Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Writing Is Good For The Chronically Ill

My hands pound at the keyboard. My fingers clutch the pen, furiously scribbling on the lined notebook paper. The cursor foreshadows the pain to come, a post of my hardships on display for the world to see. The ink represents a script of my life, a less than glamorous rehearsal easily accessible to any curious hands. This act is characteristic of my life with chronic illness.

Writing can be troublesome for a person who is generally private. Who would want to read the public venting of my endless ailments?  Wouldn't it be humiliating if another person were to uncover the journal containing the musings of my deepest thoughts?

Before, during, and after the diagnosis, I was encouraged by many to begin a journal. I was hesitate to begin a journal in fear the embarrassment if somebody I knew found it. Steeped in my 14-year-old logic, I decided to begin a tumblr blog...because posting my thoughts on the world wide web for all to read was obviously the best recourse. As silly as it all seems now, I am glad I did. Writing is essential in managing chronic illness.

  • Writing provides an outlet to overcome emotional hardships. 
Chronic illness impacts every facet of life. It interferes with completing regular, daily tasks. It is a source of conflict in relationships. It hinders completing education. It effects self image. Controlling the mental consequences of a chronic illness is just as troublesome as living with the physical symptoms. That is not to say that those with chronic illness cannot have a fulfilled, successful life. However, chronic illness introduces a unique set of struggles in addition to the normal experiences. Conveying them aloud is not always desirable. Starting a journal, either online or handwritten, is a route to unburden thoughts and feelings. It is up to personal discretion to share when/if ready.

  • Writing is useful for symptom control.
Logs can be used to track various aspects of illness. It does not only pertain to symptoms and triggers.  The documentation can occur in a variety of ways:

  1. Symptoms / Daily Life

    Jot down symptoms as they present throughout the day. Ensure that you copy the times, along with whatever events are taking place at the onset of symptoms. When did symptoms come on - After breakfast? In the shower? Exercise? At work? Brushing teeth before bed?

    There does not necessarily have to be order to the lists - simply write everything down!
  2. Triggers

    Especially when first developing illness, one is not yet accustom to limitations. Documenting known triggers will make avoiding them second nature.

    Triggers are not easily discernible depending on the illness. The inconsistency is frustrating. Tracking symptoms as they happen, like described, is effective in establishing connections between the factors that cause and worsen symptoms.
  3. Food diary

    Food is complicated. It is necessary for survival, but tends to render an unfavorable response to chronically ill bodies. Whether GI distress or allergic reactions, food can trigger a plethora of symptoms. Log each meal, the times eaten, and how you feel before, during, and afterwards to pinpoint correlations.

    When eating is an issue, receiving the proper amount of nutrients is impossible. A food diary lends a clear picture of nutritional status - What vitamins are lacking? Is the protein, fat, carbohydrate ratio appropriate? Will current caloric intake be sufficient to maintain weight?
  4. Medication regimen

    Most are probably not as scatterbrained as myself. Regardless, writing is beneficial to track medication. Write a calendar of the medications taken daily. Include the doses and the times to be given. Keep a second record of PRN (as needed) medications. This aids in keeping the medications on a strict schedule. The log answers the frequently asked questions - Was this medication even taken? What dose? When is the next dose? How much of this medication is taken daily?

    To be thorough, add record of symptoms. Medication logging is beneficial for both doctor and patient in determining if a medication is proving helpful, so medications not improving symptoms can be discontinued.
  5. Appointments / Specialists

    Checking in at an appointment, the receptions offers a confused stare upon typing on her computer. The appointment was really an hour ago. I've been there....I am sure you have to. Arriving to appointments at the incorrect time is quite inconvenient. To prevent this common incident, try writing a list of future appointments and the times scheduled.

    A list of each doctor and their speciality is helpful to have on hand to mention in other appointments. It is also a reference for friends and family involved in care.
In my experience, this form of writing is ideal for comparing the progression and changes in symptoms. It is resourceful to look back on symptoms that, although they may have seemed minuscule in the moment, have current significance.

  • Writing is a basis of connecting with others in similar situations. 
"Misery loves company," is the supposed saying. People relate through through the sharing of stories. Writing is one means to bring people together. Despite the initial hesitation, publicly writing about the highs and lows of chronic illness conjures the realization that nobody is alone. I met my best friend on tumblr at the beginning of my blogging journey through a mutual diagnosis. Support from those in similar situations is paramount in navigating life with chronic illness. 

While I am no longer the young, confused teenager distraught over unknown symptoms plaguing her body, remnants of her still exist in past wordy reflections. The impacts of chronic illness inevitably change throughout various stages in life. One aspect does not though, and that is the need to express those struggles. 

"It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." - Luke 1:3-4