At the start of this month I started a diary. A daily account of my mental health. The good. The bad. The indifferent. The highs and lows. The moments of self doubt. The days with a spring in my step. The days that got away from me.
Each day I note how I slept the night before – noting the times I woke; I then give my daily mood a mark out of ten – first thing in the morning and then at the end of the day, reflecting on how the afternoon/evening felt; I note down the positive and negative things that I did/that happened during the day that had an impact on my mental health; and by doing this I get to track which of my wellbeing interventions I managed to implement each day. I also use the notes pages on the right hand side of the diary to capture any recurring dreams, thoughts, worries etc. It is my daily mental health MOT.
What have I learnt so far?
Well, my writing hasn’t got any better since I was at school! I certainly have no worries about anyone finding and reading this diary; they would be there a very long time trying to decipher my scruffy scribbles.
I don’t sleep as well as I would like. I guess I knew this but seeing the waking times – generally three or four times a night – written down in black and white does focus the mind.
Even though I am a morning person and productive first thing, generally my mood improves as the day goes on – not always – but most of the time. I wonder if this is linked to my sleep patterns and not waking as refreshed as I could be. On my lower days I see the word “tired” a lot in my entries. I put the general improvement in my mood as the day goes on down to the success of employing some of my wellbeing approaches and interventions. To getting on the front foot.
It is not rocket science to see that my diary shows that the more exercise I do; the more I read and write; listen to music; get fresh air into my gills; scones I eat in Cuthbert’s; time I spent with Miss J and Dr J; the better my mood improves during the day. It is interesting to see that the amount I write each day about my own positive interventions, the better my mood has been. The more I write about annoying stuff that has happened at work (that is the biggest variable that is hard for me to control), the lower my mood.
I can see that over the last few weeks it is my exercise that is the first thing to get kicked into touch if I am busy or stressed, even though I continue to walk during the day whatever my mood. I can see that there is a link between the amount I read and write and how I feel; more is better. Less is lower.
The power of keeping the diary has been for me to have two moments each day when I reflect formally on my mental health. It prompts me to stop for a few minutes and think about how the day is going, how I am feeling and what I could do differently to improve things. In CBT land this would be helping me “notice” what is happening and gives me the opportunity to intervene, to take action, before a downward spiral of mood and confidence kicks in.
The other thing the diary does is help me to acknowledge that being someone who suffers from depression and anxiety means that some days will just be worse than others – that I will not always be able to control or arrest things from going pear-shaped. In those darker moments it doesn’t provide much consolidation, but in the cold light of day it helps me remember that being down, depressed or anxious is not my fault. I am not to blame. I am trying my best to do what I can to stay well and that some things just happen.
The diary helps me to hold up a mirror – to see what is really happening. It gives me some data, some evidence, some objectivity. It is also another way in which I can indulge my great passion for words; for writing; for telling stories. It is also helping me to see the strong link I have between reading and my wellbeing. Words really matter to me.
Despite my new-found diarisim (I know that is not a word!), I am pretty sure there is little for Adrian Mole, Samuel Pepys or Alistair Campbell to fear from me; afterall, they wouldn’t be able to read what I have written even if they wanted!