Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Mental Illness Happy Hour

Over the course of the last year or so I’ve made the switch from listening to music on my ipod when I’m out and about to listening to audiobooks and podcasts.

Honestly, I stopped listening to music because I noticed it was having a negative effect on my moods at times, and as hard as I tried to listen to music that was specifically positive and upbeat, there were several times where I still walked away with a mild episode triggered from it. It took a while for me to find a handful of podcasts that didn’t have the exact same effect, and I went through storytelling and comedy to interviews in an attempt to find something that was interesting and not a total waste of my time.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour is one of the more recent podcasts I’ve discovered, and I am a big fan! Comedian Paul Gilmartin hosts an hour long interview with, (you guessed it!) a mental illness theme.

Though Paul is a comedian, his intention is not to make light of mental illness -simply to speak with guests who are willing to be open about their experiences with things like anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental challenges. The guest line-up includes (but is not limited to) doctors, actors, comedians, and others involved in the creative arts.

I find that this podcast falls perfectly into a place that is neither too serious nor too comedic, and though some of the topics could pose as a potential trigger risk for those with bipolar disorder (suicide, abuse, death, rape, etc), the fact that the traumatic experiences and situations discussed are brought up in a safe environment with the help of Paul guiding the conversation makes a huge difference in providing a buffer around many of the more intense topics. So far I’ve been able to relate in some way to each guest on the show that I’ve listened to without being triggered by any of the episodes -something I consider to be a huge feat.

In addition, the website includes a couple anonymous surveys you can fill out, which is an interesting way for folks to share information about things they may otherwise be too ashamed to talk about. A quick forewarning that these can be a little intense, but you may find you’re not the only one with that deep dark secret shame you’ve been carrying around for years. There is also a forum area where people can connect, an excellent resource.

It has been an absolute pleasure to discover something with such a similar aim as what I am trying to accomplish (to some degree) with this blog, and for anyone who can raise awareness about mental illness, encourage openness, and remind others they’re not alone -all while making it seem somewhat effortless, I give a well-deserved two thumbs up.

Check out The Mental Illness Happy Hour on iTunes or at mentalpod.com, a great addition to spruce up an otherwise boring commute, add some reflection to your workout at the gym, or simply enjoy with a cup of coffee lounging around the house in your pajamas.

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Reverse Vulcan & Evaporation

I know there was a time a few months ago back when I started this blog where I was unsure of whether I was more likely to have bipolar type 1 or bipolar type 2.

To be fair, I don’t think any doctors were really comfortable pinning either one on me (because my symptoms are certainly outside the “norm” in regard to these two types), and my conclusion was that I am probably a type 2 with some extra fun things, cyclothymic cycling (several mood changes in a day) for example, sprinkled on top for good measure.

BUT, after the last few weeks I feel pretty darn comfortable saying that I probably actually fall into the category of type 1.

It can be extremely hard to judge when I spent almost a year in severe depression, and I don’t think my [current] psychiatrist knew quite what to make of it either. When you are working with someone who isn’t exhibiting any manic symptoms (apart from when he gave me an antidepressant very briefly), how would you know?

My hunch (though it is a little more than that now) is that if one of these three things doesn’t sweep me into the type one category, the inclusivity of all three of them certainly does.

1. psychosis
2. mixed episodes
3. the manic episode from a week or two ago, which was both severe and roughly 10 days long.

So there we have it, I guess. Ta da! 

Obviously I am not a doctor, and there can be subtle nuances to this sort of thing, but after the last few weeks I’ve had some time to really soak in the little trip I took to the land of mania and back.

And honestly, I have a lot of trouble looking backwards through time to recall certain feelings and events, so if I can document them as they’re happening I know that this has happened at least once. Namely, this time. There may have been others, but my memory is so foggy I really couldn’t say where or when or what happened.

