How long have you been trying to get well?
How many medications, diets, and life hacks have you tried without much success?
How many hours have you spent going to different doctors, therapists, nutritionists, and more?
And now the final question, how can you possibly keep track of all this?
I’ve been there. I tried so many different sleeping medications I didn’t even know what I was on anymore. I couldn’t keep track of my doctor's visits and was chronically late to appointments (oops).
It seemed cruel – I wanted my brain fog to go away, but the brain fog was getting in the way of me being able to figure out what was working and what was a waste of time.
So I did what I love doing most...
I began writing.
I found an old notebook in my closet, and began keeping track of the medications I was on, as well as any different cleanses, diets or wonky woo things I was trying (I say that in the most loving of ways, as yoga was one of them!).
Keeping everything organised and tracked in a journal helped me get control of my health journey. Every week I’d review my journal and make a note of what was working (let’s do more meditation this week) and what didn’t work so well or made me feel worse (let’s cut the multi-vitamins).
Having this knowledge was essential in my recovery.
However, it was not always the most organised path to recovery. I found myself flipping back and forth through notebooks, trying to find things I had circled or highlighted, hoping I had dated things correctly, etc. It’s one of the reasons I created these journals for chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic pain, so you’d have a way to track your progress without losing track of the information.
Luckily, technology has advanced significantly since I was going through the worst of my illness, and like everything, there’s an app for that. While I love writing on pen and paper, the best part of using an app is that it’s on your phone and comes with you wherever you go. You don’t need to remember to carry a journal around or try to remember what you did or ate or how you felt when you get home later. It’s always with you so that you can track your symptoms and health on the go.
(One app that I’ve started using recently and have found helpful is the Care Clinic app. I am currently medication-free, but one thing this app offers is a pill tracker which I imagine would be super useful for those of you who have multiple medications to keep track of, and want to know what is having the most significant effect.)
Whether you choose to track with an old-fashioned journal, or on an app on your phone, keeping track of your symptoms, and the things you are trying to do to feel better, is essential to getting better.
Symptom tracking for better health
Before I started tracking, I felt like I was wandering around in the dark. I would try eating something different, a new diet, a new yoga routine, new medication, etc. And I would think about how I felt afterwards. However, I had no overall sense of how those things were affecting me. Did I feel better because I did yoga? Or was it that big salad I had at lunch? Was a gluten-free diet helping? Or had I just been sleeping better from a new medication? I had no idea. I was trying anything and everything but had no way to see what was effective and what wasn’t. I was sure that I would be able to tell, instantly, when I felt better. But that wasn’t the case.
It was studying research methods during my psychology degree that made me realise the importance of recording so that you can account for variables. Variables are all of the things outside of what you’re actually testing which could affect the outcome. For example, if you’re testing a new medication, what you ate that day, how you slept the night before, if you had a stressful day at work or a fight with your partner, can all affect how you felt on the medication that day. Tracking things in a journal or a symptom tracker app for chronic illness helps you weed out these variables, and get to the heart of what is helping you feel better.
Another great benefit of tracking is getting to see how you improve in the long term. If you’re reading this blog, I guess you already know there is no magic bullet cure for chronic illness (sorry). But gradual recovery can happen. Sometimes, it can be hard to see how far we have come when the changes are gradual.
Symptom tracking is essential for Understanding your long term progress
I’m currently in stunning New Zealand, one of the first locations I travelled to seven years ago. I was so full of life and energy at that time. I had been in recovery for about two years by then and was so ecstatic that I was getting to live out this dream of travelling the world. New Zealand had been high on my bucket list (thanks to obsessively watching the Lord of the Rings movies as a teen). I went to a town called Picton, where there was a wonderful day hike (lovingly called snout track) in the sounds overlooking the beautiful bay. I hiked part of it seven years ago but decided to turn back early. I was nervous about pushing myself too far, and I hadn’t done a hike that long before.
A couple of weeks ago, I went back to Picton and attempted the snout track again. This time, I finished it.
When I think back to that time in my life seven years ago, I think of it as the peak of my health. I was 23. I was in recovery and feeling hopeful about the future. I was travelling the world and sleeping like I never had before. Sometimes I feel like I’ve stayed about the same since then. Yes, I know more about my health, but I’ve also gotten older and taken on more responsibilities. But, because I had documented all of my travels, I remembered that I wasn’t able to do it last time, but this time I could. Even though I thought I was at the peak of my health before, I’m continuing to improve.
I also remember when I hiked the Camino de Santiago in 2015, a 900km trek across northern Spain. When I got to about 100km from the endpoint, I sat down and cried. I couldn’t believe I had done this when only six years before I had been to sick to walk from my bed to my class five minutes away. While this is a big leap, there were 1000 small steps in between that helped me get to that point. Without tracking those steps and monitoring the consistency of my progress, I would not have had the confidence to take on such a big challenge.
Chronic illness symptom Tracking is so vital for me for two reasons:
1) I don’t think I would have had these wins without tracking everything. Tracking helped me do more of what was working (yoga, meditation, routine, going gluten-free and switching to a plant-based diet) and eliminate things that were no longer serving me (sleeping pills, caffeine, etc.). Without tracking, I’m not sure I would have been able to pinpoint what was working and what wasn’t.
2) I would not have been able to see how far I've come without tracking. Just thinking about the day-to-day, it’s easy to feel static. But when I sit down and think, when I look over my old notes, photos, and blog posts. I can see how far I’ve come and how my health and energy levels are continuing to improve with each year. This gives me the courage and the confidence to carry on living my life without abandon.