How I Journal to help with my Mental Health

A few of my finished journals

Journalling can be very helpful if you have a mental illness, but I have found it can also be really unhelpful too. I know that might be opposite to what you have heard, in fact, everyone always mentions journalling as this activity that can only ever help you.

Why can it be unhelpful? Well firstly, I can trigger myself, I have done that several times while journalling. If you have traumatic memories or PTSD and you are struggling with that and attempt to write down what you are feeling it can bring up more intense feelings or emotions, or even memories. Also you now have a written record of it, and reading back through it will trigger you also.

Secondly, it’s like having therapy alone which can be very difficult. When you’re in therapy, normally you have a therapist who guides you through it, and also helps you come back to the present by teaching you coping mechanisms.

Thirdly if your coping mechanism is avoidance, and you normally avoid confronting your emotions, journalling will be difficult for you. Either you’ll become overwhelmed writing down your emotions or face a brick wall leaving you with an empty page.

There are wrong ways to journal depending on you and your situation, and the only way to really figure out which way will work for you is unfortunately to try it yourself. I can’t tell you what might work for you, but I can tell you what did and didn’t work for me.

My newest brand new journals

I have been journaling for many years now, and I started the way everyone does, writing down things that happened that day, thoughts, feelings, and well anything that was running through my head. I realised this did not work for me when I was in the midst of anorexia nervosa. I used it to chart my weight, my feelings about my weight, my mental health, and now to remind me of those years I have the most depressing books that I have ever written complete with triggering photos of myself whilst really ill. It didn’t help me at the time, and it really does not help me now looking back at it. In fact, I keep these journals hidden under my bed and never look at them. It’s hard to throw them out because I spent so many years writing them, but at the same time, they are a constant reminder that I had anorexia.

I also realised that journalling constantly about my mental illness had a large negativity bias because depression does. When you are depressed you think this is how you will feel forever, and not only that, this is how you have always felt. It’s very hard to feel joyful so you might not journal the things that do give you joy if you cannot feel joy it feels fake as heck to do that.

I have Bipolar Disorder and I also find my episodes whilst each one is incredibly different, no two of my episodes are the same, the feelings I have, paranoia etc, will be very similar. So if I pick up a journal from 10 years ago, I will see underlying thoughts, intrusive thoughts and feelings I had during that episode that I had in my most recent episode, for example:- “I’m not good enough, I am not a good mum, people are watching me, people are following me, everyone hates me, everyone leaves me” etc. It feels like nothing has changed in that time, that is both true and not true at the same time. It’s true that my feelings and intrusive thoughts in each episode are similar, sometimes even identical, but it’s wrong that nothing has changed in that time it’s just very hard to recognise when you read and hear your current intrusive thoughts.

I have tried many ways to “hide” these thoughts in journals and also made a lot of effort to journal the good things in my life. Here’s one way I tried to hide them:-

I made a pocket on the left-hand side and wrote on an A4 piece of paper and folded it up. You can see my overarching feeling, I was feeling on the edge of a deep fall into the pit of depression, but I have to consciously pull out the paper, and so I will not be triggered by accident just flipping through it.

Here’s one way I journal things I’m excited or happy about, or that gave me a slight bit of peace during not being well and it was my love of Cyberpunk 2077. I took some screenshots in the game and made a journal spread out of it using ripped-up blue and pink paper (which was really soothing to do by the way just randomly ripping paper and sticking it in) and stickers.

I started feeling better about flipping back through my journals when I started doing this. Now, I have the fact I was going through an episode, next to my favourite music, games, tv shows, products I’ve bought on amazon, things that I’ve made a point of doing like self-care during an episode, and things that help me when I’m in an episode.

I’ve since come to realise though, that for me it’s best to not go too deep into my thoughts and feelings on paper at all. The reason I am anonymous on this blog is for two reasons, I am just a default sim, but I also hate tying my words and feelings to myself. I feel quite a bit of shame, whether that comes from self-stigma or one of my mental illnesses is not for me to work out, I’ll leave that to the professionals, but it’s easier to write “this happened to me and this is how it feels still”, when no one knows it is me. If anyone picked up a journal in my house, they know it is me because it’s my house, and I think of them potentially reading it and thinking this is all my life is, the thoughts and feelings of someone with Bipolar Disorder.

