Published on July 22nd, 2013 | by Jennifer Killi Marshall

Journaling Your Way To Recovery

I’m in recovery from Bipolar Disorder – Type 1. Today, I’m feeling emotions with my whole heart. I’m living life to the fullest, enjoying working as a freelance writer, spending hot summer afternoons at the pool with my two fish, and stealing quiet moments with my husband after the kids have been tucked in for the night. I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time.

But things haven’t always been this good. In fact, I have five journals jammed to the margin with the vivid details of how far I’ve come.

With four hospitalizations for mania in my past, it’s pretty far.

I’d always enjoyed writing as a child and a teen. I kept girly notebooks held together with mini locks to hide my innermost feelings from prying eyes. I recently discovered an old book of poetry I had forgotten that I had written. My love of writing has continued throughout my entire life. When I first got sick, I had no idea that writing could lead me to the road to recovery.

My dad knew. He’s the one who suggested I take a few minutes each day to write stuff down. He bought me my first journal at a drugstore. Nothing fancy, just white paper with empty lines, ready to be filled with the sorting through of my madness. If it weren’t for my dad’s encouragement, overcoming my illness may have taken much more time.

I’m honored to share one of my strategies for overcoming mental illness by describing the incredible benefits journaling can bring to a person’s recovery journey. You don’t have to be a writer to use this technique successfully. It is simple and only takes a minimal time investment for the invaluable insight it uncovers. I’m not talking about freewriting or creative journaling where you open up about your feelings and let the words flow out onto the paper, but instead, a more succinct style of recapping your recovery. Creative writing is wonderful, and can certainly be helpful in beating mental illness, but this method is different.

Here are some simple steps to use what I call a Recovery Journal.

1. Buy a simple lined notebook.

This can be a plain spiral notebook that you see marketed like crazy during “Back to School” season or a unique size with a meaningful design or picture on the cover. Whatever you are drawn to when you browse the stationary aisle works. Buy a few different types, if you’re so inclined, to see which you like best. I tend to prefer a compact size because it’s easiest for me to write well in bed, where I typically make my daily notes.

2. Set a recurring alarm.

Choose a time that will be convenient for you to spend five minutes writing. For me, this was always at the end of the day. But when I was first diagnosed, I would pull out my notebook morning and night due to the notes I needed to record. Setting this alarm will help to engrain the habit of writing every single day.

3. Date your entry then write down the following notes.

  • Use the abbreviation MMSS to remember what to record.
  • Medicine: What dose and type of medicine you took and the time you took it.
  • Mood: How are you feeling today? (This doesn’t need to be drawn out, just a sentence or two on your mood.)
  • Side Effects: Are you experiencing any side effects from the medicines you are taking? If so, what are they, and when do you notice them?
  • Sleep: How many hours did you sleep the night before? Did you or will you nap today?

4. Bring your notebook with you to your appointments with your care providers.

This will give you a chance to share your feedback on your treatment plan with your doctor or therapist, allowing you to reference exact dates and how you were feeling. This is valuable information for your psychiatrist who will then be able to tweak medication dosages or types of medication to allow you to see better results.

You are the only person who can advocate for yourself. Why not give yourself the best shot at the swiftest recovery, made simpler by tracking your own mental health? All you need is a pen and paper. I’m not saying it doesn’t take hard work, because it certainly does. But if you have that fire in your belly, the voice that’s saying, “I’m sick of feeling the way I’m feeling!” then I urge you to give this a try. Because I’m living proof that overcoming mental illness is possible, and if I can do it, so can you.

Photo by Belovodchenko Anton via Stock.Xchng.

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