There is something about recording what is happening to us and our emotional reactions that enables family caregivers to stand apart from the onrush of tasks and crises they’re immersed in and observe what they’re going through, reflect on its greater meanings and feel more in control.
There is no one right way to journal; all who practice it find the focus and style that work for them. But here are some general suggestions to consider for using journaling as an effective coping technique:
Just write. Don’t edit
This is not a school assignment. No one is grading you. The important thing is to take the concerns and reactions swirling through your head and deposit them on paper (or a computer screen) so that they preoccupy you less. You don’t need to use big words or full sentences or even words at all; drawings work, too. Just empty the contents of your mind without judging yourself.
Write when you want. But read it back infrequently
There is no requirement that you write daily, weekly or even regularly; instead, write whenever some caregiving moment strikes you as moving or important. If you do journal daily, don’t read back what you wrote more than weekly; if you write weekly, read back no more than monthly. The time elapsed is necessary to gain greater emotional distance from the immediate experiences and reactions you’ve recorded to recognize larger trends and realize deeper insights.
Consider the audience. But keep your journal private
If you are having trouble getting started, imagine an audience to whom you are directing your thoughts and feelings about being a family caregiver. Would it be the person you are today or will be five years from now looking back on this trying time? Family members who haven’t stepped up to help? The care receiver who may no longer be capable of understanding your words? Your choice will create a context, but keep your actual journal private. You will be less inhibited about speaking your mind fully and honestly.
Think of your journal as travelogue
If the cliché is true that caregiving is a journey, then a caregiver journal is its travelogue, full of new experiences, local color and sometimes complaints about where you’ve landed. Re-reading it one day, as I recently did, will bring back the sights and sounds, the places where you got lost and the new lingo you picked up along the way. But it will also reveal the longer trajectory of what you learned about yourself through the distances you covered and the destinations you reached.