It wasn’t quite like when the werewolf episode showed itself, because to some degree it felt like an old, familiar… friend, let’s say. My experience this time around dragged me through a whole spectrum of oddness, and though some portions were familiar… there were certainly places I don’t recall ever going before.

I’ve been encouraged to name them, to quantify these states and feelings -which I don’t mind because that’s what I enjoy doing anyway. I like getting to know them (for the most part), it can be a lot like opening doors at random in my brain and seeing what is hanging out behind them.

I find mania to be confusing, because when depression happens… it is depression. All of the symptoms (for me anyway) seem to stack on top of one another so it is pretty easy for me to discern how bad it is. Mania, on the other hand, seems so random. The symptoms I have don’t always seem to overlap from one moment to the next, and an episode can feel severe, be right next to another episode that seems equally as severe, but they are in two totally different ballparks.

My argument to my therapist was that if I just experienced the same thing over and over again, it would be a lot easier to pinpoint, a lot easier to quantify, and a lot easier to describe. Instead, mania is tricky. For me, it has a LOT of different faces and if I’m not careful, it can disguise itself well enough to slip past my radar.

The saving grace there is energy, because if my energy level is pretty high I usually know something is amiss. I know there is a shady character skulking around somewhere ready to clamp on to me at the first opportunity and wreak havoc.

Some of you may remember that I made a list of the sorts of qualities I’ve seen magnified in people who are experiencing manic symptoms (myself included) so I’ll jot down a couple of those for each of the states below.

  • I’ve talked to some extent about Werewolf which, thankfully, didn’t make an appearance this last week. These episodes usually involve psychosis for me, and I have the overwhelming urge to 1. be in nature, and 2. expel energy. If I can do both at the same time, brilliant. The werewolf brings something of the hippie/the bohemian to the table, because I have the overwhelming urge to shed my possessions and live in nature.
  • I’ve also spent some time talking at length about Crazy Girlfriend. These are the sorts of irritable, agitated, angry (to say the least) mixed/manic episodes I have. Somehow, the goal in this state becomes to destroy everything awesome, which is incredibly frustrating. I am typically a fan of awesomeness, so destroying it is not usually on the to-do list. I’d say this incorporates a little bit of the dictator and perhaps Joan of Arc a little bit? A strong female warrior type character with the brain of an evil villain, for sure.
  • I haven’t brought Reverse Vulcan to the table yet, but when this happened last week I was surprised because I seemed to make the same sort of series of bad decisions as the last time I recall feeling that way. A Reverse Vulcan episode happens when logic seems to only lead to the illogical. So if logic dictates something will be a bad idea, it will look like the most brilliant idea ever. For me, this phenomenon is centered primarily around social situations, and I feel so much more outgoing, bold, and optimistic than usual that for some reason it feels like nothing could possibly go wrong. I would say this is something akin to the thrill seeker and the comedian or social butterfly combined.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Reverse Vulcan doesn’t seem that bad, right? Confidence? Sociality? More like Awesome Vulcan! No. You’re forgetting the part where logic works backwards, and because of this, I have found myself in some really seriously awkward (and potentially dangerous) situations because they seemed like a good idea at the time. Example? Well last week I had to be escorted down from the top of the space needle when I suddenly realized I was having dinner at the top with 3 near strangers, one of which was an ex-con who just finished spending 16 years in prison. The reverse vulcan goggles came off, and I had a panic attack and was stumbling around a rotating restaurant (because my table wasn’t where I left it) trying to figure out where my purse was so I could get out.

I told you so.

  • As alarming as that last one was, this one was more-so because I don’t actively recall ever having this happen to me before. It was as if my sense of self Evaporated. My physical symptoms were pretty extreme, and it felt very much as if I was floating around. My attention span was minute and focused on the tiniest of things, all purpose and time had vanished. As I floated around, it was like being caught on the wind, a smell directed me one direction, a vague idea another, and I might as well have been a cloud.

