General Transcript For “Mood Journal” Video
My name is Gabe Howard. I’m the host of The Psych Central Show Podcast, and I am also a person that lives with bipolar disorder. Managing bipolar disorder takes a lot of time, and people often ask me, “Gabe, what are some hints and tips to help manage my bipolar disorder? Or my depression? Or my mental illness?” Well, I keep a diary.
Let me tell you a little story because I think it is funny. When I was 25 years-old, and was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I went to therapy a lot. I was learning different things, skills, and a woman who kind of reminded me of my sister (she was my therapist), she said, “Gabe, you need to keep a diary.” And this just conjured up this idea of a 12 year-old girl in her room writing down who she loved in study hall. I immediately just had this visceral reaction of like no, no, huh-uh! I already talk about my feelings, I already cry too much. I want to hold on to some semblance of manhood. I am not keeping a diary.
So I kept a diary because I wanted to get well, and frankly, I thought it was a decent idea, but I cheated a little and called it a journal. Because journals are manly. That’s what I’ve decided. And still, 15 years later, I actually still keep a little mood journal. This is mine and I’m not going to show you the inside because it’s private and that would be rude.
General Instructions and Benefits for Keeping a Mood Journal
But, I write down things like how I slept the night before. And I write down what time I took my medication. And I write down what kind of a day I had. Did I have a good day? Did I have a bad day? Did I have an awful day? I write down if I experience any side effects of my medication. I just sort of write down some basic notes one day at a time about my day. And this allows me to do two really amazing things. Right now, I see my doctor about every three months. Three months is a long period of time to remember how I did the previous ninety days. And I noticed that previously, I would walk in and when my doctor asked me how I was doing, I would answer as of today. I could have had the best eight/nine days, but if, on the ninetieth day when I saw the psychiatrist, I was feeling bad, I would say, “Awful, I’m doing awful.” That’s just not good information. But now, I could pull out the mood diary, or the mood journal, whatever you want to call it, and I could say, “This was my ninety days: I had a little trouble sleeping at first. Here are some side effects that I had. Here are the number of good days: I had sixty good days and I had thirty bad days. And, frankly, the last thirty days have been pretty good. And the bad days were at the beginning.”
And this would give us real data. And that was great because I believe that it got me better care. Especially because I could only see my doctor for 15 minutes. But it had another great perk: see, mental illness lies. And whenever I felt bad, I believed that every day was bad. But I could pull out this mood journal and I could look at it and I could see, okay, in the last two weeks I’ve had ten good days and four bad days. That’s progress.
You know, in the beginning, right after diagnosis, it took a long time to see progress, because for me there was either sick or well. Sick or well. I couldn’t see the little victories in between. This documented little victories. Starting to write down that I had good days made me feel better. It just did. Even if there were only two good days in a sea of bad days. Two good days. Tracking this stuff matters. It was also incredibly empowering that I did something every day to help control my own destiny. It may seem stupid that writing something down would help in the way that it did, but it did.
Keep it simple. That’s what is really important here. It is all about keeping it simple so that you’ll do it day after day after day. It is a lot of data that matters. Because when you look back over thirty days you are going to start to see patterns. And based on those patterns you can make decisions.
Finally, when it comes to what things to track, work with your therapist, work with your doctor, work with your friends and family. Track the things that are important to you to get the data that you want. It is your tool. Own it.
Talkback: Share Your Thoughts About Mood Journals
In the comments section below, talk about your mood journal and how it has worked for you, the things that you track, the scale that you used, and how you introduced it to your psychiatrist. When I first heard about the idea of a diary for people with mental illness, I really did think my doctor was a quack. But I was wrong, and 15 years later I am still keeping it up. It is a very easy, simple, and useful tool. And it is one that I am proud that I still do today. It has been immensely helpful, and I think it will be for you, too.
My name is Gabe Howard. I am the host of The Psych Central Show Podcast, and I’ll see you next time.