On Keeping a Diabetes Journal

I’m looking through the green, spiral-bound notebook in which I journal and keep track of most things diabetes. For the first few months after my late-March 2007 diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, I kept diligent track of the time of day and my blood glucose readings—highlighted in blue—in the left-hand margins. I also wrote a paragraph or two about what I’d eaten (if I had eaten), its carb content, as well as what activities I was up to, how I felt, and any thoughts, questions, or fears about my diabetes.

Back in college, I found out that writing was my way of understanding the world, a process that I often began in one frame of mind and ended anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours later with a completely different way of seeing. I went outside and leaves on the trees were clearer, sharper; colors were more vibrant; odors in the neighborhood were richer, more robust; and the sounds of the world more distinct.

Of course, the world hadn’t changed. I had altered my perception of it during the time I spent writing. I had become more in tune with my world.

And that’s what I’ve discovered through writing about my diabetes. Put your pen on the page, or open up a Word document, and take some notes. Maybe you’ve even thought about blogging. However you do it, just do it. It doesn’t have to be formal. You don’t need to be a published author or a journalist or a great essayist. To paraphrase the poet Richard Hugo about writing, “Look over your shoulder. No one’s there.” No one has to read what you’re saying about diabetes. You can be honest with yourself. You can lash out at the world, at your doctor, at the insurance industry, or maybe even at your family. You can celebrate the support you have, the small victories in self-management, or even reveal your innermost diabetes desires.

It doesn’t matter. The act of the writing is what counts.

My intention when I started my diabetes journal was to not only monitor blood glucose and carbohydrate intake, but also to slow down the rather vicious windstorm of information overload and inner voices that were competing with the actual method of treatment I needed to focus on. I knew it was going to be tough.

As I become more acclimated to living with diabetes, I see how it’s possible to take for granted the diligence necessary to maintain tight control. Life simply gets in the way. Over the past month, my blood glucose and food entries have tapered off. I don’t obsess anymore over writing down my meals or blood glucose numbers. I don’t worry that I’m not following every suggestion I read in books and magazines, and I don’t question every aspect of my own management when I hear about different ways other people with Type 1 are successfully living with their diabetes. Even though there are many millions of us with diabetes, it is also an individual path each of us takes.

As with anything new—and especially with a life-altering diagnosis such as this—the learning curve is steep and can be overwhelming. The journal is there when I need it. It doesn’t have to be something I go to daily. It doesn’t need me to write in it for a certain amount of time when I pick it up. The more I do it, however, the better I find I feel.

If you’re journaling about your diabetes, let me know how it’s helped you. If you’re not writing about your diabetes, how do you deal with it? Give a diabetes journal a shot for a few months. See what happens. Looking back through your experience with a chronic condition can be helpful in planning how you’ll deal with the future.

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  • Rosalind

    Eric, Welcome to the diabetes world when life intrudes. You journal to help you assimilate; I’m a numbers person so I track my bg readings, my notes on out-of-range readings, med changes, A1C’s, and review the changes over the course of my diabetes life (diagnosed Type 2 October, 2002). This helps me to see where I’ve been and what new goals to set. I think this is my method of “controlling” what feels uncontrollable or only controllable one day at a time, even giving into my M&M craving on occasion. It has taken me some time to reach the point where I am moving forward with a positive, goal oriented approach after passing through the stages of anger, confusion, acceptance, and passively following my doctor’s instructions. I wonder what my next stage will be. Best of luck with your journey.

  • Bernard Farrell

    Thanks for writing about this. It’s something I constantly struggle with. I’m using a PC much of the time, so I could use a simple document. But when I’m not using a PC, a journal seems the best approach. I have never found a really useful log book.

    I’m curious to see a page from your journal. If you’re feeling generous maybe you’d put it up on Flickr and add it to the Diabetes Made Visible group.

    Bernard

  • Suzanne

    Eric,
    You write so well. Thank you for sharing.