Now, like I said, this is a new one for me… so unlike what I normally experience, I don’t think there were specific parts of my self that were magnified. It was more like they were simply gone, with the exception of one small string tied to a lamppost keeping me from floating away altogether.

Is this new territory? Something more extreme than what I have experienced before? Or is it simply a new kind of episode? A new mask mania was wearing that day? At this point, I genuinely don’t know.

What I do know is that I have an appointment with my psychiatrist this morning, and I am already certain my therapist has called him to express her concern. A whole new can of worms is opened now that I’ve been talking to two medical professionals who are now talking to each other, so all I can do at this point is show up and see what the verdict is.

Study Finds ECT Works By Dampening Brain Connections

A fellow bipolar cohort sent me a link to this article last week, and it never ceases to amaze me how the things I just believe to be true are later “discovered” by researchers. I do understand the difference between scientific theory (unproven) and scientific fact (proven) but it usually takes the fact portion a considerably  longer to catch up.

SO, that said, researchers believe they’ve finally cracked the 70 year old case as to why ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) works on depression. ECT has been used for quite some time as a treatment for bipolar disorder (among other things), but it tends to get a bad wrap because most people aren’t aware that the technique looks much different than the way it looked when the therapy first began.

Depression was long thought to be brought on by lowered activity in the brain, but research lately (including that recent research about the chemical found in magic mushrooms being used to potentially treat depression) have helped conclude that the trouble with depression is that there is overactivity in the parts of the brain that control mood and concentration. Both ECT and the psilocybin (the active ingredient from the hallucinogenic mushrooms) work by lowering the amount of activity in that overactive portion of the brain.

Interesting, no? I’d recommend reading the full article here…

Mental Preparations; how much is too much?

I live in Seattle.

It is grey for a pretty large portion of the year. There are periods where days are dark and seem to blend together, or where a smattering of grey skies can last for weeks giving the inhabitants here no indication that time is in fact changing.

If you aren’t careful, this weather can suck you into a black hole where time and space seem to stand still.

Some years are better than others, but the theme is usually the same. Grey light that never changes.

Ever since being a child, I’ve created routines to mentally prepare myself for whatever event was up next for the day. Some have suggested that these mental preparations are the mark of obsessive compulsive disorder, but I have another idea.

It didn’t occur to me until I was on my way to work the other day and I ordered a green jasmine tea. Green jasmine tea has been my flavor lately, as far as caffenated beverages as I don’t like the flavor of coffee.

Blasphemy, I know. A Seattleite who doesn’t drink coffee? Unheard of!

Well I got to the shop like I do every pre-work day to get my tea, but they were out of green jasmine tea.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to do. I suddenly realized each place I have worked in the last few years has had my “preparing for work” drink -and the drink has been different for each job.

Chai tea
Hot chocolate
Black tea
Earl Grey
Green tea
and now green jasmine tea.

A new flavor for a new routine, helping remind me of the time (since our grey skies don’t reflect what time it is) and maneuver myself into the head-space I need to be in for work.

I think to some degree, that is why the coffee culture is so big in Seattle. Getting coffee is usually a reminder that, I have work to do. I know folks here get a lot of flack for the meticulously customized coffee drinks they order, but I think, like me, people have drinks that mean certain things to them. Drinks that remind them they’re working, or drinks that remind them they can relax.

Of course, I wont downplay the role that caffeine has for most, for me it was the absolute worst when I was working in fashion design. Every day when 3 o’clock rolled around it was time to re-inject oneself with caffeine to reach the end of the day. The break was almost something sacred that went without saying. One person would stand, and everyone knew to drop what they were doing and follow to the nearest Starbucks, never more than the width of a quick 2 lane street away.

Just a teensy bit like zombies.

This sort of methodical mind preparation has its hands on other portions of my life as well though. Maybe it is the fact that my mental state can be on the more fragile end from time to time, but I practically find myself preparing myself mentally for everything. 

