While recently rereading the journal that I kept from 2010 to 2017 when I was a dementia caregiver for my stepfather and, later, my mother, I came across this passage from August 28, 2010:
"I stayed at the apartment with my stepfather today while my mother was shopping with my wife. He was frankly paranoid, saying he'd leave and call the police. I talked to him calmly and then distracted him by putting a John Wayne movie on the TV. He did calm down but continued to pick at the skin on his scalp until it bled. I watched him do it, too worn out to argue with him to try to get him to stop."
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
It was a short entry about one afternoon's inconsequential events, but it captured a lot — the day-to-day situation, its many challenges and its many frustrations. I had forgotten the actual incidents, probably because they were among hundreds of small caregiving interactions that left scant memories. But I felt glad now to have this written report to help me recall what I'd been through and how, on one day at least, I was patient enough to make a positive difference — at least partially.
Throughout my tenure as a family caregiver, I used my journal as a historical record and place to vent without troubling anyone else. Other caregivers’ journals are filled with worry lists or angry diatribes at a loved one's doctors, or used as a means of monitoring their own thoughts and moods. Still others keep gratitude journals in which they write down three moments of joy or humor they experienced during that day for which they felt grateful, as proof that caregiving isn't always gloom, doom and drudgery.
Regardless of the journaling format, research suggests that writing down our experiences decreases the likelihood we'll become depressed. As the website for the branch of popular psychology known as positive psychology notes, journaling “helps [people] build a buffer between their negative thoughts and their sense of well-being.”
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: