The diary app that changed my relationship with myself… and my therapist

March 18 2015 | carolinediezyn
Photo courtesy of dayoneapp.com
Photo courtesy of dayoneapp.com

Day One is a diary app for your phone and desktop, and it's changed my relationship with my therapist, myself, and by extension, everyone I know. How does keeping an electronic diary make this much of a difference in one's life? It's got a single sexy feature that's just a straight-up self-care-strategizing, mood-monitoring game-changer. Let me explain…

As an angsty teenager, I loved to journal. I spent hours writing in spiral-bound notebooks in multi-coloured ink. I would write about the drama that happened that day at school, complain about how I really didn't want to get up early for volleyball practice, and write out song lyrics that were captivating me at the time.

Eventually, when my family got dial-up and the internet began to take complete control of my life, I moved my babbling to DeadJournal (the goth version of LiveJournal — seriously). Then, I kind of stopped journalling altogether. It wasn't because I wanted to, really. DeadJournal pretty much died, tumblr hadn't hit its stride yet, and I didn't really want to keep a notebook anymore. What if someone found it and read my nonsense and horrible secrets!? Like an overconfident kid disavowing their teddy bear, I thought I had outgrown journalling. But eventually I realized that I missed having a place to gossip and whine about what's going on in my life without the fear of making my friends hate me. So when I got an iPhone, I looked at diary apps.

The one I settled on is Day One, and it does so much more than a notebook or blog ever could. I can put a lock on it, so that no one could ever read my entries. I can use the desktop app if I want to type out a long entry, or I can jot down thoughts on the fly on my phone. I can attach images, add a location, show the weather details, and it can keep track of what you were listening to when you were writing. It even has a step counter. But the most useful tool of the app was one that paper journals could never really provide: tags.

On the Offbeat Empire sites, we love tags. They're a great way to find everything to do with "body image" or "living rooms" or anything in between. On Day One, I can add tags to entries based on anything. I can find every single entry to do with that one person I dated, or any entry that mentions school. Even more useful, especially to the medical professionals in my life, is that I can track symptoms. So when the tag "sad sack" revealed itself at a specific point in my menstrual cycle over eight months, and when the tag "rageface" seemed to always appear with another tag, my therapist and I had a concrete way to approach my concerns.

Now I know that I should look out for my mood around that time in my cycle, or when I can anticipate being triggered, I'm extra patient with myself instead of asking "WHY DO I FEEL LIKE CRAP?!" I'm more cognizant of my interactions with everyone, knowing that I'm probably feeling more sensitive than usual, so that I don't react without thinking things through. This has changed everything from how I organize my month, to what I do for self-care, to which meds I use.

My therapist was stoked to see that I had over half a year of data to show her when I came in asking about strategies on how to cope with mood changes. Obviously, you could use a notebook, a system of sticky notes, and a calendar, and do this all by hand; but for me, the on-the-go techno-ease of Day One is the only thing that will keep me committed to tracking this stuff.

What are your mood-tracking hacks? Do you go old school with paper and pen, or have you found an app even more useful than Day One?

  1. That sounds great! I used to journal in high school–almost obsessively. It actually got to the point where I was "getting behind" all the time because I wanted to talk about everything that happened each day, because I really thought I would want to remember everything. So I would spend a long time on it, and I also realized I was dwelling on the same problems all the time and it never made me feel any better. I stopped when I got to college, and haven't journaled in years.

    However, when I went on a vacation last fall for two weeks, I kept a quick log on Google Drive of what we did each day and little cultural differences I noticed. It was fun, useful for matching up pictures to locations when I went through them later, and now I have memories I can actually enjoy reading about. Having it on my phone meant I didn't want to write down everything, but I could also do it from anywhere whenever a little thought struck me. Does anyone have any recs for an Android diary app? I love the idea of tags as well.

    So true about periods and moods, too. I track my cycle on my calendar, and it's always nice to realize the reason why I feel sad or angry with no explanation and have to hide in my room one day a month.

    • I use a cycle calendar too, but the one I have tracks other things too (it's originally a pregnancy app, so you can track changes in your body and mood). I actually use it to track my emotions and talk to my doctor if I'm putting a lot of frowny faces down.

  2. Thank you for this article, I have been looking for an app that is also available on my desktop for journaling, cannot wait to try it out. I'm so glad it's had such a positive impact on your ability to track moods and understand your own emotional dynamics.

  3. ::sigh:: I should do this. Rereading my Livejournal is basically how I realized my depression goes on a three year cycle.

  4. Very cool ๐Ÿ™‚ I'd like to start journaling again too… I was addicted to livejournal in high school and early college. Then FB came out and everyone deserted lj for the new shiny thing. I've never felt as comfortable putting EVERYTHING out there for anyone to read, so I just gave it up. I've thought about doing some notebook journaling, but never could pick it back up. Maybe something like this would be better.

  5. I have this app! I got it as one of those Starbucks freebies: Pick of the Week.
    I hate journaling. I can never make myself do it for very long. I like that this app reminds you every day to write something. Also I don't feel pressured to do a big entry. The last 5 days all I wrote was "Sick" ( which pretty much sums it all up ).