To some extent, it is definitely a positive thing. I can get myself ready to be in social situations, adjust my attitude a little bit if I need to, or prepare for work and being friendly with strangers. I prepare myself for unpleasant situations that might cause anxiety (when I know they are on the horizon) and I pump myself up with strength when I can see that I’ll need it right away.

It isn’t a flawless system, but for day to day situations, it is helpful and a way to prepare for just one thing at a time.

The catch, of course there is one, is that preparing myself for something in particular can go a little too far in putting all of my eggs in one basket. Preparing for singular situations means if something I didn’t prepare for comes up suddenly, the effects can be devastating. It can be something akin to dropping my guard at my back to put up a bigger guard in the front… only to be stabbed in the back without the energy or ability there to stop it.

I lose my flexibility.

And that is where I really tend to get in trouble.

When I get blind-sided like that, all bets are off. I can turn into the incredible hulk or I can turn into a butterfly. My mind has a nuclear meltdown because we didn’t prepare for this!

I have already made some big changes to this process since I was a child, because I  was constantly planning for such minute details in a larger picture that things almost always went haywire. I know I can’t go so far in preparing myself in the particulars of things, like what I am going to say or how I am going to react to others, because it is truly impossible to try to stage the situation in my head the way it will play out in real life.

It helps me to look at the bigger picture. Prepare for a time period rather than particulars, because trying to prepare for particulars gives me ulcers.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t still happen from time to time, and my boyfriend has said to me at least once, wow, you really don’t handle disappointment well. Since then I try to spread my mental preparations out over a spectrum that covers the possibility of being disappointed.

My plans to go skydiving, for example, were rescheduled because of the weather (heh). I considered that to be a potential possibility, so I made a backup plan of something fun to do if it didn’t work out. Lo and behold, that backup plan was necessary… and things were fine.

It is a learning process, I guess. I know that mentally preparing myself for things is great, as long as I don’t prepare myself into a hole.

Sunday; Coming Out in the Workplace

The continuing saga of being employed while having bipolar disorder.

I have been working for two days per week for the last 4 months or so now as something of a glorified secretary slash hostess slash personal assistant aiding in  selling real estate. In that time I have been told constantly that the position is really below my abilities (particularly by my boss) but I have avoided glomming on to any additional responsibility because the low stress level I have at my current job has been key in keeping me at least half-sane.

I’ve been living as openly as possible in regard to having bipolar disorder since October now and I meant to talk with my boss about it right away, but things keep popping up. Little things that would divert my intentional conversation, like customers or having a particularly bad day. Somehow I’ve been working 4 months without talking about it, and it was filed in the back of my mind’s “do this eventually” folder. I knew it would come up eventually, but I had actively stopped trying to have that conversation.

In the meantime, I’ve talked with a lot of other people about this.

At what point do you make something, like having bipolar disorder, known to your employer?

Do you ever? Is it safe?

Do you wait until you have a problem or need accommodations? Or do you start by laying it out the first day?

Should you wait for your co-workers or boss to get to know you a little first?

The general consensus of bipolarites in my life have expressed that they are in firm belief that:

Loose lips sink ships.

But how much of that is just fear, really?

I admit I am young, and I have seen my fair share of discrimination in the workplace, but maybe it is because I am young that it has been like water rolling off my back.

You see, I really believe that if I am meant to be somewhere, hiding my needs makes me feel more weak than strong.

I have stopped feeling like there is only one job or one setting that is more than willing to take what I have to offer them, so if I don’t fit in a job because my peers don’t get along with me or they don’t like me, I’m not meant to be there. Just the same, if they are going to persecute me for having bipolar disorder, then I’m not meant to be there either.

When I look back on jobs that I lost, I genuinely feel that if I had asked for more help, or been more open with people about what was going on, things might have turned out better. If co-workers don’t know that discrimination is happening, they can’t always see it, which means they can’t say anything about it either.

Anyway, I refuse to work somewhere where I am treated like shit.

And if that means self employment, fine. I am willing to go that far.

