Friday, June 27, 2008

Mood Charts (Part 5)

This is the final post in a series about mood charts. For six years I kept detailed records of my mood in my Day-Timers organizer. The following are my four final thoughts about their value.

7. In my Day-Timer, there is also a monthly calendar. I religiously recorded all my activities each day. When I review the six-years of mood charts, and skim my activity level, it's very clear to me when I was healthy and busy and when I was so sick that I couldn't do a thing. It's yet another way of determining my good months and my bad months--my good years and my bad ones.

When people say to me, "Susan, you shouldn't be so negative about medication," I have to laugh. I'm not negative about it for anyone else but myself. But my mood charts are such a clear validation of how terrible medication was for me--that I defy anyone to look at them and disagree.

8. My mood charts were the first stage of learning the value of writing to heal. While I believe my blog has taken the process one step further--and in effect it combines expressive writing with a virtual support group--my first foray into this was my mood charts. The journal page was the first time I "opened up" on paper. I wrote about how sick I was. I wrote about my anger and rage caused by the lack of competent care. I wrote about how devastating this illness was on a financial and personal level. I poured out my heart on paper, so that I didn't explode from having kept it bottled up.

9. My mood charts allowed me to become an expert on my illness. After a few years of keeping such detailed notes, I knew how far I had come in terms of understanding the vagaries of this illness. During this period, I began reading bipolar blogs and visiting bipolar websites, and I finally understand how much I knew, and how little most other people knew.

I began seeing that my orientation towards illness was different than other people's. I began understanding that my positive attitude and my perseverance were unusual qualities for someone who was experiencing such pain and suffering. I began feeling that I was truly utilizing my research and writing skills to save myself.

10. My mood charts have ultimately enabled me to heal myself. I finally realized that the reason I wasn't getting well was because the medication was making me sicker and sicker. As I reviewed my copious notes on my visits to my doctors, that became ever more clear. It was my final review of my mood charts that helped me to decide that I should go off most of the medication that had been prescribed for me.

All these years later, what's interesting to me is what I didn't initially see in the charts. I didn't see that before my diagnosis, I went from feeling depressed 85 days a year to feeling depressed 365 days a year. I went from only being ill during two-six-week periods to being ill every single day.

I went from being able to write books and grant proposals for non-profit organizations to being unable to work because of erratic medication-induced behavior and cognitive memory loss. I went from having a wide arena of friends to having only a few because after years of illness, I became irritable, annoyed, and angry--much of the time. The list could go on and on.

Nowadays, the mood charts are a reminder of how the diagnosis and subsequent medication merry-go-round almost destroyed a highly productive and creative life.

For those of you who are starting out, and those who are wedded to medication and are not pursuing any alternative forms of healing, I would not only suggest you keep mood charts, but study them. Look for patterns. Ask yourself whether you were better off before or after you started taking medication. Look for triggers that cause depressive episodes. Write about what happened, and how you responded. Figure out different ways of responding. Keep notes on it.

Experiment with exercise, music therapy, netural path therapy, prayer, mindfulness meditation, and other wellness activities. Keep detailed records of what works for you and what doesn't. Keep records of what drugs work for you, in what combinations, and what dosage--and which ones make you worse.

I believe that mood charts allow us to control this illness. To me, there is no better tool than a mood chart to help analyze different types of healing and to figure out a path to wellness.


P.J. said...

I am going to go back over these Mood Chart posts and see what I can work out for myself. I'd really like to have one, but I have a fear of starting it and not continuing on - which is something that happens to me frequently. A Mood Chart would have to be something that is an intricate part of my life - something I can carry with me everywhere I go. I need to be able to see it as more than 'another thing to do/worry about in my already busy schedule'.

I think this will come. I will take much time amd care finding "just the right book" to record such information in.

Thanks for the gentle push - I know it would help me so much.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear P.J.,
I'm sure you'll figure it out. Because I was a freelance writer for years, I was used to accounting for my time and billing my clients accordingly. I liked the self-discipline of knowing how I was spending my days, and since the final results were so helpful --well, it was another important wellness tool.

You just have to find a format you're comfortable with.


Gianna said...

Just wanted to say this is a fantastic post and I think people who are positive meds are helping them would do well to really put that assumption to the test. I know it took me too many years to figure out meds were my problem.

It may not be true for everyone, but I'm afraid it's true for a whole lot more people than are ready to admit it.

It can be very scary to take responsibility for our wellness and feel like we don't have something tangible like a pill helping us, but the bottom line is there are so many things that can support wellness other than pills.

