How A Bullet Journal Helps Ease My Anxiety

I started keeping a (modified) bullet journal in January 2017, and I’ve recorded almost every day since. Not that I’ve written every day, but I’ve almost always gone back and recreated days I miss.

My journal is more diary than journal, recording events, how I’ve slept, what we ate, where we’ve traveled, things to do. I’ve occasionally written longer forms (this post started as handwritten pages in my bullet journal), but not often.

Lately, I’ve discovered that my notebook contributes greatly to managing my anxiety. On a recent Saturday I was feeling anxious and blue, more than I had in a while. It had been an emotional week. I’d seen my Uncle Don for the first time in years. I’d visited my 90-year-old mother in Michigan and found it difficult to leave her to return home. My husband’s sister was in the hospital with a life-threatening health crisis.

With all of the travel and activity, I hadn’t written in my journal. Sunday morning I made time to catch up on my entries for the week. As I wrote, I could feel the anxiety melting away. Nothing had changed, but the act of documenting my days seemed to be the panacea for my disquiet.

journal with micron penI realized that writing down these events ensures that I’ll have a record of them, that I won’t forget. But my journal also is a container for the challenging events in my life. I can close my journal, snap the elastic band around the cover and my emotions are safe, caught within the margins.

I spend a fair amount of time going back and reading what I’ve written in my notebook. Although mostly mundane, these entries serve a valuable purpose. They fill the gaps in my memory. They remind me of all of the wonderful people I have in my life. They show me that I’m resilient and can make it through any trials life throws me.

Unlike other journals I’ve kept, my bullet journal provides structure and order, two things I crave in my life. I often joke that I have “control issues.” But it’s not really a joke. I need to feel that I can have some control or influence over everything in my life. When I don’t, I get anxious. In a small way my bullet journal gives me that control. If I can put the words on paper, I can get them out of the endless worry loop playing in my head. I know I can always go back to my journal if I need to.

Another thing I love about my bullet journal is that there are no rules. (That seems a little contradictory to the previous paragraph, doesn’t it?) I can use it however I want. I control the contents. (Ah, there it is.) I can put a calendar on a page if I want one there, I’m not confined to the page with the pre-imposed date.

I’ve always loved calendars, but I can’t even count how many planners/diaries I’ve abandoned in my life because I’ve missed days or weeks and can’t tolerate the taunting of all those blank pages. This notebook is the perfect solution. Every page is full of ideas, events, thoughts, emotions, and yes, a calendar if I want one.

My favorite pages in my notebook are probably my version of the Calendex. I create small calendars across the top of the page using the grid, with a blank column beneath. Throughout the month I document the highlights (dinners out, parties, major purchases or repairs, writing groups attended and missed). At a glance I can recreate a week or month. I can then go to the date in my journal for the details.

Calendex

(Note for BUJO purists: I don’t use my Calendex for future planning. Eddy Hope explains how he created this concept in case you’re curious.)

I’ve learned that I prefer a “dot” notebook with a light grid on the page (Luechtturm1917 is my current favorite brand). I keep a ruler in my notebook and use my favorite pens (Micron-black) to draw lines to section off the page and create calendars and lists. (Lists! How I love a good list.) But I always write in pencil, I like to be able to make changes.

Recently I’ve decided that I want my journal to be more than just an accounting of days. So I’ve started adding sections periodically for “mood” and “observations.” I’m trying to be a little more thoughtful each day and use my notebook for inspiration and creativity. I usually journal early in the morning, when the house is quiet and I’m calm. I realize that it’s probably this time that I gift myself for quiet reflection that contributes most to my emotional state.

My bullet journal is the talisman that allows me to bring together the things that matter most to me – creativity, structure, order, inspiration – to live together in one place. The blank pages aren’t daunting. They’re beautiful and calm, waiting for me to use them.

 

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Opposing Thumbs

In 1975, as I sat in Miss Bloom’s typing class, I never thought that one day I’d be typing primarily with my thumbs. I’m sure Miss Bloom, ancient even then, couldn’t have imagined a keyboard so tiny that even the end of her thumb would be too large to hit just one key.

I picture myself in her class, feet planted firmly on the floor, my skirt pulled down over my knees, fingers curled over the keys of the IBM Selectric in front of me. Four rows of eight desks neatly lined the room. The only sounds were the soft squish of Miss Bloom’s orthopedic shoes on the linoleum floor as she paced up and down the rows checking our posture, and the hum of the newly purchased typewriters in front of us. (What a marvel those electric typewriters were. How much easier than the 1928 Smith Corona I used at home.)

What were my lonely thumbs doing then? They were relegated to the space bar, waiting for the opportunity to create a void between words. Only my right thumb ever got any business, the left thumb dangled uselessly while all of the other digits pounded away at 65 words per minute.

No wonder that now my thumbs have trouble finding the letters when I answer e-mails or send my daughter a text message from my iPhone. They’re not conditioned for this kind of work. Now they’re front and center, the rulers of the written word while my fingers curl around the back of my handheld device, providing support, but little else.

Occasionally my right index finger can’t stand the pressure and it says to its friends on my left hand “Take over. I’m going in!” as it darts from behind the screen to hunt and peck for the letters, thinking itself faster than my clumsy thumbs.

But even this is unsatisfying, because my right index finger doesn’t know the keyboard any better than my thumbs. The only familiar keys are y, u, h, j, n and m. And what can you spell with only those letters? Eventually, my index finger gives up and returns to its friends behind the screen, letting the thumbs take over because they at least can work together, doubling the speed of my messaging.

Gone are the days of 65-75 words per minute. My thumbs are lucky if they can get in 20. So they’re less creative. A reply that once might have been “I’d love to join you on Saturday evening. A trip to the theatre sounds like fun,” becomes “K” or more likely a thumbs up emoji, but rarely anything longer. It’s just too slow, too cumbersome, too demoralizing to spend so much time pecking for the keys and constantly backspacing to correct mistakes.

I’d like to say my thumbs are happy, that they’re glad for the opportunity to carry the torch after all these years. But I don’t think they are. I think they miss the days of working in tandem with my fingers, resting lightly on the space bar while the fingers searched for just the right sequence of letters. I think they’re lonely out there in front by themselves. Who knows? I could ask them, but they’d probably just reply, “IDK, may b. U D cide.”

 

Guest blogger and WordSister Jill W. Smith is a Twin Cities’ writer. Her work has appeared in the anthologies Here in the Middle: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between; A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Autism; and Siblings: Our First Macrocosms, in the online journal Mothers Always Write, and occasionally on her blog, The Autism Fractal, which she co-authors with her oldest daughter.