Heck, I’m self employed now.

Anyway, my boss now is a really remarkable woman who I find to be a rockin’ female role model. I’ve haven’t met too many strong, female career types, so I think this made me think twice, in a way, before opening up about having bipolar disorder.

What finally pushed me over the edge was being offered a 3rd day per week to work.

I’m an ambitious person by nature (though I’m working hard on getting my ambitions and realistic abilities lined up with each other) so my immediate thought was that I could take on a third day no problem.

But, enter the anxiety. Enter the fear. Enter the looming word that my therapist said to me over the phone last Wednesday, that word nobody with mental illness ever wants to hear;

hospital

I don’t think things have been overwhelmingly bad lately, just severe enough to cause some concern with my medical team I guess. Mania, or rather being conscious of mania is new territory for me to some degree, and the current hypothesis is that I am not fully aware with just how bad things were getting in that realm the week before last. I am the first to admit that, sure, I could be a little blind to the severity of potential mania, but when I had that “h” bomb dropped on me (hospital, not hydrogen) I had to take a step back from everything.

Are things as ok as I thought? Is more stress really what I need right now -adding a third day of work to my week?

Actually, I said to my boss on Saturday, can I have 24 hours to think about it?

Like a Guy Ritchie movie, those 24 hours passed in a flurried montage of mere seconds, and I was standing in front of her desk again, yesterday.

I might as well just tell the whole story then, I thought. It is probably time.

I asked her to consider all of the things she thinks about me, my intelligence, my common sense, and my accomplishments (because this woman seriously thinks I am really cool… through no fault of my own), and then I told her I have bipolar disorder. That one thing doesn’t make any of those other things untrue, does it?

No.

In my experience, the manner in which the subject of bipolar disorder is broached with someone for the first time will have a significant effect on how the aftermath of the conversation pans out.

A guilty, shameful admittance of mental illness is likely to be met with the recipient feeling as ashamed of the idea of mental illness as you’re acting.

Likewise, confidence is usually met with confidence.

When most people hear something serious, they gauge the level of seriousness based on how the storyteller is acting. Mirroring those actions and emotions are an easy way to know how to respond to something these folks may not otherwise know how to respond to.

She knew I was dealing with a serious medical problem, as I’ve talked in limited amounts about things like doctor’s appointments and medications very generally, and the fact that I have been working only two days per week was a pretty good tip off too. She’s not stupid, that’s for sure.

Overall the conversation went well, despite the fact that I got a little turned around in the end.

My intention was to tell her these were the reasons I couldn’t work a third day a week, but instead I felt so confident and comfortable by the end of our talk I told her I would take on that third day. I did, however, tell her that I am being very conscious about stress, so if things get too overwhelming I wont hesitate to let her know.

I did, after all, meet the stipulations I initially set for myself in regard to taking on more responsibility in the workplace. I made it past February before taking anything more on, and I am hoping the sort of low-stress environment I work in will be conducive to keeping a level head.

I am meeting with my therapist again today, and hopefully I can help put some of that fire out from last week. She isn’t quite desensitized to a lot of my ranting and raving yet, I may just need to be a touch more gentle with her.

And work? We’ll see. I’ve set a ping pong ball in motion in a room full of mouse traps, so I’ll be curious to see how things play out this time around. My part in the menagerie, however, is pretty much over. What my boss decides to do with the information I’ve given her will ultimately decide my fate.

At this point, I feel I’ve really got nothing left to fear.

Whatever happens is out of my hands, so I will continue to show up, do my job, fix the printer when it breaks, and make people laugh.

Really, there isn’t much more they’re asking of me.

Charting; a Year In Review

Now that I’ve had a chance to talk about mood charts, I’d like to finish off CHART WEEK by sharting a little bit of my own experience with keeping a mood chart.

One week ago marked my one year anniversary of starting my mood chart, and I was curious what kind of change has occurred over time, if any. To be honest, there have been times over the course of the last year where I felt very seriously like my bipolar and anxiety symptoms have been getting significantly worse, very quickly, and the sorts of things I’ve been experiencing lately would be enough to discourage anyone. 

Looking at the data I collected, however, makes me feel at least slightly better, and I’ve not only gained a different perspective on what is going on but I also feel like I’ve increased my understanding.

You can click on any of these graphs to see a larger version.

Average mood rating for the year: -1.55

Here is the standard mood graph for the year, and I’ve broken it down by month so you can get a little bit of an idea how completely sporadic things seem to be at times. I started charting while severely depressed (there on the left end of the graph) and despite a recurrance of some depressive symptoms in september it looks like my mood has been going steadily up from there. As you can see in the March portion on the far right, it has been very up, which is fairly abnormal for me considering the rest of the graph.

These values represent the average mood for each day data was taken, so they don’t quite represent the entire picture. On some days I can go from a -3 to a 3 and back down to a -3, and there is no real simple way to chart that here. For that reason, I’ve included a few additional graphs below to help get a better overview of what this year has looked like.

Average anxiety score for the year: 3.35

I began charting my anxiety level when I was hospitalized, which is why there is a blank gap in the beginning of the graph. The amount of green relates to the amount of anxiety I experienced on average each day. I was a little terrified to look at this one, because at first glance I didn’t see a huge difference over time -but if you look closely, the last third of the graph does show less anxiety than the first third. Even though there is a significant amount still there, the average the last few months is probably around a 3 instead of early on where it looks to be about a 4. As one might imagine, it seems like the stable portions on my mood graph line up with the areas with less anxiety. Go figure, right?

Average number of hours of sleep for the year: 8.68

That average surprised me a little, because I am normally someone who needs more sleep than others to feel rested and refreshed. Usually 10 or 11 hours is more realistic for me, so if the average for the year has been about 8 and a half, I certainly have not been getting enough sleep on a regular basis to feel refreshed.

Reviewing my sleep patterns has waved a big red flag at me, I think I need to start taking my sleeping habits more seriously. Honestly I thought I had been doing a good job of forcing myself to go to sleep when I was feeling elevated, but even so the amount of sleep I’ve been getting otherwise is totally sporadic at best. It is interesting that there does seem to be a loose pattern though, as every 15 days or so there is a deep dip to only 6 or 7 hours (which I intend to investigate further).

Average pain score for the year: 1.8

So the pain scale is based on both frequency and severity of pain. Did the pain reach a point where it felt severe enough to require relief? How many times per day? If the pain of that severity or greater lasted a period of time, how many fifths of the day did it last? So a day of pretty much intense, nonstop pain would be a 5, while a 2 (in contrast) could be an intense headache that pops up once, abates, and then pops up again later, for example. I included body pain/headache pain/& menstrual cramp pain and averaged them all together for the daily scores here. There has definitely been some improvement, and I think there have been a lot of things that have contributed to that.

The first third of the pain graph (with the most severe pain) correlates with the least amount of sleep in that area on the sleep graph, the highest anxiety on the anxiety graph, and the lowest mood on the mood graph. When it comes to mood, physical pain can play a huge role -which can be extremely frustrating for those that deal with chronic pain. In addition, the 3 points on the anxiety graph where zero anxiety was rated for the day line up with corresponding points with a zero score on the pain graph. Coincidence? I think not.

Average number of mood shifts for the year: 2.15

Ok, this one surprised me a little bit… this graph is based on the number of times my mood shifts per day, when the shift is greater than or equal to a value of “1” on my mood scale. You see, the mood chart doesn’t show the whole picture, because I can have a series of mood fluctuations in one day. Apparently anywhere from zero to 14 (the highest I’ve recorded).

