For Christmas 2017 I asked my sister for a new Bullet Journal (my first full year using one) and a set of pens. She dutifully complied and on Christmas Day I eagerly unwrapped my brand-spanking-new purple Leuchtturm 1917, and set of 50 coloured gel pens. I could barely sit still as my mind went spinning off into idea after idea of designs and possibilities to fill the crisp dotted pages.
For those who don’t know, the bullet journal system is a planning system devised by designer Ryder Carroll and ‘released’ in 2013, which went viral thanks to others sharing their ideas with it on Social Media. It’s a mix of journal, planner and to-do list that simplifies day-to-day planning, but allows plenty of flexibility and personal touches and creativity within it.
I first came across the bullet journal craze through an online friend who was excitedly sharing her own journal spreads and, having now got to a stage where I am well enough to write, blog and review as well as my main day-job as a wife and mother, I discovered that having everything planned out on paper definitely helps keep some of my anxiety away. I don’t have to remember everything all at once if it is there in front of me. I get some of my brain space back! But I also figured out that going ‘whole hog’ with the Bullet Journal idea and using spread ideas found online has helped me function in other ways too:
Oh My God, these are so useful for someone like me, with ‘managed’ depression. It is so easy when one is depressed to think: ‘it doesn’t matter if I don’t [ie] clean my teeth today’. But missing these crucial self care (and social) necessities slowly nibbles away at our sense of worth and soon it becomes less and less important to have clean teeth. Or wash. Or do laundry. It’s so easy to slide back down the slope into a holed-up smelly mess with depression as opposed to a functioning depressive. And this can lead to circular thinking – “I’m not going out today so why bother washing” becomes “well, I can’t go out today because I haven’t washed” and round and round we go. You see the problem?
Logically, I know that I will feel better about myself and therefore feel and BE more productive when I completed a daily care routine. It helps to have that routine on paper to fill in as a reminder that these things are important and not really optional. I realise that these habits are what ‘normal’ people do without question and to not do this is seen as gross and unthinkable, but when someone is in the throes of a deep, prolonged depression, simply getting out of bed and deciding on what clothes to wear is a gargantuan task. Thankfully my days like that are few and far between and my habit tracker is a positive prompt. Each box ticked off is a small pat on the back that I am doing well. On bad days, they are victory medals.
My health trackers include exercise (within my habit tracker), water consumption – something I am very bad at – and my weight and calories intake. The weight and calorie tracker holds me accountable, but also allows me to compare my intake versus my mood. For example: did I comfort eat? Was I too jittery / stressed to eat? And bearing in mind that alcohol consumption affects my medication’s efficacy, how much do / did I actually consume? Hint – it shouldn’t be a lot! In fact it’s usually very little at all, but just seeing it on paper is another positive reinforcement and encouragement.
An obvious one this, but again, this is a really useful tool to help me manage my depression. I can look back each month and see my moods recorded and it’s interesting to see correlations (or not) between my moods and my productivity, or exercise amounts, or my period etc. It also helps me track my mood cycles and note any particular triggers, even plan for possible swings – very useful for Cyclothymics.
The use of this tracker is definitely a work-in-progress for me. I have a very odd relationship with money at the moment. It’s complicated because I don’t work, yet I am the one budgeting and spending most of the household outgoings. I do the supermarket shopping, the clothes shopping and the general running of the household. But I am not the one earning this money, and so any purchases just for myself are usually accompanied by a fair amount of guilt. Even for necessities like bras! As a 40FF, there is No Way On Earth I could go bra-less, yet I still feel like I shouldn’t be spending my husband’s money on them in M&S. When I am depressed I have been known to buy trivialities searching for a shopper’s high, but usually this would then be overshadowed by the resulting guilt and shopper’s remorse.
When jittery I am paralysed by nervous indecision and so the bank account is spared the onslaught often experienced by the truly manic, who, when they lose their groundings can buy entire wardrobes of clothes, cars, plane tickets and even houses in their mania. However, although I don’t have to return items in order to stay in the black each month, we’re not continually saving either. So I feel some close attention to what I am really spending and on what is a good idea moving forward. If I know where the problems are, I can address them.
Memory and Gratitude Logs
Back in 2012, when I was in the deepest depths of depression, one of the most helpful things I did to get through each day was a Three Things Positivity Thread on an online forum. (Listing 3 things each day that were good, even if it was just getting dressed, doing the washing up and eating 2 good meals.) This enabled me to celebrate the small victories and see good in everyday mundanity. If one can see the positive side in doing the laundry, then appreciating other, more obvious beauties in life becomes inherently easier: catching a view of a sweeping landscape, the joy of fireworks, or the stunning strangeness of a brown sky and red glowing sun, clouded by Saharan dust.
Therefore, each month I have a page dedicated to good or important memories, and finding things, however small, that I am grateful for. It can never hurt to remind ourselves that we are, honestly, lucky to be alive. And that’s what I’ll write, if at the end of the month that section is still blank!
At the very front of my bullet journal are my ‘collections’ – lists of my goals this year, books I have bought, books I have read, films, concerts played in and my general bucket list. But one of the most important to me is the list of 100 Things that make me happy. A 2 page happy-shot that, just by reading it, lifts my mood if it threatens to retreat into dark corners. Bored on a train? I can read my list and bask in happy thoughts and memories. Feeling depressed? It’s a good reminder of what there is to live for and experience. I can use it to convince myself that it’s not all horrible and futile etcetera and that I will not always feel so bad. The list can even prompt me to plan a trip or excursion. When I first sat down to write the list I thought I would never find enough to fill all 100 spaces, but it was surprisingly easy once I got started. And the best thing is: it’s not even exhaustive.
I have heard people say that they couldn’t possibly find the time to keep a journal like this, or that filling in such a document is just ‘narcissistic rumination’ and that such introspection ‘isn’t healthy’, but I’ve found that since I started tracking my life, I have increased my wellbeing considerably. By planning my days in advance I have cleared some headspace (surprisingly lessening anxiety when things DON’T go to plan) and by being more structured, I am more productive. By keeping all these trackers – which only take 5 minutes to do – I am healthier, cleaner and generally happier overall. And that’s not even taking in account the benefits from the creativity involved in finding, copying or creating spreads to achieve a pleasing journal aesthetic. So, far from being a place to dump negative thoughts, as most of my teenage diaries will attest, this new journal is fast becoming a 250 page happy-space. Something I had never previously thought was possible. And yes, I suppose that fact should definitely go down on my gratitude log!
These people have really helped inspire me in my Bullet Journalling:
Bohoberry (Blog, YouTube, Etsy)
AmandaRachLee (YouTube and has Instagram – AmandaRachDoodles)