    I’d been running over the events of my diagnosis for months before finally sitting down to write about it. It was one of the only ways I could really come to grips with being diagnosed with a chronic illness. I’ve had asthma since I was a kid, but THIS chronic illness is an entirely different beast!!

    I sat at the computer one Saturday morning and wrote the whole story and my feelings about it. I cried and cried, but it was so therapeutic. Since then, I’ve written about diabetes only a couple of times, but it’s a comfort to know how incredibly helpful the pen can be.

  • joy

    I was recently diagnosed as Type 2. It wasn’t much of a surprise, considering my family history, the fact that i work overnight shifts and I hated exercise and love food. But I was thrown for a loop, since I’m only 43 and didn’t think it was going to be a reality so soon in my life-I thought I’d have time yet to “clean up my act”. I’ve been food journaling, but not really writing down my feelings. You have given me some inspiration to start. Maybe I can get at some things that are impeding my progress. Thanks for your story.

  • babney

    It’s good to hear how someone else feels. I have been diagnosed a type 2 diabetic for almost 2 months. I found out the day before I left on vacation, and as a reader, I went to the library and spent a part of vacation reading everything I could get my hands on. I also started adding daily exercise (easy to do on a mountain vacation) and trying to figure out what I can eat. (Harder to do on vacation). I started carrying a little 4×5 spiral notebook around and writing down glucose numbers and everything I eat. It really helps me figure out what I can and can’t eat by checking my glucose after each meal, especially since a eat a really wide variety of foods. I am a really good cook, and also like to eat out almost every kind of foreign food, Thai, Indian, Mexican… etc. Being in the Southwest really helped for vacation as they serve beans with everything, even breakfast. I found my body likes beans, but it hates most grains. I am getting there but there is a lot more to figureout

  • Kuinilady

    Hi Eric,

    I wanted to welcome you to the boards and I see already you’re a kindred spirit when it comes to writing personal thoughts and feelings. I often do that but not on a consistent basis. It always gets me through a crisis and allows me to vent my feelings without forcing my thoughts on others.

    Oddly enough, I don’t journal my diabetes life but I believe I would benefit if I did so. If only I didn’t feel it’s one more thing I have to keep track of along my diabetes way. I’m a Type 2 diabetic for 7 1/2 years now and I try my best, but there is always room for improvement. I will see my doctor soon and we will check my A1C report and see if Avandia is truly lowering my high numbers. I don’t even want to think about Avandia being a cause of heart attacks. If this medicine doesn’t help me, then I will most likely move up to either Byetta or insulin…not a happy thought for me.

    Sincerely,
    Kuinilady

  • briviere

    I would like to know how you convince a 10 year old the importance of journaling his diabetes test results.

    It seems that that the only thing we do the journaling for is the quarterly visit to his doctor.

    brian

  • Eric L.

    Brian,

    Not sure how I’d approach convincing a ten-year-old to write down the diabetes test results, or how important it really is for someone that young to journal if it’s not something he or she wants to do (depends on the child, I guess).

    Your comment indicates that you really want your child recording his blood glucose results. If you simply want more information than the monitor or pump offers in their numbers-only format, one possibility might be to spend all of five minutes at the end of the day, or even once every few days (as a start), writing down the numbers and having your child remember what was happening during the test. It won’t be perfect, of course, but it doesn’t need to be. Make it fun. I’m thinking about rewards. A predefined space to fill in that results in a prize or reward when X amount of results have been written about, etc.

    If readers have tips for Brian and how they keep their children on-task with their stats, etc., please share!