That extremely high period that includes the 14 mood swing day (trust me, it was a doozy) took place when my psychiatrist tried to incorporate an antidepressant with my mood stabilizer. Needless to say, my mood didn’t remain stabilized, but he was really trying to make a last ditch effort to pop me out of the severe depression I was in. Unfortunately, it mostly just made my mood blast off in opposite directions every 10 or 15 minutes. So here is a great example of my mood chart helping point out a symptom to me that I wasn’t otherwise getting a grasp on, and when I brought this to my doctor’s attention we very quickly stopped the use of that antidepressant.

 This last graph has really been the eye-opener for me because I really didn’t have any kind of overview in regard to mixed states. I’ve covered all of the days over the last year that have included both depressed and manic or hypomanic symptoms with orange. The result completely shocked me.

Number of mixed symptom days per month:

March 2011 – 10
April – 13
May – 12
June – 6
July – 23 (!)
August – 8
September – 10
October – 12
November – 7
December – 8
January – 5
February – 2
March 2012 – 4

The month of July had twenty three days, 23! That is practically the whole month! If you take a look at the sleep graph, that is also the point where there is a huge gap in the amount of sleep I got (I went on vacation but wasn’t able to sleep most of the days we spent traveling).

I’ve clearly been experiencing significantly more days with mixed symptoms than I ever anticipated, and now that I know I’m planning on talking to my doctor about it next week. For me, those mixed moments can be so confusing that I don’t always put two and two together, so I’m honestly really glad I had the opportunity to see the bigger picture here.

Thanks for joining me through the CHART WEEK journey this week. I hope I’ve provided enough information to inspire some charting, because even as much as I tooted the mood charting horn earlier this week I hadn’t yet grasped just how much new information my own charting would provide me by the end of the week.

It may take a little while to get into the groove, but the amount that you can get out of keeping a mood chart is almost endless.

Keep charting!

Mood Tracking & Technology

Alright, so we’ve talked a little about why charting is a good idea, how to create a rating scale, and what other sorts of things you can track along side your moods, but maybe you’re thinking charting with a pencil and paper is so vintage. And not it the kitchy way, either.

We have a ton of technology at our fingertips, right? Why not use it! We’ve got everything from spreadsheet applications, apps for your mobile device, to mood tracking websites, so I wanted to take a minute to address a few of these programs.

For folks on the go, an app on your mobile device might be a good option. There are a huge number of mood tracking apps, though in my experience I haven’t been able to find the perfect one. The two I’ve listed here have pretty good reviews, one is for Android and the other for iPhone.

eMoods bipolar mood tracker, free for Android, 4.2 star rating

  • eMoods tracks amount of sleep, depression, elevated mood, irritability, and anxiety with an option to denote psychotic symptoms and therapy sessions. Plusses include being able to include depressive and elevated symptom scores at the same time, meaning mixed situations are logged. This is a once per day log with a monthly, emailable graph.
  • The downfalls? Some have complained that the graph is difficult to read, and each trackable item only has a 0-3 scale (with zero counting as “unidentified”).

Mood Tracker: By the Cheryl T. Herman Foundation, $4.99 on the iPhone, 4.5 star rating

  • Mood Tracker allows tracking of mood, amount of sleep, functionality level, and mixed states, as well as a medication tracker (what you’re taking, what dosage, and what time). Both the mood tracker and medication log have an alarm to remind the user to imput data & take medicaitons. Track up to 12 different attributes, once daily log with monthly graphs you can email.
  • Downfalls? Difficulty for some reading graph, and a handfull of complaints about bugs within the program.

Using a mood-tracking website is another idea, and as long as you are someone who doesn’t stray too far from the tendrils of the internet they can be an interesting, reliable way to track your moods.

Moodscope

  • I was just turned on to this free website by DeeDee, a fellow graphmatician over at Disorderly Chickadee so I haven’t done much to try it out yet. From what I can tell, this is a once daily tracker designed to judge your mood for you based on how you answer a series of 20 questions. Moodscope is able to show you a graph of a year (or even more) of your results at a time, which is pretty rare for most mood charting services, and definitely useful. I’m going to try it out for a bit, but going in I know my results will be skewed (since I can fluctuate quite wildly over the course of a singe day) depending on what time of day I decide to answer the 20 questions. Free, easy, and very cool, beautiful graphs!

