Journaling for caregivers | February 27, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - February 27, 2009

Journaling for caregivers

'Prompts' help people write their feelings - and keep their sanity

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

When B. Lynn Goodwin was caregiver for her mother for six years, she found it stressful - and lonely - as she coped with driving to medical appointments, stopping by the pharmacy, cooking, paying bills and helping with matters that had once been private. As a writer, she found that solace in putting her feelings down on paper.

Now Goodwin wants to help others going through the same life-altering experience of being caregivers for their loved ones. To this end she has written "You Want Me to do What? Journaling for Caregivers."

It's a small paperback book, designed to be handy for writing in when a caregiver might have a moment's respite, whether waiting at the doctor's office or when the patient is napping. It offers "prompts" to start a person writing.

"Journaling is a 'way out,'" Goodwin said. "You vent, you explore. Often a place of hope will come up. Sometimes."

The opening chapters tell how "Writing Saves Lives" and "How to Write Your Story." At the end, there is information about creating your own prompts and "Honing Your Voice."

Although Goodwin was caregiver for her mother from 1994-2001, this book is not her story.

"It's not about me at all," she said. "This is about you telling your story."

Studies, like those by Dr. James W. Pennebaker at the University of Texas, Austin, have shown that journaling to express emotion can protect the body against the ravages of stress and help people to say healthy.

Goodwin found this to be true when she cared for her own mother. Her background as a caregiver, combined with her life as a writer and an English teacher, resulted in the book.

"I had listened to a friend talk about creating a book of 'prompts' for writers," she said. Journaling had helped her immeasurably during the caregiver period of her life and she knew it could help others. She remembered thinking, "If I could just get them started."

Most chapters in "Journaling for Caregivers" have prompts to get the caregiver going to express his or her feelings. The chapter on Getting Started has prompts that include:

* Today I feel ...

* Today I believe ...

* Today I want ...

* Today I am ...

* Today I hope...

After each prompt in the book are six lines for the caregiver to fill in. They can write only a sentence, or if they have a lot to say they can continue their writing on another piece of paper or on a computer. The prompts are just to get them started writing.

Subsequent chapters with prompts are titled "Thoughts about Me"; "Thoughts about Caregiving"; "Thoughts about the One I Care For"; and "Thoughts about Reclaiming Myself," each designed to help caregivers express themselves from their hearts.

"It's great to relieve stress by journaling - and loneliness," Goodwin said. "It's a safe way to do that."

Goodwin, who is managing editor for, once headed up the drama departments at San Ramon Valley High and California High as well as teaching English. She is directing the AAUW production, "Women Speak Out," being presented March 14, and said she gives the actresses prompts to help them start thinking as their characters.

"You are discovering new things about the character," she explained. "When you are writing about yourself, you are discovering new things about yourself."

Goodwin has been presenting her book around the Bay Area, which events draw many caregivers and has turned some author appearances into writing sessions.

"It's very clear who's been a caregiver and who has not," Goodwin said.

She looks back over the journaling she did while caring for her mother and says, with a smile, that some of it was "blithering."

"You write, and can obsess, in your journal," she noted. "You can write the same stuff over and over - if you can stand it - inching forward."

"People are relieved to have a 'listener,'" she said. "A journal is a very good listener." It's a safe, neutral place to get rid of one's "judgment gremlins," she said. "You can write terrible things."

"You Want Me to do What? Journaling for Caregivers" is published by Tate Publishing and Enterprises and sells in bookstores for $10.99. Goodwin is hoping to find a corporate sponsor who will provide the book for nonprofit groups such as Alzheimer's Association, Hospice of the East Bay or Family Caregiver Alliance to hand out to caregivers and volunteers.

One beauty of journaling is that it "can be all about you," writes Goodwin. "The journal validates your right to be who you are and your worth as a caregiver."

As a writer, Goodwin also appreciates the value of chronicling one's life journey.

"A lot of journals have memoir potential," she said.

"Writing gives perspective and restores sanity," Goodwin explains in the book. It also is a written record. "Do not underestimate its power."

Meet the author

B. Lynn Goodwin is scheduled for the following local events:

* Borders in San Ramon - noon-2 p.m., Sunday, March 29

* Pleasanton Poetry and Prose Festival - April 4

* Town of Danville Workshops:

Library: 1-3 p.m., Tuesday, March 10

Town Meeting Hall: 1-3 p.m., Thursday, April 16

Library: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Monday, May 4

Library: 1-3 p.m., Tuesday, June 2

E-mail Goodwin at