Therefore the best way for me personally to journal my thoughts and feelings is on an app. I use Day One app. It makes me laugh when they offer to print out your entries into a book and send it to you so you can have a physical book because half of my ramblings don’t even make sense. It would be a very weird book. I find this app particularly helpful when I am manic, because when I am manic, I’ll write a 4000-word essay on why the world sucks like it’s nothing and it will take me such a short amount of time I think I might have broken the sound barrier with how fast my fingers type, and when manic I feel like I am the only one in the world who has realised that the world sucks or has made these connections that I’ve made (which is obviously not true, but you know manic grandiosity is a very dark comedian). It also allows me the space to free-write ideas for blog posts and then organise them so that at least they make sense when I post them (hopefully you agree heh).

Screenshot from a crap day – Day One app

I’ll also get a flight of ideas when manic so writing all of them down however useful, or really not they’ll end up being when the episode is over, maybe I can use the more realistic actually achievable ideas when I’m stuck for ideas when the depression rolls in, in the wake of the mania. Writing on an app, also gives me the power to delete entries forever, there will be no record that I ever wrote them, and they’re all also hidden and locked behind a password so no one can read them without me handing over my password. I also can’t accidentally read it, because after a few ramblings you have to scroll down and actively click on it, and it’s hidden behind a title.

I now try to otherwise avoid committing my thoughts with pen and paper unless it’s a self-help therapy workbook because I feel like the person who wrote it is guiding me through it with specific prompts, or when in actual therapy and my therapist has told me to write down all the thoughts I’ve had in a week and analyse them like in the case of CBT.

I have instead turned to art to journal my feelings without words. I find it very therapeutic because my art takes hours and I feel like I am giving myself the space to feel those feelings whilst drawing it, to enable me to draw it because feelings fuel my drawing. Here are two graphite drawings I drew whilst feeling depressed.

You could probably also do this by taking photographs, or even ripping out pictures from magazines or print them out from Pinterest and making a collage of pictures that demonstrate how you feel. You don’t necessarily have to draw it because drawing is another skill that takes a heck of a long time to learn.

I also had a bad cluster headache episode not too long ago, because I have been afflicted with not just mental health but physical problems too, and the only treatment for cluster headaches is oxygen with a mask and as much caffeine as I can handle without it triggering mania. I drew the Red Bull I was using to help my pain. I didn’t have to write about how much cluster headaches are terrible and the worst pain I have ever felt in my life and how I have them every season change because I know that by looking at this drawing of my hand holding the can of Red Bull.

I feel really proud of my sketchbook journals, I just flip through them and it’s just art that I have done, no words so they are really fun to flip through like a pretty magazine or portfolio. I also used to completely suck at art and have learnt realism art since being diagnosed with mental illness as a sort of coping mechanism that I can still do something.

I also in a separate journal I still do the cutting, ripping and sticking journalling. Here’s my cleaning list from this week, helping me to clean whilst I feel so down so I can tick it off and at least feel like I did the stuff!

I use random paper and paint so that it doesn’t cost much money. The brown paper is Amazon packaging, and I made the right page with black and white paint for the stars and more Amazon packaging. It’s also so satisfying to cover the page in washi tape like I have on the right page in diagonals and paint over it, and then at the end rip off the tape leaving crisp lines. Mmm.

It took me quite a long time to figure out what works for me, and also, it might change again with time because people change over time as much as my old journals make me feel like I do not change at all. I do recommend trying journalling as a tool to help with your mental health but it is actually a lot of work to figure out what works for you and most importantly what doesn’t work and actually works against you. I just want to give you hope that if you have struggled with journalling, you’re totally not alone. I don’t think any tool that anyone says is helpful will work for every single person in regard to mental illness because mental illness is highly individualised, therefore you might have to work to find a way that works for you or a completely different alternative. The way I look at things that may help with mental illness is, the only way I’ll find out is if I try them.

4 responses to “How I Journal to help with my Mental Health”

  1. These are gorgeous journal art, wow! Also I’m a Mass Effect fan, though I haven’t finished the 3rd one and have been and am still on, on a long hiatus from gaming ❤️


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: