I was diagnosed with a mental illness in 11th grade, 2001 – Bipolar Type 2. For 17 years, I was medicated with mood stabilizers and tried to find the right anti-anxiety/depression medication combinations.
I wanted to figure this out and one day be medication-free. For me, the best way to identify if I am “slipping” or “falling off,” or however I label it at the time, is through listening.
I do this by listening to how I talk to myself. Listening to how others react to my presence. Listening to the comings and goings of my circle/events. I do all of this by finding constant(s) to reference these inputs. Having a constant provides a sense of safety and a tool to help me identify my sense of being. (Another example of this, see totem in the movie Inception, which helps the characters know if they’re no longer dreaming)
My top constant and tool for listening is journaling. It’s a predictable way to “check-in” with myself, daily.
The feedback from the practice as a whole provides many reference/data points for identifying my “state”; ranging from the tension in my hand while writing or the form by which the words are written, the speed at which I am writing, the size of the letters (smaller font is typical of tension), and then of course content.
Experiencing the thoughts that race around in the vacuum of our minds, because they are in a vacuum it can be difficult to get our own sense of perspective on them. With words on the page, they become still, giving me a chance to see them and get a fair shot at reflecting on them (even if I don’t reread them, which I hardly ever do, trust that it still works)
This, in turn, builds up a couple of things. One is a sense of peace provided by the outcome of “venting” on the page. And two, a feeling of safety (which converts into confidence) when I consistently show the deepest parts of myself that I am willing to show up for / face myself, and by design, take care of myself in all the ways my past or present might not have been able to.
And yes, use pen and paper, keep the keyboard for work/creative/other.
** I have been medication-free since September of 2018, and am still a contributing member of society.