    Eric

  • jennygirl

    Dear Eric, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes way back when doctors didn’t know that much about it. I can’t really remember when I didn’t have it I was barely eight years old when the doctor told my Mom that I had an incurable deadly disease that would take my life at a young age. I am now 66 years old and have been a disbetic for over 58 years. A lot they knew back then!!! I have four children (which I was told I could never have) and 10 beautiful grandchildren. I am happy, Healthy and still have all my toes. I must admit however that I never thought about keeping a journal. The thought interests me and I started one today. Thankyou Eric, I have a million feelings and stories to tell about my life as a diabetic. Sincerely Jennygirl

  • zinnia56

    Enjoyed your article on keeping a journal with diabetes. However, I have just discovered a recent website called SugarStats.com (www.sugarstats.com), where I can post all pertinent info. about my health (dr.’s visits,A1C’s, all my CHO’s & food, exercise, meds, etc.–as well as room for a “personal note” to myself (a mini-journal.)

    This website is really helping me. If you take advantages of all the details, it costs $9.00/month–but if you sign up for 6 mos., I think that one gets 2 months free. Anyway, a great help for diabetics!!

  • KittyCat

    Hi! Ao glad to read about your keeping a Daily Diary. It is a terrific tool to use as our head often gives in to our most desired snack!

    I did not stop after a few months. I jot down every thing for the whole day on a self-made chart that takes me about 10 mintues. This gives me a perspective for the entire day. It also allows me to review what HAS occurred over the previous months. With all of this info at my finger tips, I can better determine how to adjust my carbs and/or insulin.
    obta

    My Daiy Log has helped me to keep my HbA1c at 5.7!

    I enoucrage everyone to use a Dailey Log as an excellent reference tool!

    KittyCat!

  • Burbot

    I kept a detailed diabetes journal for about two years. That was 5 years ago. Since then I have lightened up considerably. Don’t let it interfere with living your life. Now I am less likely to journal at all, but sometimes I make comments like this one. Develop good habits towards your diabetes and get on with your life.

  • mellonie

    thanks Eric! I write down my bs but, I have also caught myself wanting to cheat on my numbers for the day. Now I know that is just wrong. I guess I am still in somewhat of denial. I have decicded after reading your article to take some tips from you and see how it works out for me. I have a posititve feeling about this, and that is cool. thanks again! your friend Mellonie in Oklahoma

  • cALGARYdIABETIC

    Dear Eric. I keep an Excel spread sheet with a log of every thing I eat with the breakdown into calories, carbs, protein, total fat, saturated fat and fibre. Sodium intake would also be useful. This is easy to do as the break down is readily available on the net and once you have covered all that you eat all you have to do is copy and paste. This does help to loose weight. In addition there are the BG readings, insulin dosage other meds and general well being. And of course for the Artsy people among us you could log your feelings, etc. After a while you can try and make sense of the whole thing. Like finding out that more insulin than the strict minimum is bad because you will gain weight and snowball out of control.

  • JFERRARA

    Thanks for the post. The day I was diagnosed (1/20/09) I started writing in a journal which I have done all of my life. I write everything including foods, how I feel, the weather, exersises and and my weekly and monthly glucose levels. It gives me an idea of what os goining on then just taking the glucose readings and looking at a bunch of useless numbers. Now I know very well what set me high and what sets me low.

    I am glad I found this today and hope everyone can answer questions my team can’t or doesn’t.

    joe

  • slow healing

    This is an interesting blog post on the benefits of keeping a journal as part of the healing process. It mentions that Epicurus the famous philospher believed that there were 3 things essential for a happy life: good friends, freedom and an analysed life. Journal keeping a great way to achieve the analysed life.

    http://the-slow-path-to-healing.blogspot.com

  • Ronald

    I just wanted to write a short comment. I have had Type 2 Diabetes since ’85. I drove semi’s for most of the time that I have had this. I only quit driving Dig rigs when I was put on insulin. That seems strange as I can still drive my car. Oh, well! I have used journaling for my spiritual life. I have kept a journal for several years. Never thought about doing the same for Diabetes. But as of today I will be keeping another journal on here. Thanks for all the comments that I read and I pray that every one will continue writing and fighting this “bump in the road” of life that we all have.

    God Bless All.