Of course, I still take my supplements but they have no side effects!

Jazz said...

This has been a really interesting series, and if I was still experiencing mood episodes, I would definitely consider doing fact, I'll keep it in mind if things do start to go south again, but for right now, things are on a pretty even keel. It's good to know there are other ways to do this than to just assign a number to each day, which I always had a terrible time with. What if I was both depressed and happy in the same day? What if I was irritably hypomanic? How did mixed episodes fit in? I think if I'd had the cognitive function I have when I'm not on meds, I might have been able to come up with a system, but with the amount of medication I was on, it just wasn't going to happen.

It seems that mood charting was a really important tool for you, sounds like maybe if you hadn't done it, you never would have figured out that the meds were making you so sick, because you are right--it is really difficult to look back and see patterns when you haven't got anything to look at other than your memories. Memory is not reliable. We tend to forget the bad times, at least, I know I do!

naturalgal said...

I am impressed by your detailed calendars and by your ability to figure out that the medication did not help you.

I was listening to a radio program the other day where another writer, who had just written a book was telling people that they need to take their medication. Even though she talked about all the other ways you could get well AND she spoke about the fact that some people get the "wrong" medication, she still said the first step was medication.

I tried emailing the host, but do you think they would read my email on the air??? of course not.

Anyway, there are two points to my comment.

1 My frustration with even "alternative media" singing the praises of meds.

2. My admiration of your ability to be organized. Were you aways this way? I find I can not bill for my time because it takes me forever to do something. I have never billed for the time I honestly put into a project. (I doubt my spouse does either at his job...he is soooo slooow.)

Because of that, I just quit keeping records of my time because they were useless. I just bill by the job.

I would appreciate any hints on how to work faster and keep detailed records.

naturalgal said...

The writer was Marya Hornbacher

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I agree. While I have taken responsibility for my illness for years, all of a sudden everything has clicked into place. And what I realized is that everything I do is based upon what I learned with my mood charts.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

What interesting is that having charted my moods for years, I found it surprising that none of my doctors were interested in my system, which was so much better and more helpful than the ones they were recommending.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Naturalgal.
Someones we have innate skills that we don't truly realize are skills until someone says, "How can I do that?" I've always been super organized, and I innately know how to do this.

When I switched from a staff job to being a freelancer, it was easy for me, and I liked it so much better. The reason was because I had an infant at home, I didn't want to waste time at work socializing, and the work I do could be done on a freelance basis.

With both writing books and grants, I just know how to organize my time. I don't have any idea how to explain what I do to you. It depends on what the task is and what the component parts are.

Sorry, this isn't helpful.


Nancie said...


Thanks for sharing these precious posts on mood chart. My Doctor suggest that I should keep one as it will be very helpful. I shall come back again and read your posts.

Thanks for all your encouragements. Thank God for strengthening me. Hope you have a wonderful weekends!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nancie,
So glad to hear that you're doing better. Yes, my mood charts truly have worked for me. And I highly recommend them. Feel free to write me if you have any questions!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Since I can't comment on your blog, I want to leave you a comment here on your most current post.

Yes, it would be nice not to have to think about this illness, and just go on with our lives. And I'm closer to accomplishing that than I ever have been before.

I think that the more you work on your mood charts, and figure things out, ultimately you'll be able to do the same.


Merelyme said...

this is a good idea. but knowing me...when it get depressed i cease all activity and probably would not keep track. did you find that hormones were a culprit in mood changes at all?

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Whether or not to do mood charts is everyone's choice. Some of my depressions were extraordinarily severe and I still kept track of them.

I never took hormones so I can't tell you about their effect, but maybe someone else who reads this has.


Gianna said...

Hi Susan and merelyme,
I will answer the hormone question two ways. First when I took hormones years ago they made me crazy all month long.

Second, natural hormones---my monthly cycle is my only real problem. My natural cycle. PMS is the only time I feel unstable.

I am not bipolar....drugs made me worse and now the only mental health symptoms I deal with are premenstrual symptoms.

I know several women for whom their natural hormone cycle was the cause of their mental health issues.

Charting your moods will show this very clearly very quickly if it's your problem.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thanks for the info, and I agree about the importance of charting moods.

Years ago, I would have given anything for someone to give me wellness tips that work. I've spent the entire week writing about the importance of mood charts, and detailing their importance.

Tomorrow's post is about whether people truly want to get well or just give it lip service.