My depression journal

These past few weeks have been tinged with grey.  I’m not quite sure how it happened, but my depression sneaked up on me.  One minute I was congratulating myself on conquering my first post-breakup Valentines Day and feeling positively full of self love, the next I was lying in bed, immobilized by despair.

I can’t quite express how frustrating depression is to me.  I seem to go around in circles.  I get depressed, the feelings of gloom and doom drag me under.  The weight of my despair holds me under the waters of depression for a while.  Then I begin to kick and flail to try to break through the surface.  At this point, I’d try anything for a wisp of fresh air.  I begin to remember the tools at my disposal: the self-care basics, the CBT strategies I’ve learned, my friends, sunshine, rest.  Slowly I manage to grapple my way upwards until my head is finally above water again.

Then, after a few gulps of relief, I start to feel wonderful again.  I begin to think about all the things I could be doing with my new-found energy.  I think about all the time I wasted while I was depressed and I try to get caught up.  Only to find myself overwhelmed, exhausted and depressed all over again.  I’m like the mental-health equivalent of the person who doesn’t finish their course of antibiotics because they feel O.K again.  Once I feel well, I totally neglect all my self-care techniques and drill myself back into that hole.

I had a really great idea last night.  I was trying to think of a way that I could remind myself to slow down and put those mental health maintenance tools into practice.  I came up with the idea of creating a depression journal.

I went through my collection of notebooks and found this Snow White one.  I chose it because she looks so peaceful and hopeful, and I felt that was an uplifting image.

Inside, I began brainstorming ideas to help me to tease out the things that help keep my depression at bay.  I made a series of headings and prompts, and wrote one at the top of each page.  I’m slowly beginning to fill the journal with lists and ideas.  I’m hoping that I’ll be able to create a personal resource that I can look through on a regular basis and keep practicing those things that help me to keep my head above water.  I can add to it over time and build my own personal survival guide for navigating my depression.

So far, these are the page headings I’ve come up with:

– Bad day list (things that I can do to turn around a bad day)

– Self care basics

– Small things I find nurturing and comforting

– People to get in touch with when I’m feeling down

– Affirmations

– Tools for fighting my depression

– Films and T.V shows I find uplifting

– Music to lift my mood

-awesome things I’ve accomplished

– Role models to look up to and draw inspiration from

– Things I love about me

– What gets me down?  Possible triggers to watch out for.

– Negative thoughts I have and how to break them down.

These are just the ideas I’m working with at the moment.  I’m sure that I will add loads more to my journal as time goes on.

I’ll let you know how this project goes.  At the moment I’m feeling pretty excited about it.

How do you maintain your mental health?  Do you have any suggestions for topics that I could include in my depression journal?


  1. Hi! Just discovered your blog looking for The Dark Side of Oz and I found myself reading many other interesting posts of yours, keep the good work!

    By the way, this anti-depressant list may end up being very useful, thanks!

    For me it really works to make exercise or just go out for walk, watching people living their lives and wondering if they are happy or what they feel. It keeps my mind busy, like reading comics or novels and also physics and astronomy articles, they are so complicated I have to concentrate on them!

    Close people and animals help me too. And also setting yourself little goals to achieve, like making it to the next weekend, when it will be alright. Sometimes I just have to let the day pass away and think tomorrow will be another story.

    Hope that helps! See you!

    • Thank you so much for your comment. Like you, I find that exercise is really helpful in managing my depression. I’m a big fan of yoga. Not only is it really relaxing, but the need to concentrate and pay attention to your body helps to release my mind when I’m bogged down with worries. Goal-setting is another tool I use quite often. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. I have been searching for a way to manage my depression myself, as I have decided that medication is not for me. I came up with the idea of keeping a journal with tools to help me when im feeling down. I camr across your post, and I was amazed that we have almost the exact same headings! I wish you the best.

    • Thank you so much. I wish you well also. I think it’s a great idea to have a personal collection of your tools and tips that you can refer back to when you need a boost. So far, it’s working well for me.

  3. I tend to just let myself feel what I feel and it’s been really freeing instead of trying to pull myself out. But depression has never been the main problem for me. I found CBT really counter-productive to my mental health but have recently been reading about ACT and that’s been quite affirming and has given me a lot of good tools to not fuse with my thoughts so much, and to stop struggling against everything I feel. So, I guess that’s what I’ve been doing lately to somewhat maintain my mental health?

