Write It Down

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You can’t be controversial every week. Here’s something we may all agree on. But if you don’t, please let us know.

There’s a basic self-management skill that rarely gets taught. That’s the important art of writing things down. By keeping records of what happens to you, what you do, and how you feel, you can learn a lot about your health. You may also gain some insights into your life.

Of course, you’re not going to keep track of everything at once. You may want to start with your blood glucose, if your meter doesn’t keep track for you. If you check your blood pressure, you may write those numbers down too.

Numbers aren’t enough
But numbers by themselves don’t actually tell you much, do they? You want to know why they’re going up or down. So you could keep a food log, for a couple of reasons. By comparing your intake with your blood glucose readings, you will probably get clues as to how different foods affect you. And you may find out that you’re not eating what you think you’re eating. When I kept a food log recently, I found out that I was snacking far more than I realized, possibly a sign that I need to eat more at breakfast and lunch.

Keeping track of your physical activity is good, too. You may find you are doing more than you realize. When you get those “I just can’t exercise” blues, checking your records might convince you that you actually can do it. You may also want to write down other practices you do, such as relaxation.

It’s not all about what you do. It’s also what’s happening around you. It can be informative to write about what’s happening at work or in your personal life. How do events such as a visit from a relative, a stressful day at work, or hearing very bad or good news affect you? You might note effects on your blood glucose or your blood pressure, or on your mood, or on symptoms such as pain. Here’s a symptom log that may be useful.

Not just about health
Writing down your life is valuable for health. You can bring your logs and reports in to medical appointments. They may help doctors understand what’s going on with you.

But keeping a record or a journal is about more than your immediate health needs. Journaling will help you remember what happens to you. You can grow wiser with what you learned from tough situations, and you can hold on to memories of the good times.

I’ve been keeping a journal for eight years now, and I look back through it every couple of months. It’s amazing how many beautiful things we forget. It always makes me feel good to come across some pleasant forgotten memory.

Writing down painful experiences and what you thought and felt about them can be healing. Even if you don’t share them with anyone else, just writing it for yourself reduces stress and helps you come to terms with the feelings.

Psychologist James Pennebaker has been studying the health benefits of writing about hard experiences and feelings. He has found a strong relationship “between suppressing our stories and illness, on the one hand, and telling our stories and increased health on the other.” Pennebaker says it’s important to express both the events and the feelings. Just one or the other doesn’t necessarily help.

Saving your life
Believe it or not, other people want to know about you and will find your story interesting. When you’re gone, your descendents will understand you much better if you’ve written some of it down.

In Writing Your Life Story: A Legacy to Your Family (Westwind Publications, 1911), Kay Nelson writes “Your mind is a storehouse. Its contents are precious. Your thoughts seem ordinary to you because you live with your contemporaries, people who are not so different from you. But your children and future generations won’t know anything about your experiences or beliefs.” I wrote about this in the print version of Diabetes Self-Management in 2004.

So from today’s blood glucose reading to a grandchild’s curiosity about where she came from, there are dozens of reasons to write things down and keep the records. What would a grandchild going through your files learn about you? How sad if our drawers are filled with nothing but old bills and tax returns.

What about you? Are you keeping records of lab results or love affairs, or anything in between? Have you tried keeping a journal or a log? What have been your experiences? Please let us know by commenting here.

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