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On Mental Health and Bullet Journalling

Happy 2017!  I’ve got some goals.  I’ve got a lot of goals.  Last year I wanted to move (hey there, New York), I wanted to find a job that felt fulfilling (hey, I found three!), and I wanted to grow my hair (I broke and shaved my head again in October but we are on our way back).
This year I have the following goals: make more art, grow my hair, adopt a form of minimalism in order to feel more in control of my surroundings, accept my anxiety and work within its confines, read twelve books (I only read three last year), eat new food, bullet journal every day **** , quit biting my nails, quit purchasing clothes, take classes that have to do directly with my craft, my interests, and my spirituality, be more mindful, etcetera ,etcetera , etcetera.

That’s a lot of goals.  Enough goals that I could suffocate beneath them: my chest deflating, all of the air out of my lungs.  Me: blue faced.  Me: riddled with quakes and tears.  This has been my life forever.
Sometimes the idea of leaving the house is too much for me.  Sometimes it’s the idea of leaving the neighborhood.  Sometimes I can’t answer text messages.  Sometimes I wake up and need out.  I walk to the grocery store and through the isles and pray that no one will talk to me or look at me.  I always keep my hands in my pockets or crossed over my chest like I am freezing.  New York City specifically has thrown me into a number of situations that I wish I could avoid.  I like the train but I hate the people.  I can’t stand the voices, the inevitable elbow rubbing or the glances which always feel directed at me (though intellectually I know that they’re not).  Place goals on top of how difficult it is for me to function while out and about and I might as well just flatten. For god’s sake, sometimes I panic in the shower as I imagine that the floor beneath the tub is old and crumbling.  What if I fall through?  What if I fall over and hit my head?  WHAT IF?


ENTER: bullet journaling. Ya’ll have heard of it by now. On the official bullet journal website it is described as  “a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.”

I heard about it through social media (the way that we hear about everything, I guess) and I liked the way that the pages looked.  Black and white, symbol after symbol, hand-lettering, lists and lists and lists. It seemed so visual.  It looked so organized in the way that the inside of my head is not.  I joined a few bullet-journalling facebook pages and researched notebooks obsessively.  Eventually I settled on a cheap, dot-page book that could be destroyed as it inevitably would be.  It is often pushed that we should use expensive, nice notebooks but I found this idea contrary to the way that I wished to use the system.


This is a brief guide to the way that I used my journal followed by an exploration of the effect that it has had on my mental health. There are a lot of great guides out there when it comes to starting a bullet journal.  I’ll link them at the end of this post.  In the mean time there are only a few bullet-journal based “rules” that I follow in my own.

1: I keep collections. Collections are the types of pages that you use to organize, journal, or store.  (I use weekly collections, grocery and meal plan collections, a mind-map, collections of habit trackers, 30-day challenge collections, and list collections)



2. I use symbols.  I list them in a “key” on the front page. I’ve seen keys that take an entire sheet but I only use four symbols: a filled in box for a completed task, a “>” in a box when I need to move a task to another day or place, an “X” in a box to cancel a task, and an empty box to symbolize something that must be done.

3. I also keep a calendex (just because my calendar app crashes every time I try to open it), a monthly log where I list monthly tasks, monthly to-do’s, and gratitude,  and a future log where I write out anything that I need to do in a year (any events, classes, birthdays, etc.)

That’s literally it.  Anything else that I have read about on the internet has been null when it comes to the way that I keep track of my projects, my thoughts, and my to-dos.  Tha’ts not to say they’re not great ideas.  They’re just not relevant to me.

I like the idea of bullet journals in place of daily planners because I can apply any function to any page.  I can cut a week in half with a thirty-day social media detox or a list of books to read.  I’ve used my bujo in order to take notes in class:


and this year I’m using it to log my monthly intentions (which is where mental health really comes into play) :


I’ll be posting more about monthly intentions as I dive further into mindfulness this year but basically, my BUJO allows me to look back as well as foreword.  I fill out my intentions at the end of the month and explore what I’ve done in the past 30 days, what I’ve noticed and experienced and felt.  The same goes for my habit tracker.  At the end of the day I think on what I’ve done, what I’ve drank, if I’ve showered or worked on art.  There is a moment of peace in thinking back over the day that I don’t feel when I am thinking on the day ahead. I’m not planning.  I’m reflecting.

Much of my stress comes directly from my inability to organize future tasks, events, past feelings and experiences in my head.  The bullet journal allows me to plan and reflect on separate pages.  I can visualize what I have done and what I will or can do.

I’m not trying to say that bullet journalling is an end all when it comes to struggling with emotional health.  I still think the shower is going to fall through the floor and when someone looks at me in the grocery store I often become personally offended.  However, when I can visualize the tasks ahead I can do them one at a time.  I can fill out the boxes and move on.  It feels amazing to take on my day one box at a time rather than all at once.  Each to-do is a small blow instead of a rock sitting on my chest and when it’s over… it’s over.  All that’s left to do is look back at it all.
As promised, here are some truly awesome guides to starting a bullet journal:
The Lazy Genius Collective
An Illustrated Guide
The Complete Guide to Bullet Journaling for Writers
A Student’s Guide to Bullet Journaling




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