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?