Dear Diary: Journaling for Crohn's and Colitis

Elizabeth Roberts Health Guide
  • If you have IBD then you've probably heard suggestions like conducting an elimination diet to help identify foods that might trigger your IBD symptoms or you may have been told to add a good quality Probiotic to your diet to build up the good bacteria in your gut, but have you ever thought about adding Journaling to your routine? Maybe, you should, it could actually help you cope with some of your feelings and fears of living with a chronic illness.


    Maybe it's because I've always loved to write. As a child I wrote poems and stories, as an adult I continue to write for myself as well as professionally. But, one area where I've found writing to be most helpful is in working through my fears, frustrations, and feelings with regards to illness.

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    I'm not talking about writing that perfect five-paragraph essay that we all had to do in high school, or the great American novel like John Steinbeck. I'm talking about free-form, stream-of-consciousness writing - basically, thinking on paper (or your computer). Don't worry about grammar, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, or creating the perfect paragraph. Just write. Write anything - describe what you're feeling at that exact moment, how you're seeing the world, describe your frustrations or what made you smile and feel happy that day. Write anything and everything. There is no right and there is no wrong here.


    Schedule 15 minutes just for your each day, or once a week, do write - basically giving yourself the chance to do a mental ‘dump' onto your computer or with pad and pen. Wait for the kids to settle down with their homework, or until they're tucked into bed, and then sit in your favorite comfy chair, or at your computer, or stand at your kitchen counter with a mug of tea in one hand and your pen in the other and spend those minutes writing for yourself, not for anyone else, examining your feelings and getting them out of your head.


    There is a growing line of thinking that writing can help you to heal. It's more of that mind/body connection idea. When you write down your thoughts and feelings you can actually see what you're feeling, what you're thinking and through this you have the opportunity to learn about your self, your feelings, inhibitions, fears, wants, and dreams.


    When I first started journaling I was at a real emotional and physical low and I was living, what I called, ‘in my disease.' My whole life had become IBD, I obsessed on it. I felt like I was no longer Elizabeth, I hade become my illness, I was IBD. Everything I thought about was IBD related: stomach cramps, poop, bathrooms, toilet paper, how many BMs I'd had that day, what they looked like, what I'd eaten, had I taken my medicines, what if I lost control out in public, never getting my life back, and on and on and on. These types of thoughts permeated my brain all of the time for months on end. I finally realized that I had to get out of my own mind, I was not IBD, I was Elizabeth, and I had to stop allowing this illness to formulate who and what I was.


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    I started writing. At first I wrote about what I ate, how I felt, what my energy level was like, how many times I pooped, what I pooped, etc. - I called this my ‘Poop Diary.' And as the weeks went by I naturally found myself putting down less of the ‘mechanics' of my IBD and more of my feelings about living with IBD. My daily writing touched on how having IBD made me feel, what I felt frustrated about, what I missed about my life B.C. (before Colitis), and on and on. If I thought it I wrote it down. It felt great to purge all of the IBD-related thoughts onto paper, to clear out my mind, to remove the negativity and fear from my body. Even writing these blogs and writing my book, Living with IBD & IBS, has helped me to understand where I was and where I am today. It takes what I know, what I've learned, what I want to tell others to help them, and it gets it out of my mind, making room for other, non-related IBD, thoughts and ideas.


    When I started my ‘Poop Diary' I wrote for only 10 or 15 minutes each day, now I write for an hour or two per week, on average. Some weeks I don't write at all, there's just no need to, and other weeks I may write a little each day. Start slow and do what feels right for you. Remember, there is no right or wrong, no good or bad. This is for you, and only you, so do what feels right.

Published On: April 02, 2008