Illness Journaling

It has been suggested by a multiple of studies and numerous psychiatric health professionals that illness journaling, or journaling in general, can be an extremely positive and therapeutic process for a mentally ailing person.  A journal can, it has been found in these studies, be a valuable guide in steering an emotionally plagued person towards the calmer seas of a deeper understanding of the issues causing his/her distress.

A person can use an illness journal to put his/her emotional and mental health into a better more understandable perspective.  He/She can use it to vast advantages in his/her own personal therapy, as well as as an aid to help enable the bipolar sufferer during interactions with his/her healthcare practitioners.   It has been found that when using the process of journaling one’s personal experiences, whether they be traumatic or emotionally charged, it can be an extremely healthy, if not highly effective, way of working through these events to further aid and overcome the psychological ramifications linked to them.  This process helps a person vent emotions and issues that may be plaguing him/her, dilemmas that he/she may be obsessing upon and stewing about.  The journal writer may discuss these matters in a deeply personal and cathartic way knowing that what he/she expresses is protected by an established code of privacy honored by those close to him/her.  A person can express intense emotions that may not be socially appropriate to display towards another person with little fear of reprisal or rejection.  A journal will never condescend or reject.  A brilliant feature about journals is there is absolutely nothing a person cannot confide in them.

When a person is made to write an experience down in a journal, or express an emotional period of distress, they are in a sense creating a story.  The person writes about the experience as a narrative, the beginning, the climax, and the culmination.  It has been discovered that when a person is made to journal or story his/her experiences he/she simplifies them as he/she writes allowing them to become more manageable to comprehend in his/her consciousness.  And, so more easier to translate into written word and the constructs of language, as we know it, making the complex issue stripped down and simplified.  This allows the person to open up the issue and look at its bare bones, giving him/her a clearer perspective on the circumstances and ramifications surrounding the issue’s different factors.  By writing about events and emotions people develop an understanding about the causes and consequences of the experience that affect them. Writing about an experience or feelings forces a person to analyze them and process them.  It aids in promoting the release of pent up emotions.  In this way the bipolar sufferer can work toward putting these experiences into the proper perspective and not allowing them to hamper future therapy treatments.

It is an instrument that can at times be used as a most practical means in one’s therapy as a bridge to aid a person to overcome certain crises or emotional blockages he/she may be experiencing and are not able to express in any other way but through written word for many reasons.  A person, for example, may not be able to put the words into speech due to embarrassment or an overwhelming emotional reaction to voicing his/her distress, but he/she may be able to express this same predicament in writing given the right circumstances.  In some cases a person may suffer from paranoid delusions or a fear of repercussions from disclosing personal information associated with his/her emotional distress, writing it in a sealed journal can give the patient the degree of comfort he/she needs in order to work through these issues.  Once the issue has been written in the journal and “released” so to speak from the patient’s confidence it is more likely he/she will feel less inhibited to reveal this information to their healthcare provider by allowing them to read the journal.  At times people feel they cannot find the words to adequately describe their emotional dilemma to their healthcare providers, but later at home they can write about it prolifically and in detail.  This is when a journal can aid a patient in his/her treatments; he/she can present the journal material to the healthcare provider as a means of communicating his/her emotional state.

The benefit of journaling is that it promotes self-understanding, and for a person who is plagued with a tumult of confusion, not unlike that of a bipolar sufferer, understanding can mean the difference between the daylight of reason and the darkness of delusion.  A journal can tackle issues and grapple them bringing them down to size.  Emotions that seem to wail through a person’s body with a painful intensity can be forcibly exorcised onto the pages of a big black book and then slammed shut within.  A difficulty can become smaller, less intimidating when captured in ink, in small print on the page.  Writing about emotions or issues forces a degree of structure and organization to a person’s thought processes concerning them.  This allows a deeper ability to focus not on the emotional gut reaction to the event, but on the facts surrounding a person’s predicament at present.  It is important that one remembers that a cathartic experience should not only include an emotional release but also be thought provoking.  It has been noted in some studies that if a person writes about an event multiple times a person will become more detached and more analytical about it.  This gives the journal writer the opportunity to gain more insight into what he/she is discussing in his/her entries with less confusion caused by overwhelming emotional baggage.

A bipolar sufferer can use his/her journal as a nonjudgmental and confidential sounding board for issues they may be struggling with and are unable to approach healthcare providers with at the time.  A journal can also be used as a means of expressing ideas to oneself that one is just beginning to grapple with and are unsure of.  One can discuss them in the journal at length before broaching them with others allowing oneself to become comfortable with the issue beforehand.  It is a good place to explore extenuating circumstances to issues that may be causing hiccups in one’s therapy; it is an excellent record to look back upon and study one’s mental health journey.

A journal also serves the purpose of allowing a bipolar sufferer a venue to express negative emotions and thoughts, purge them from their mind, kind of like a cerebral regurgitation.  These thoughts and emotions can be disclosed in the confidence of the silent pages. This enables the person to place these thoughts down on paper in plain view before their eyes for them to analyze, perhaps discover patterns, even discern the root causes of them.   A person given this opportunity to delve deeply into the dark images and ruminations of their illness can, at a later date, when stable in mind, use these discoveries to further advance in their personal struggle with their emotional issues.

One of the most remarkable aspects of illness journaling is that there is evidence that the act of penning one’s issues and overwhelming emotions onto paper can actually have a beneficial effect on one’s physical health.  Doctor Joshua M. Smyth carried out a study in which results showed that people suffering from asthma and rheumatoid arthritis experienced a marked improvement in their health when practicing journaling.  It seems that keeping a journal can improve one’s immune system by strengthening immune cells called T-lymphocytes, a discovery of Doctor James Pennebaker, a leading researcher and educator on the subject of journaling and health. However, one must combine the cathartic and analytical experience of journaling an issue/event in order to reap the full benefits. There are also indications that when a bipolar sufferer maintains a journal he/she is more apt to be able to manage stress, panic attacks, negative thoughts and emotions more efficiently in his/her life, than one who doesn’t.  They are less afraid of overwhelming crisis situations and are better prepared for life in general.  He/She is more grounded and confident in his/her knowledge of whom he/she is and where he/she believes his/her therapy needs to be directed.

By taking advantage of the habit of keeping an illness journal, a bipolar sufferer can truly explore his/her mental illness to the fullest extent and glean a true grasp of each step on the path from where they have come to where they are going.

Copyright © 2002-20012
Natasha Wiebe
All Rights Reserved

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