Inpatient stays and outpatient programs taught me much. Everyday, I use the tools I was taught to help manage my bipolar 2 disorder. Although there are many, in my opinion, keeping a journal has proven to be one of the most effective tools I was taught to use. However, at first, I wasn’t easily convinced that it was something I could do, and I wasn’t really keen on the idea.
I was in an outpatient program when given my first empty notebook. Those blank pages overwhelmed me! You might find that interesting considering the fact that I love to write short stories and poetry. I have even dabbled a few times with writing lyrics. But this was different. I was being asked to write down my personal thoughts, not words I could hide behind in a land of dark fantasy.
However, I found it was like a muscle. The first time I used it, it hurt and I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. I felt very clumsy trying to journal. Was my technique and form correct? If looking, was anyone going to laugh at me? Was this really goingto do me any good or was it a useless activity? I couldn’t stand how weak several (hundreds?) of entries felt and seemed. Several times, I wanted to give up.
But like any other muscle, the more I used it, the better I felt and the more ways I figured out how to refine and strengthen it. It has almost become an addiction! I feel an urge to journal daily (sometimes more than once a day) and if I skip, I miss it. I feel light and free after I journal. It helps me to see patterns in my moods. I use it as a reference to go back to when needed.
Have you tried to keep a journal? Here are some tips if you would like to try:
- Don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money on a journal. You can if you want to, but what’s important is what is on the inside, not how it looks on the outside.
- Set a time aside just to journal. It doesn’t have to be long. An entry of a couple of paragraphs is great! And, if you get interrupted in the middle of an entry, shrug it off and start a new one next time.
- Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Just write!
- Don’t worry about writing neatly.
- If you miss a few or more days, don’t give it up or feel like you have failed. Pick back up as soon as you are able.
My first entries were short. Now, they are longer and you will notice that I have added a few things more than just writing my thoughts. Here is what and how I currently journal:
- First and foremost, with absolutely any thought that pops into my head, I write it down. You may laugh at the times I have written, ‘What should I write now? I can’t think of anything else.’ When I write that, I have learned to recognize that I am usually trying to push negative thoughts out of my head so I don’t have to think about them. It’s always those embarrassing or dark thoughts that are the hardest to admit in written form. I had to train myself to allow any thought I had make it down to my fingers and out of the writing utensil because it was the negative ones that I didn’t want or think I could work through!
- Thoughts I write can be anything. Victories, failures, complaints, fears, humor, self pity, secrets…you name it, I force myself to write it. It can be brutal. It can be irrational. It can be insightful.
- When I write, I make sure to spend time and expand on the topic, trying to see it from every side. If it is a victory, I document how I got there, how it made me feel, and the benefits I noticed. If it is a complaint, I document what validity I feel it has, what a devil’s advocate may think, and what I intend to do to fix it. Get the picture?
- I also write two short term goals to be accomplished in the next 24 hours, as well as one long term goal that I am working on. The next time I journal, I make sure to look at those goals. If I didn’t achieve them or aren’t done with them, I simply write it as a goal again!
- Finally, I journal positive affirmations. If you haven’t tried positive affirmations before, Google it for a definition, how it can help, and suggestions to start you out. For me, I started with a generic list of 5 that I found with Google. I currently have 18 that are very personalized. That list grows, but it never shrinks! Every time I journal, I write my list.
So, what and how do you journal? Your comments could help me to refine my muscle even more to get stronger! If you aren’t keeping a journal now, I hope you try it. Be patient and just do what feels right, but be honest and let those thoughts go!