    • That’s so great that you’ve found something that is working for you. I’ve never heard of ACT, so that’s definitely something for me to look into and learn more about. Thanks so much for mentioning it.

      • Yeah, it’s not helped a whole lot, yet, but that’s because I’m still in the ‘remembering to actually practice these techniques’ stage but it’s given me a lot to think about. A lot of it is about, rather than trying to change thoughts, realising that they’re stories we tell ourselves and not necessarily true or untrue? And you’re welcome! As the book I’m reading, based on ACT, says, it’s not going to work for everyone and that’s OK, but there’s no harm in seeing if it any of it will be useful for you. 🙂 Oh, and I also have started trying to do the 3 pages in the morning thing – the hardest part is remembering to write them! Haha.

  4. There are two things to think about. 1. Media input. 2. Loneliness.

    I saw your above post of your disney collection and am reminded of how much you like disney…. Lol, You know what works for me? I like to play video games, movies or media that makes me feel more well off, better off. Being single, unwanted, incapable of things others are, or do… various other problems, they become less important when something reminds you of how much worse things could be. If I were your counselor I’d take away your disney movies and make you watch horror or something. Start collecting pictures of women you think are not as attractive of you. Preferrably pornographic. Shlagenfreud also helps. No GF? just talk to a friend about the problems they are having with their relationship, listen to their fights, or being a single parent, or whatever. You start to feel lucky to have been able to hold out so long, remain true to yourself, to have made good choices for yourself, etc. You have made many good choices and have good qualities too (IMO 😉

    Thinking happy thoughts helps maybe, but hmm maybe not so much when the thoughts you have are ‘everyone is happy, this is a happy world, but why am i not as happy as everyone else or a part of these happy things?’ It might sound crazy but I wonder if disney is a bit to blame for that? I can imagine these kinds of internal dialogues:

    Everyone has found prince charming but where is mine?
    What if there is no happy ending?
    oh and there is of course the classic: “what’s wrong with me?” (because life is not what it seems to be in… THE MOVIES)

    Do Disney and pornography affect the self-image and self esteem similarly? By illustrating a fantasy world that is beyond what we are capable of experiencing or being?

    disclaimer: several suicide attempts spent most of my life in depression. been institutionalized and hospitalized from attempts. tried different things, medication thing is to do something that makes you not care anymore. pursuing your own hobbies and passions is really the best thing i found that i could do (especially when recovering from events that would trigger suicide attempts) as it would give me a place i could develop, feel safe in, and make my life more interesting… I went really deep into it and stopped caring about other people or their lives. (I actually stopped talking to everyone I knew, or did know, and moved on from it) the only thing was the occassional loneliness that comes along with spending time involved in one’s own world. We can train ourselves to stop caring about our happiness in comparison with other people and what not but the loneliness is a tough one..

    I still deal with loneliness too. I think it’s the main motivator of why people socialize. Your readers are here to help you with that maybe, and who knows you might help your readers too. 🙂

    • I strongly disagree with many aspects of this comment.

      Firstly, it’s true that I do like Disney movies. However, I am an intelligent woman who is able to enjoy them and appreciate them for what they are: a fantasy. I am able to watch it without internalizing the messages of the story because I’m an adult who is capable of critical thinking. While I’m watching, I don’t have an internal dialogue about whether or not my Prince Charming is coming for me, or whether I’ll have a happy ending. I’m enjoying the music, the jokes, the artwork and the pure escapist fantasy. Frankly I find it a bit insulting and simplistic that you think that my enjoyment of Disney movies has anything to do with my depression.

      I think it would be very damaging to try to build up a collection of pornagraphic images of women who I believe are less attractive than me. For one, I don’t like looking at pornagraphic images of women (or men for that matter). Secondly, I don’t believe in making yourself feel better by putting down or criticizing others. That’s only a stones-throw away from bullying. I prefer to try to look for the beauty in all people, no matter their age, gender, size or race. I don’t do this to compare myself to others, but as an exercise in understanding that there is always beauty if you look for it.