  6. I was a pretty active Livejournaler from 2001-2012 (I was a paid member, for goodness sakes!) I actually just went browsing through the archives and realized how important it was to my well being. Sometimes, you just need to put a message out that's just between you and the universe.

    • I still use livejournal the way Caroline uses this app, and oh yes, tagging is so awesome. And easy choices between private and public and carefully filtered posts. People are actually starting to trickle back as they get fed up with facebook; it's not hopping like it used to be, but it isn't dead, either.

    • Same. I was so connected from 2003 until 2013/14 where it sort of petered out. Since I got a fullctime job I've given up on going back to it.

  7. Thanks for this! I might check out the app.

    I've had a complicated relationship with journaling. I journaled obsessively in high school and imagined my grandkids poring over the dramatic entries. Then after college I started eating disorder recovery and journaling became important for therapy. I had a hard time reconciling the two. My earlier journaling felt "fake" compared to my heartfelt ED work. But I didn't want my grandkids to read the "scary" and "out of control" things I scribbled in my ED notebook. It's taken a long time to come back to regular journaling (i.e. not specifically for therapy) and have it feel authentic. I use more expletives now, and I've stopped writing for an audience. If my grandkids someday do read my journals, hopefully they'll see me honestly (and maybe be a little shocked by my language).

  8. I journaled all the time from age 12ish-age 20ish. And on-and-off into my 20s. Sometimes I still jot down some thoughts if I'm feeling especially like a teenager (which happens). I don't like writing about serious things, though. It doesn't seem useful or helpful to me the way it did when I was younger.

    I recently realized that my anxiety is probably directly tied to the seasons and lack of sunlight. It's like I have an anxiety-specific version of SAD. It somehow took me 10 years to realize this. I think that realization might have come much sooner if I'd had an app like this (I could even track the number of daylight hours by location and exact date . . . whoa). Who knows what else I could figure out. It sounds perfect because I just don't have the feel for lengthy entries delving into all my deepest thoughts, like I did as a teenager.

    I had giant piles of spiral-bound notebooks and journals. Probably around 30 of them. After moving across the country with these giant piles of journals one too many times, I threw them out two years ago. And I don't regret it at all. A different topic, but another interesting part of my journaling experience.

  9. I've been using Clue to track my cycle, and has a great, simple mood tracking feature. I've used other apps to track my mood in conjunction with my cycle, and they were always too detailed–I don't need to determine between whether I feel "nervous" or "scared," god damn it. Clue has "happy," "sad," "sensitive," and "PMS," which work great for me.

    Thanks to Clue, I realized I have a sensitive day about three days after one part of my cycle that *isn't* when I'm in PMS; I'd never thought of having shitty hormonal reactions other than PMS, but clearly my body is more complicated than I'd imagined. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. I was a deadjournal devotee for years! it was essential to my courtship with my now-husband when we were angsty teenagers, and I still have lasting friendships with people I've never met 'IRL'.

    I too abandoned Journaling but I would like to get back to it. I never considered an app. I'll have to check it out. thank you!

  11. This is a brilliant idea! I have never been much for journalling, myself, but now I wish I were into it, so that I could more closely track that kind of information. A few times over the years I have tried to get into journalling, or even dream journalling, but it never lasts more than a few days or weeks before I get lazy about it.

  12. thought this sounded cool but it's not for Windows. ๐Ÿ™
    I still post private entries to LiveJournal occasionally, though.

  13. Thank you for this. I had just been rereading some of my old journals and finding old epiphanies that were really rather useful, and thinking I should start journaling again in order to feed my blog. I'll look into Day One.

  14. I have Day One and my therapist wants me to use it more. I should… like get on that. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the encouraging reminder!!

  15. While I can't say much for the app you mentioned I have a wonderful menstrual calendar that has a large note taking space. Period Tracker. It's changed the way I talk to my doctor about my menstrual and emotional health. The app comes with defaults for symptoms and moods but its customizable with your own additions and you can turn ones you don't use off. And that's just the free basic version. The deluxe version which is only a couple dollars is amazing and makes charts for you. I track my moods daily, medications (oh yes!), symptoms from both ovulation and menstruation, weight, and take notes so I remember when and perhaps why I felt the ways I did. Husband got a promotion is much easier to understand than just a random huge :D. But yeah there's just so many awesome features on this app that I have a no trouble remembering to update it daily. I've even recommended it to a transgendered friend to help take notes and monitor the physical process from female to male. Not sure if it's available for apple devices but Android users rejoice it's on the Play store!

  16. I journaled compulsively from about the age f five till about the age of 18 in book form then I kind of stopped. I lived in communes and similar for a few years and just didn't want anything physical lying about that people could read and the Internet was a very pricey luxury, not the egalitarian free for all it is now. Then about 13 years ago I started seeing a therapist who recommended that I start journaling again, but that I should look at something online since it would be available to both of us at any time. I started up a private blog (no one else can find or read it without me having given them the link and a password) on Blogspot which I still very frequently use. I also have the ap on my phone so I can write at any time of my choosing nomatter where I am. It also has the tag facility which I do agree is very useful and I have never had a moments worry about someone reading it without my permission

  17. Wish this ghad explicitly stated the app was for Apple only. I got excited and went looking only to find I can't use it.

    • also important to note: the iphone app only costs $5 but the mac desktop app is $40!!! there's gotta be a better way, geez.

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