As requested, I’m going to provide the details on the custom mood / variables I use in the T2 Mood Tracker. These are just my variables, they certainly don’t have to be yours, but they might be good to glance over.
Custom Moods / Variables I Use to Improve Mood Tracking
As I mentioned, the more difficult a case you are, and boy am I difficult, the more challenging the patterns can be to find. This is why I’ve included these extra variables. Custom moods / variables include:
OK, you’ve sold me as to why I should track my mood (part 1); so just how do I track my mood?
Obviously, the simplest form of mood tracking is just recording depression and mania on a scale, say, of one-to-ten. You could use a “paper” and “pencil” (look it up on Wikipedia).
You might still notice mood trends but that type of mood tracking is not nearly as helpful as it could be. And the more complicated your case, the more you already know, the more subtle your shifts may be and the less you’ll see using simple methods.
There are far more useful, not to mention easier, options.
Ask a Bipolar: What about mood charting?
Most doctors (mostly psychiatrists) will ask you to track your mood if you have a mood disorder like bipolar disorder or depression. And while most people (psychiatrists and patients) would agree mood tracking is good, most people would also admit to not doing it.
I understand why mood tracking doesn’t get done. It’s like a homework assignment when you’re already working full-time. You just happen to be working full-time at being crazy. Homework tends to get left in the book bag.
However, there are easy, painless, simple ways to track your mood that can offer real benefits. Sixty seconds a day. Promise.
What is Mood Tracking?
Mood tracking is pretty simple. Mood tracking is just a way of writing down various aspects of your mood and mental illness symptoms on a daily basis to look for trends.
Mood tracking attempts to look for variables that affect a mental illness like bipolar disorder or depression. You generally want the results in a graph so it’s easier to see mood trending.
Why Track Your Mood in Depression or Bipolar?
Except it isn’t. At least not in the most helpful sense. Telling your psychiatrist what your mood is when you’re sitting in front of him might be useful, but that’s only one tiny data point and these was probably a month between that answer and your last appointment. You can’t see trends when you track moods by months unless they absolutely smack you in the face.
People are terrible at remembering mood. This is pretty much what happens:
“What was your mood last week?”
“Um, mostly OK, I guess.” Or you might say, “Depressed.”
This is not accurate mood reporting. In reality, everyone’s mood fluctuates to some degree. You were more depressed on Thursday because they didn’t air a new episode of Burn Notice. You had a visitor that lifted your mood a little for two days. That sort of thing.
Benefits of Mood Tracking
By tracking your moods for depression or bipolar disorder (or any mental illness, really), you can find:
- How changes in medication are affecting you
- How monthly hormonal changes (for women) are affecting your mood
- The impact of lifestyle changes on mood
- How life events affect your mood
- How stress affects mood
- How sleep impacts mood
- Correlates to your physical health
- How season changes impact mood
And about a million other things. Not to mention the fact you will have a record of your mood (and hopefully side effects) and when some future doctor asks how you reacted to med X from two years ago, you’ll have the answer. (Yes, an endless frustrating reality.)
How to Track Your Mood in 60 Seconds
So, have I sold you on mood-tracking? Good. In part two I’ll talk about how to track your mood, what to track, how to remember to track your mood and I how I track my mood in 60 seconds a day.
I’m a geek. If you know me, I deny this, but it’s actually true. Not the Star Wars-watching, video-game drenched, mother-basement living, socially awkward,virgin type, but a geek nonetheless. I do, after all, make software for a living, understand math, and make logical arguments.
A Mood Chart
So, in the vein supportive numbers, I have been charting my mood for a while. I chart depression (obviously) along with mania, anxiety, and irritation. I’ve also added trend lines for anxiety and depression (the dotted ones):
The headline is the depression is dropping while the anxiety is increasing. Looking a bit closer, you can see that Jul. 16 when I added the Zyprexa/Celexa combo, the depression dropped substantially. It’s probably the best I have felt for over a year. I don’t have the numbers to prove it, but trust me, it’s true. (I’m scared to even write that because I feel like it will be taken away from me. I feel like a higher power will reach down into my life and destroy it. I suppose a higher power will reach into my brain and start squishing it like squishing whole tomatoes for a marinara sauce. Brain sauce. Yum.)
Mood charting has two main benefits.
One, you have objective record for what is happening to you. Your doctor is going to ask you “how are you feeling?” (which is the dumbest question ever) and you have to be able to answer it. It’s harder than it sounds. Are you more anxious, or less? What side effects have you noticed? How long have they been happening? What kind of pain? How depressed are you compared to last time? Irritation? Mania? Energy level? And it would be handy if you could answer all of that in 2 minutes or less.
Seriously? Yes, seriously. You only have a few minutes with your doctor. You don’t have time to “think about it”. Mood charting can help you maintain an objective view of what is really going on. Generally, I can remember all these things because I have been doing this forever, but you may not be so “experienced”.
Two, you’ll have historic record so when you switch doctors, you know what to tell the new guy. Think your new doc will sift through the records of the old one? Well, maybe, but maybe not. It’s so much better if YOU can answer their questions and be the record for them. Then you know it’s actually accurate and right. And trust me, you won’t remember 17 drugs from now what happened with THIS antidepressant and THIS mood stabilizer combination. You just won’t. At this point, all the goddamned drugs sound the same to me. Alprozylepin. Meh. Whatever.
Try charting the numbers with drug names, dosages, side-effects, and “other pertinent info”. If every time you eat an ice cream sundae you feel super, maybe note that. Or your menstrual cycle, or whatever makes sense for you. Generally I haven’t bothered doing this because I’m so depressingly constant. I know how I am, I’m depressed. Screw off already. It just so happens that something has changed. Unbelievably. Miraculously.
See, I have the numbers to prove it.
(Child says to God, “how do I know you’re God? Show me a miracle.” God points to a tree. The child says, “that’s not a miracle, that’s a tree!”, to which God says, “let’s see you make one”.
God should have pointed to me. Let’s see you fix her.)