s all just a jumble. Since I will be trying new meds with my new doctor, I will start this type of journal. Thanks for the idea!

    • You’re so welcome! I hope that you find it helpful. It is always a challenge to keep track of meds, so just getting into the habit of jotting down a brief summary of your day, the meds you took, and any side effects you felt can be such a valuable resource for you when you switch doctors or need to adjust meds. Glad it was an idea you might use.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story here. I am not bipolar, but my husband is and I have watched his journey very closely over the past couple of years since his psychotic break. He is not the “writing” type, but I am. Since I have started the “healthy” writing about our journey it has been a source of cleansing for me.

    In my writing journey I learned that there is a right way and a wrong way to journal. When we were at our lowest point I would do what I call “mad” journaling where I would write in a fury about all the things I hated about my husband and our life and the situation we were in. It became this unhealthy place that I just stewed. I stepped away from journaling and got some professional help and our relationship improved. About this time I threw away the journal because I would just break down into sobs when I read how hateful and bitter I was at that time in our marriage. I’m glad that your journals have really helped you. I write about our journey now, but in a different format. I write with the hope of providing encouragement to other couples facing bipolar disorder (and other mental illnesses) in their marriage. It is much more healthy and has become a source of healing and acceptance for me. I trust your blog does the same for you.

    Blessings,
    Sara Anderson
    http://www.thebipolarmarriage.com

    • Thanks for your comment Sara. I appreciate your insight as a spouse, as it is a unique viewpoint. Thank you also for sharing your story. I found it incredible when I read on your blog that 90% of marriages where one spouse is bipolar end in divorce. Makes me so sad and it is a statistic like that one that makes me want to fight even harder to keep my marriage strong and healthy. One thing is for sure, I do thank my lucky stars pretty often that my husband is so wonderful and supportive.

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