Last year I was met with a rather unpleasant winter, which left me stumbling through 4 rounds of antibiotics for what initially appeared to be a sinus infection. After things continued to deteriorate, the severe pain left me with a brain that felt something akin to jelly -no doctor was able to pinpoint the problem. I began to be treated for migraines, but the “migraine” I was experiencing lasted all day, every day, for six weeks.
Now in a seemingly justified severe episode of depression (surprise surprise) I was being told (by my doctor) to take a lot of percocet, something that I really didn’t feel comfortable with. However, I was wondering just how much effect those intense peaks of pain were having on my mood, and since I couldn’t function enough to really do anything anyway, I decided to start a mood chart.
I started with just basic graph paper with my moods in red and the degree of physical pain I was in, in yellow. I quickly confirmed that once the amount of physical pain I was in reached a certain level, my mood began to plummet. No surprise there! But the small amount of charting I did really began opening my eyes to many of the other benefits one can gain from keeping a mood chart.
For people with bipolar disorder or other intense mood swings, mood charts can be helpful in a number of ways.
- Keeping a record of one’s mood requires the person charting to take a moment and pinpoint what is happening, meaning it requires a raised awareness of our mood changes. Having an awareness of what our mood is doing is half the battle! I know that for myself at least, I don’t always notice an irritable or slightly elevated mood (because I’m too distracted) so having to reflect on my day and what my moods were like has had a huge impact on my awareness.
- That raised awareness can help considerably in identifying potential triggers. Once we have noticed that our mood has changed, it gives an opportunity to reflect on what may have caused the change. Being able to do this when we can still remember what happened the day before, for example (instead of what started causing my current episode a week ago) means having a much more accurate idea of what those triggers could be. Having even a loose grasp on what our triggers are can help in avoiding future episodes, or in preparation for ones that are unavoidable.
- Being aware of where our mood is at can also be extremely helpful in curbing a potentially big episode before it gets completely out of control. This might not seem like a huge deal, but being able to call your psychiatrist and make a quick medication change, for example, before hypomania escalates into a full on manic episode can save an incredible amount of grief later. Any chance I have to avoid a potentially embarrassing, expensive, or debilitating episode is something I am enormously grateful for!
- I am someone who has a seriously difficult time remembering what has happened over the last few months when I’m visiting my prescribing doctor. Keeping a mood chart has helped significantly in being able to relay information to both my doctor and therapist. On top of that, I’ve been able to become familiar with my patterns, how long my mood cycles last generally, and what kind of episodes I’m having. Before I started charting, I knew I had elevated moods at times but I couldn’t tell my doctor how intense they were or for how long, or even when. Charting has helped me quantify these changes in mood, making them easier both to understand and cope with mentally. Knowing an episode is of a finite length does wonders for me, and helps me remember that the episode is going to end, even when the agony feels infinite.
- Have you ever had a moment where you aren’t sure if a medication you’re taking is really helping? Taking the time to keep a mood chart can give you a baseline for any changes you make down the line, including adding and subtracting medications. Sometimes it can be difficult to truly recognize improvement in our symptoms, so having a visual confirmation of change can aid in the decision making process in regard to medication.
- For better or worse, it is widely accepted in the medical world that bipolar symptoms can change over time. Keeping a record of your symptoms through mood charting definitely can’t hurt in the long-run.
Charting moods has a lot of benefits, and the only real downfall is time. That said, I probably only spend about 5 minutes per day on my mood chart, and I have a set time that I work on it every day so that I remember. That few minutes has taught me a lot about my symptoms and recognizing when my mood shifts, so it definitely feels worth it in the long run!