Everyone knows they ought to keep a journal. Oprah tells us to keep a gratitude journal. I tried that, and for a few days the gratitude journal made me realize that I had a lot to be grateful for, but then something ticked me off big time and that was the end of being grateful. I think my serious personal journaling days ended when I was 16 and my mother found my diary. In sweet revenge, after she died I discovered her secret notes stashed in her bedside drawer — yes, I read them but, disappointingly, there was nothing juicy.

However, it’s caregiving that got me back to writing in a more personal style. I needed to process what was happening to my mother and my feelings about dementia, and because I am a writer, I naturally started writing. I leaned more towards articles and now this blog, and quite frankly, I didn’t know where to start, or HOW to get started, with a journal. When you are a caregiver, there is SO much to process. So many challenges, heartbreaks, humourous times…when faced with a blank page, where do you start? Blank pages can be very intimidating.

Thankfully, along comes B. Lynn Goodwin and her lovely book You Want Me to Do What? Journaling for Caregivers. At the core of her book are 200 prompts that get you writing in a manner that is no more taxing than filling in the blanks. For example, how would you end the sentence: “Today I feel…” I’ll bet that you can’t finish it in just one sentence and that you’ll need all the space Lynn provides. Other examples of prompts include the following. See what appeals to you and try and write the rest of the sentence.

  • If I could change one thing in our routine…
  • The steady murmur of traffic on the interstate…
  • I was thrilled when…
  • I feel isolated when…
  • Although it was risky…
  • Because of you…
  • Joy bubbles up when…
  • No one knows I worry about…

Prompts are divided into sections such as “Thoughts About Me,” “Thoughts About Caregiving,” and “Thoughts About Reclaiming Oneself.” In addition, Lynn provides space for the writer to come up with their own prompts, and provides a “how to” section to get the writer started.

In her Forward, Lynn talks about the benefits of journaling. According to research, journaling empowers the writer, who feels heard and acknowledged. It can open the writer to new perspectives. Journaling reduceds feelings of powerlessness, heals wounds and increases mental stability. Specifically for caregivers, journaling is a lifeline, it eases stress and is a record of the caregiver’s experience with their loved one. While we are focused here on dementia, Lynn encourages all caregivers including those caring for an ill spouse, an ill child, a person with special needs or physical or mental disabilities, or anyone involved in a dependent relationship.

While this book is meant for caregivers, I would encourage people with dementia to get the book and find the prompts that work for them. In going through the prompts, I found many, if not most, prompts could be applicable to people who are experiencing the early stages of dementia and for whom writing could be a release and a way of processing the changes they are undergoing. For example, while the prompt “I felt stressed when…” might mean one thing to a caregiver, it can mean quite another for a person in the early stages of dementia, who might write “I felt stressed when I went to work, sat down at my desk, and could not think of the first thing I was supposed to do. What if I was supposed to be in a meeting? What if I needed to write an important email? I think I need a way of tracking my tasks as I can’t rely on my mind anymore like I used to.”

Not only can journaling ease the stress of a person with dementia, it’s an excellent mental exercise to keep the mind active. Richard Taylor, who has had Alzheimer’s for eight years, turned his journal-like essays on his experiences with dementia and his family caregivers into a book Alzheimer’s from the Inside Out, and is now an international speaker and is working on his second book.

I recommend You Want Me to Do What? Journaling for Caregivers by B. Lynn Goodwin. It’s an excellent book, and while I am no longer a caregiver, I know that many of the prompts apply to me and it just might get me over my phobia of keeping a diary!

The book is available at www.amazon.com. More information about the author and her journaling workshops can be found on her web site.