      When I talk about breaking down negative thoughts, I mean dismantling the unhelpful, untrue and invasive negative inner dialogue that often accompanies my depression. I don’t try to convince myself that everything is fine and dandy, that everyone is happy and the world is free of problems. Because that would be ignorant and stupid.

      While I do think that it’s a good idea to indulge your own interests and passions to help you to break out of depression, I don’t think that it would be helpful to become so absorbed in those things that you no longer care about other people. The people I love and care about have been instrumental in helping me to manage my mental illness, and the last thing I would want to do is alienate myself from them.

  5. This is a brilliant idea. You are one of the cleverest people I know.

    Have you heard of “the artists way”? I didn’t put much of what the book said into practice…but the morning pages got me out of some of my worst depression. It’s pretty simple – three pages of longhand writing first thing in the morning. It is basically used just to clean out all the crap your brain is holding onto and afterwards it’s easier to let it go as you have written it down. But it isn’t a journal. You aren’t suppose to go back and read or learn something from it. Burn it if you want. It’s purely to help clean your brain out so you can start the day fresh.

    • Awww, shucks!
      I have heard of The Artists Way” but I haven’t actually read it. Several people have recommended it to me, actually, so I need to give it a try.
      Sometimes when I’m really down I like to try free-style journalling. That’s where i just sit in front of a blank page and write. I don’t think about what I’m putting down, I don’t try to make it into coherent sentences, I just write it all down. It is so helpful to just clear out the clutter from your brain.

  6. Having never suffered actual depression before, I can’t imagine what it’s like and I’m sorry you have to constantly battle it. Depression runs in my family and I have a number of friends who suffer from it, so I consider myself lucky to have escaped it but also try to help those who have it too.
    This journal idea sounds like a really positive thing to do, and I hope it works for you and makes those dark days a little brighter and less frequent 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I’m hoping that I can use this journal as a resource to help keep the depression at bay.

      It’s such a tricky illness to battle, and the struggle is made even harder because it is different for every person. I admire your compassion for those people in your life who are depressed and your efforts to understand it. Well done.

  7. Thats a wonderful idea. I find that writing out my feelings and thoughts sometimes help me. I kind of visualise pouring my feeling and emotions into those words and as I write them, transfer that depression out. Its a bit mumbo jumbo, but it sometimes helps. I find it hard to talk about what I’m feeling, so I find that writing it out helps.
    I’m the same with my depression, its a circle, always has been, its just sometimes that circle is bigger and I can go aggges without falling into that well of depression. I’ve been kind of ankles deep in the water the past few weeks, and while I’m glad i’ve not gone under, it’s soooo tiring! I do hope I’m on that list of people to contact when you’re feeling down!

    • You’re definitely on my list of people to contact. Right near the top, in fact!

      I’m also a big believer in the restorative power of journalling. I keep a regular journal that I use to pour out my thoughts, tease out ideas and record what’s been going on. I find it insanely helpful.

      I feel so inspired by your openness about your depression. I know what you mean when you describe it as a circle. I have gone through long periods where the circle is much bigger, which is great, but it makes it all the more frustrating when you fall into that hole again!

  8. Vanessa, I admire how proactive you are with your mental health. These days when I’m feeling depressed or anxious I just cry for a day. When I was going through counselling for anxiety in like 2005 the guy told me to keep an anxiety journal – which was more of a daily journal of my feelings. I found it recently and was overwhelmed by how unhappy I was, it was so sad. I had been such a burden to my family. I think your idea of a journal – more of a help book – is more positive than that. You’re an inspiration, even when you feel depressed.

    • Thank you so much. Personally, I feel as though I need to be proactive about my mental health and take responsibility for myself. I’m very aware of the fact that I live by myself and that if I can’t look after myself then I’ll have to move in with someone who can or go to a facility where I’ll be taken care of. That’s really not what I want for myself, so I try my best to do all that I can to maintain my mental health. I feel quite proud of the fact that I’m able to look after myself to an extent and keep myself balanced in spite of my mental illness.

      For the record, I do also keep a more day-to-day journal where I write down my thoughts, record what happened during my day or flesh out things that are bothering. But this journal is separate, and offers me the opportunity to create a resource that i can refer back to.

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