HealthyPlace.com Mood Tracker

  • This mood tracker incorporates a lot of the elements I think are important in tracking, this is a website that I really think has got a lot of things right. The tracker incorporates mood, sleep, anxiety, irritability, medications, and weight (something you may want to track given the propensity of psychiatric medications to cause weight gain) and provides an area for you to make notes (hooray!). The chart appears to cover only 30 days at a time, but there is also the option of a calendar view to see ratings denoted on dates on a calendar. In the event of severely high or low episodes, the mood tracker can be incorporated with your doctor’s fax or email to automatically alert them. Also a free service, check it out!

Spreadsheets are a great way to keep a table of your daily/hourly information  (should you go that route in tracking your moods), and they are usually capable of creating some graphs with the information you log there as well.

Excel Spreadsheets

  • Excel spreadsheets are great for being able to hold a lot of information, and there is a graphing ability in the program as well (though it isn’t stellar). If you are interested in making graphs for 1-3 month’s worth of data at a time, Excel can do the trick -but don’t expect it to be able to handle a year’s worth of data in one graph. But, for people who get a little OCD about what their analyzing graphs look like, the data in Excel can be funneled into a number of programs that will read it and create a graph for you. The drawback? Having the software itself. Personally, I don’t own Excel, and I am not likely going to run out and buy myself a copy when there are a number of free alternatives (like the one just below) lying around.

Google Docs Spreadsheets

  • I have been keeping a lot of my logs (numerical values) in google’s online, free spreadsheet program through Google Docs. For me it has been a nice, online way to store information without being concerned I might lose the file, and I can open it on any computer with an internet connection (no need to carry around my laptop!). I think this service is free to anyone with a gmail email address, and it has free word processing as well. There is a graph feature in this spreadsheet, but it is very limited. You can use it to get an idea of what your graph would look like, but not much else. If you are using this spreadsheet to keep a log of your numerical data, I would suggest imputing that data into another source when it comes to creating your graph.

If you’ve got data that you’re ready to create a graph for, there are many different programs you can use, depending on how much data you have and how much money you are willing to spend.

Adobe Illustrator

  • Adobe Illustrator creates some nice looking graphs, but it is on the expensive side and unless you are planning on doing other design projects, I wouldn’t recommend splurging. If you happen to have access to it, though, definitely check out the graphing features. Fully customizable graphs with each element separate and customizable on its own. Unfortunately, the data entry portion when it comes to creating your graph is a bit out of control (and difficult to use as you can’t copy and paste) but supposedly there is an “import” feature that includes excel spreadsheets.

Smart Draw

  • Smart Draw is a (supposedly) easy charting and graphing software with a free trial at the link provided. The example graphs look pretty good, but I’m not sure how they would hold up with a large amount of data (say, a year’s worth). The program can be integrated with microsoft office products, includes a ton of templates, and offers customer support. The amount of charts this program can create is mind-boggling, but I don’t have much experience with this program first-hand. Who knows, it may be worth getting the free download to see if it works for your charting needs!

There are really quite a few programs (and practically any program that is a “drawing” program) that have a create-graph feature, but for the most part they are complicated and expensive. Chances are, you already own software that has the ability to create a graph (like Excel, you just might not know it yet) or you may want to opt for a free version, like Google Docs Spreadsheets. Don’t want to mess with the creation of the graph at all? Then I’d recomend something more inclusive, like a mood tracking app or website that turns your information into a graph for you.

There are a lot of ways to incorporate technology into your mood tracking and charting, or you can always opt out of the technological portion and do it by hand. The point is that there is no one particular way that is the correct way to keep a mood chart, and there are enough different options out there for you to be happy with whatever method you decide on!