Journaling through Bipolar Cycles

Author: Rebecca James

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was fifteen. That was twenty years ago! But journaling has never been as important to me as it has been in the last seven years, since I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

For me, journaling makes sense when nothing else does. I can feel out of control, but if I can describe a symptom or a delusional thought on a set of lines, I can contain it. I have pretty diaries and ratty composition books full of manic flights, depressive darkness, annoying side effects, and general confusion. I have pages of questions, some of which I still can’t answer.

My journal is a friend. Sometimes, bipolar disorder is scary, and I don’t always have access to the people who love and understand me. But I can write. I can write what I feel, what I fear, what I wish, and what is happening in my body and my brain.

Journaling allows me to express what is boiling inside my mind. Freewriting, or writing rapidly without editing or picking up my pen, allows me to capture racing thoughts. When I give them a voice, they tend to calm down a little. I’ve used varied handwriting, letter size, and colors to express the shifts in my moods and thoughts.  Write in all capital letters! Shout at your journal! It won’t mind. At a minimum, I switch ink colors each day to mark the passage of time; this is especially important during depression, when I need to feel life continuing.

My journals and notebooks hold the threads of my illness, in turn braiding them and giving me something to hold on to. Writing is a guide, and it is documentation. I’ve written down what I need to tell my closest confidants because I know that when I’m sick, I won’t remember. I can go back and see mania I didn’t recognize at the time or pick out moments when depression began to creep in. I can see when thoughts started seeping into irrationality. If I need to explain last week’s odd behavior to my husband or chart my moods with my therapist, I can take out my journal. It’s all there.

Writing is art, and art therapy is powerful. Shaping moods, feelings, and thoughts into words is like sculpting with clay or forming images with paint. It is soothing and fulfilling. I can be perfectly stable and take joy in writing about a trip to the grocery store. When I’m sick, I can make a mess of poetry.

The beauty of journals is that no one else needs to see them, and you can journal exactly your way. Your journal might be a blog (blogs can be private if you want them to be!), a Word document, a private vlog, a spiral notebook, a collection of words and collages in a scrapbook, the most beautiful blank book you’ve ever seen, or anything else that draws your attention. Grab whatever is near you, that legal pad or Steno notebook. Give it a try.

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