Writing down what you’re feeling in a depression journal can help those of us with chronic illness but keeping it private may prove more difficult.
Wouldn’t it be nice to say what you really mean all the time without repercussions and all the while keeping it private? Like when someone doubts your chronic illness or makes a really ignorant (but well-meaning) comment like “Get Well Soon”. We all have times when everything is overwhelming and we want to scream…or lie in a dark bedroom and cry.
Chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases like to have company. If you have one you will most likely have others and depression is common for us Spoonies. Brain fog or pain fog can make concentrating or remembering things difficult if not impossible. It is frustrating when you have to fight through a pain flare. Sometimes it is just downright depressing to deal with all that comes with invisible illness. It's even worse when doctors and/or family don't understand or think you are faking.
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Several months ago I started a daily diary to write about what I ate when I slept and when I took my meds. Now I also make notes for my doctor because many times I forget to tell him something. After a few months of noting my daily activities, I started writing down some things that were frustrating me. From there it evolved and I note when I'm depressed or anxious but also when I'm happy. Sometimes writing out why I am so depressed helps my mood but not always. I have to remember that depression is a disease NOT a choice.
Journaling, for me, is therapeutic and fun
I like to express my frustrations and anger so they can leave my body and I can calm down. My body needs its energy to rest and heal. I also like to keep track of when I take my meds or my sleep and eating habits too. I’ve also started writing stories about what I would like to have in my life such as the house I want and the car I want. This is about visualizing, sort of like a vision board. It helps me feel good and stay positive.
I was surprised at how many options there are available for those wanting to keep a journal. Some people like writing but others would rather take a video of themselves or just record their voice. You can even talk to Google and have it write everything for you in a Google Doc.
There are different formats you can use for your depression journal:
- Notebook journals can be made from spiralized notebooks or composition notebooks. You can decorate them or leave them like they are. They are easy to grab and write in and can easily fit in a backpack if needed.
- Video journals can be filmed from your phone, tablet or laptop. You could also use a video camera if you really wanted. After filming you can store the video on your device or upload it somewhere you want to store it.
- Online journals are a thing too. Some people even keep gratitude journals. There are sites like Penzu or Journey Cloud that can help you set up your journal in no time. They even have an app you can use from your phone if you don't always have your laptop with you.
- Bullet journals have been a huge hit lately and there are so many creative ways to decorate them. You can color code or use washi tape to decorate them. These are more for tracking things or planning your schedule but I'm sure you could find ways to use it as your depression journal. Some of them are so pretty you may feel a little better by just looking at them.
- Voice recorded journal. Grab your phone and record what you want to say. Not everybody likes to write either by hand or typing.
Don't know what to write about or where to start? Here are 20 journal prompts for us Spoonies with anxiety and/or depression:
Positive Psychology Program has an article called 83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Management that says:
“… journaling can also help you manage your stress through:
- Decreasing symptoms of various health conditions
- Improving your cognitive functioning.
- Strengthening your immune system…”
Here are 5 tips to make keeping a depression journal more effective for you:
- Keep track of your pain in your depression journal to see if there is any connection between food, activities, medications, etc.
- Secure your journal and keep it private so you can honestly express what you are feeling. You can't get into the nitty-gritty of things if you are worried someone else will read it. Just because you write something doesn't mean you want to or would actually follow through on it but it is good to get it out of your system.
- Write openly and honestly. Unless you decide to, you aren’t going to show it to anyone. Some people share their journal with their therapist but it's not necessary. You need to be able to let the truth out so you can heal or feel better.
- Make doodles or drawings in your journal. Use emoticons or GIF's to illustrate how you feel. Sometimes a meme will say what you feel better than your words describe. Create artwork or do something creative as a way to express yourself or to enhance your journal. Art and doodling can be very therapeutic all by themselves. You don't need to write to put your emotions on paper.
- Create a spreadsheet for tracking what you want. If you are tracking your pain, medications or symptoms then you may want to use a spreadsheet that can be set up to calculate for you. This could be how much you sleep, how long your flares last, how many fats or calories you took in or how often your periods of depression last.
I like journaling because I can say what I want and not hold back
There are times I remember a response after the fact and need to get it out of my system. This helps me get those words in even if I can’t re-do the encounter. Plus there are so many times I want to yell or scream at someone but I try to stay peaceful. Then I write down what I really wanted to say later. It's hard to talk sometimes when your energy is low, pain is high or you just can't get the words to come out because of pain/brain fog.
In this WebMD article a licensed professional counselor, Jill Howell, says:
“…I often tell my patients to write and rip,” says Howell. “When you know that no one will ever read what you're writing, you're much less inclined to edit or worry about spelling, grammar, or bad language.” The less you worry about writing, the more you benefit…”
How To Protect The Privacy Of Your Depression Journal:
- Use a safe
- Keep an online journal that is password protected
- Use Google Docs and password protect its contents
- There are some great diary apps, like the ones I shared above, that will keep your words safe from prying eyes
- If you use a notebook journal and don't have a safe you can always put it in a place nobody uses or inside your pillowcase but I don't recommend either of these options
- Politely ask your family to respect your privacy and leave your journal alone
- Keep your journal with you at all times
With the exception of sharing it with your therapist, your journal should be private. Unless you can write exactly what you want with no fear of anyone else seeing it you won't be honest. If you're not honest then you can't reap the benefits, you will just write “fluff” and that isn't going to help at all. That being said, there is no 100% way to keep your journal safe and private. All you can do is research the sites you use and do the best you can to keep your journal private.
Writing in a journal is not a cure for depression or anxiety
These mental illnesses may require medication and always require a doctor to help you manage your illness(es). Depression and anxiety are just like having Diabetes or an autoimmune disease. Sometimes medications will help but there is no cure for most people with these life-altering diseases.
If you can, try writing in your journal every day. Even five minutes a day helps. I am the first to admit that on really painful days or days I mostly sleep I don't write. When I am able I try to jot down what was happening and anything I think I need to note like new symptoms. The purpose of your journal is to help with your depression and enhance your life so don't worry if you don't feel like writing. Give yourself a break and try again later.
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A journal will never replace professional medical advice or medication
Don't forget that seeing your doctor and following their advice is paramount when you have a mental illness.
Do you have a favorite way to journal or advice on how to keep your depression journal private? Let us know by commenting below. Helping each other get through life with chronic illness may make a huge difference in someone's life and that someone could be you.
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I love hearing all about how you tackle your struggles with chronic illness!
Do you have other tips you can share with us? Most spoonies have found workarounds for all types of things and I’d love to share your advice.
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Kim is a freelance blogger, writer and VA. She loves sharing resources for other “spoonies” to help them create lives they love. Hoarding crochet patterns on Pinterest is her second favorite thing.