Why you should record your progress in a diary

If you are battling with depression I strongly recommend that you track your progress in writing. Why? Because it will make you feel better.

Back in December 2015 I was at rock bottom. As in I was crying every day, for most of the day, and all I could think about was ending it all. With the support of my friends I made the first step to recovery; asking for help. Unfortunately for me it was December, a busy time of year for counsellors in Denmark where I was living at the time, and I was given an appointment at the hospital… for January!! Not ideal when you are in the state that I was in… Going private was the same. It was impossible to get an appointment for at least 2 months.

 

Fortunately my GP was a lovely and caring person and she clearly felt terrible about not being able to provide me with the right support straight away. So she decided I should check in with her once a week and she gave me the following assignment to do in between checks-in:

– eat 3 times a day

– sleep

– get up at a normal time

– go to work but work reduced hours and less stressful tasks

– go to the gym or go for a walk

– give the emergency number to a close friend

I still have the diary that I was holding back then. Reading this again now is rather insightful. At the beginning I did not achieve many of these tasks. But as the days past I did a little better and after a few weeks I got to the point where I was able to do all these things.

I also became a little creative with my diary and started adding things like: the most positive thing that had happened that day and how many days had passed since I had last cried.

Reading back from one day to the next was encouraging. It is good for you to see your progress. It keeps you focused on the positive (and we know that when we are at the lowest point, we simply cannot see anything positive).

Holding the diary also helps you focus on doing baby steps. One day at a time. This is particularly useful when anxiety is at its highest and it feels like you are not going to make it to… whatever it is that you think is going to help a bit.

For example this exercise helped me staying on track (-ish) over December and until I finally had the appointment at the hospital. Because when I was first told that I had to wait 6 weeks for an appointment, I thought I simply wasn’t going to make it; that it would be too late. During those dark times (literally, you do not get to see the sun too often during eth winter in northern Denmark) I often feared the weekend. I was scared of spending the weekend on my own, with my thoughts.

But thanks to the support of my GP and my friends who helped me and checked regularly that I had eaten, exercised and slept, I made it through every scary weekend and even through the whole month, until a therapist was available to help.

I have to be honest I don’t recall making it to the gym once during that period. The gym was a block away. That was way too far. But one of my friends was living a few doors down and he was awesome. He checked on me most days and took me for a walk.

So if you are trying to help someone with depression, this is what you can do:

– agree a simple to do list with them

– check on their progress regularly

– even better: do some of these things with them

I highly recommend that instead of just checking that your friend is doing what he was told, you go over and do one of the recommended activity with him. That might give him the energy to actually do whatever he is meant to do. If it hadn’t been for my friend dragging me out for a walk every day, I probably would not have done any exercise at all, and this is key to recover. I will explain why in detail in another post.

Accountability is also key. When you are low enough to be assigned such basic tasks it is because you have reached the “I no longer care about food/routine/work (translate life)” point. Having to report to someone about your progress forces you in a way to care, or at least to make it look like you care. And the fact that someone is asking you to report on these things means on some level that this person does care about you and that helps a little.

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