Friday, March 23, 2007

journaling your recovery

Writing a journal is an important part of the recovery process with any illness. I feel that it is crucial to write a journal, not so that you can have a record of where you have been but more that you can process your thoughts at the end of each day, focusing on the positives and analysing the challenges. It is an excellent tool for personal development and sometimes you may find that you don't know what you think until you write it down. It therefore clarifies your thought processes. However, in my experience I have found that many people are not sure how to journal. I have also found that there is a danger of using the journal to exemplify the negative aspects, rather than analyse them. I have fallen into these traps when I have been in more depressive phases of the illness. I also realise that when recovering from ME/CFS it can take a lot of energy to write in a journal daily. However, as I have been writing a journal for some time (not always consistently), I have created a formula that really works for me, so I would like to share it.

Firstly I write my journal at the same time every night. This is because I am trying to develop some kind of routine. So by 10.30pm I make sure I'm in bed, and I write the journal before relaxation time and lights out at 11pm. This helps to sum up the day and focus on the positive in the day. The formula for my journal goes like this:

  1. GLAD OF THE DAY! I start my entry with this title. My glad of the day is the best thing that's happened all day. Some days it is making a new contact, others it's an email I received, others a goal I achieved, sometimes a visit from a friend, others a realisation that I've had, and sometimes a lovely moment that I've shared with my partner or a friend.
  2. OTHER GREAT THINGS IN THE DAY. I then make a simple list of all the positive things that have happened in the day. This is a great way to round up this section as when I go back over the day I am usually quite surprised at how much I have actually achieved. I list anything here from "I ate healthily", to "I did some cleaning up", to "I read an inspiring article", to "I stayed calm in a stressful situation." The key here is to celebrate the little things that you manage and to build on them.
  3. GOALS. I usually have a goal of the week. I believe that small, achievable goals are very important when you are overcoming long term illness. Past goals have included finding healthy snacks, walking for 5 mins per day, having 3 structured rests per day, only doing taxing activities for 20 mins at a time, etc. I use this section to review my current goal. If I haven't achieved it I ask myself what I could have done differently in order to achieve it, so I have a kind of action plan for achieving it in the future. I only move onto a new goal when the current one is firmly established.
  4. OBSERVATIONS. I make 1 or 2 observations about how I went through my day, and any triggers or issues that arose. I do this as though I am observing myself from the outside. Again, this is not to criticise, but to help me move forward.
  5. "TODAY I CAUGHT MYSELF......." The purpose of this section is to catch myself at any negative thinking. In the past I have been quite harsh on myself, so I use this section to check that I am keeping my thinking positive. However, I must stress that if I do catch myself negative thinking then it is not an excuse to beat myself up! Rather I celebrate the fact that I am becoming more self-aware, and moving towards being kind to myself all of the time!
  6. THE THING I LIKED MOST ABOUT MYSELF TODAY. This is a special focus on something that I have achieved on a personal level.
  7. MY FOCUS FOR TOMORROW. I've found it helps me when I wake up in the morning to have a focus, so I don't just drift into a task and then get lost in it!! This is a very gentle way of forward planning and trying to create some structure. Sometimes my focus for the following day is to get a task done whilst taking adequate rest, other times it is to structure the day so that I can have a visitor, other times it is to go our for a treatment and to rest on return. I have found with a bit of forward planning then I feel much clearer. Sometimes if I know the day is going to be challenging, I mentally rehearse the next day, and include rest time and food stops in my mental rehearsal. I do not create a rigid structure (although I used to try to!) There is always room for some change or spontaneity.
This may all seem like a lot but if you do choose to follow this structure it soon becomes quick and easy to make notes, providing you are able to write. You can simply shorten the headings to GLAD, OTHER GREATS, GOALS, OBS, CAUGHT, LIKED BEST, FOCUS, and make quick notes. If you are unable to write, and there is no one to make notes for you, or if this all seems too much at your present stage in the illness, a good place to start is to just say your glad of the day to yourself at the end of each day. Even if all you managed was 2 steps around the living room, celebrate this and build on it. As always, your mental attitude is everything on your road to recovery. Happy journaling!

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