The only rule of journaling is that the journal owner makes the rules, and can break or change them at any time. In order to develop a habit of journaling, it is important to do it regularly.
In a healing journal, writing about your illness, your problems, your fears can get them out of your mind. Just the act of writing it down can be healing, as though someone has listened with a sympathetic ear. You can explore options of treatment, and how you feel about them. Write down your questions, then look for the answers. Give yourself encouragement by reminding yourself that you have made it this far. You are more than just your pain and illness.
If you have a chronic or long term illness, it can be helpful to keep a symptoms journal, to keep track of how you feel. One benefit of this is to share the information with your doctor. Over time, you may notice that whenever you eat a certain food, take a certain medication, or participate in a certain activity, your symptoms flare up. You can then eliminate that food from your diet, talk to your doctor about changing the medication, or stop or alter the activity. Symptoms journals can be structured in a variety of ways. The simplest would be to just list your symptoms each day. This may not give a good picture of what is going on. More information would help. You can set up a grid with your common symptoms, dividing each into mild, moderate and severe, and a column for “other” across one axis, and dates, which can be subdivided into morning, afternoon and evening along the other axis. In the “other” column, you can write in any other symptoms, comments, or other info that may be relevant, such as only getting 3 hours of sleep the night before. Another helpful way of keeping track of symptoms is to draw them. Draw a basic outline of a body and make copies of it. Using colored pencils, markers or crayons, add colors, shapes and lines to the image, to show how you feel.
There are many other types of journals. One of my favorites is a gratitude journal, which focuses on things for which you are grateful. This can help you to refocus your thinking if you tend to dwell on your pain and suffering. A gratitude journal is an ongoing list of good things in life, big and small. It can include smelling a flower, talking to an old friend, five minutes of quiet after the kids went to bed, even the basics, like food, shelter, love. Try to write down at least 3-5 things you are grateful for each day. Since starting my gratitude journal, I am more aware of the blessings in my life, and focus less on the pain. When feeling down, just looking at the list brings me back up.