Bullet Journals, Life and Me

What follows is a lengthy response to the question, “Why do I bullet journal?”  When I started this post I was assuming it would be about 200 words; nice and neat. As it sometimes happens when you journal it turned into something a bit more.  It became about my journey and about where I am now.

If you really don’t want to hear about the details, I’ll give you the quick version and you can keep moving.  Ready?

I bullet journal to keep my damaged brain working the way I want it to work.

There ya go.  Nothing more to read here!  Move along..

If you’d like to hear more then the path lies directly ahead.  😀

journalsTo talk about where I am now, we have got to go back a bit.

Though being an active journal keeper since youth I wasn’t always attracted to daily organization, planners and the sort. At most I maybe kept a list of friend’s phone numbers in a notebook somewhere. I know I kept a very loose list of “things to do” and homework scribbled in a notebook. My brain was a steel trap and I often remembered names, addresses and information after hearing it once or twice. This was a long time ago and I was much younger.

It was before I started to suffer from the consequences of several concussions.  (Well, that and, you know, AGE.)

Let’s get something out of the way if you’re new around here. I’m tall. I’m 6’8″ tall and, on top of that, active. In my younger days I played sports, did martial arts, ran around the woods, had adventures and, uhm, continued to be tall. This led to all sorts of impacts from low doorways, floors, low cabinets, tree branches, players, fists, sticks, etc. A number of those impacts were to my noggin.

By the age of 30 I estimated I had gone through about 7 minor concussions, possibly more. While living in a house not made for a giant, my doctor asked me how often, in one month, I lightly banged my head against things while I lived there. I estimated about five times a week. The doctor then pointed out that “take that times 4 and you’re lightly and probably not so lightly tapping your skull against things 20 times a month.” This, on top of the fact I’d taken a handful of “really good shots”in my past was compounding the problem.


Then, at 35, I received the Queen Mother Doozie of all the concussions. I wish I could say I was saving a small child, or a puppy, from certain death. No, it came in the form of what happens when a 6’8″ man who is running late dashes through a house with a low doorway. If you remember the scene in Dances with Wolves when Dunbar rushes out the door to stop his horse from being stolen then, yeah, you’ve got the right picture.

I don’t remember much afterwards. I remember waking up alone and feeling foggy. I remember calling someone and saying I thought I should go the hospital. I also remember one of the hospital techs telling me they were warming up a helicopter at a nearby city to transport me. Luckily, the helicopter was called off and I was ordered to go home, rest and to not do much of anything for about four to six weeks.

It was a weird time.  I battled dizziness.  I went through what I called “concussion induced vampirism” because I could not handle the bright daylight. I would sleep during the day and then be up the middle of the night in blessed darkness. I couldn’t read very well as it would exhaust me. I couldn’t watch television because it was too bright. I slept a lot.

concussionSlowly, I recovered. I got back on my feet and got back to life. The doctors warned me about getting any more shots to the head. No more activity. Another impact, even a light one, would only compound things and they estimated, because of my previous mTBIs that I was 85 to 90 percent more likely to get another concussion from any impact. The more dramatic symptoms persisted for about a year. The milder symptoms still persist to this day.

To add to the recipe, two years later another series of events occurred which earned me a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress. I won’t go into those events here. Regardless, on top of the post-concussive issues, my journey into memory loss, depression, and anxiety had truly begun. I started to develop a lack of focus and ADD-like symptoms.  Life took on the feel of riding a roller coaster where the rails look rusty and you’re not sure your safety harness is working.

Let me pause here.

You know, it’s so easy to look back and say something like that. You can point to a time period and say, “Yhup, it all began here.” But that’s not how it actually went. I never just woke up one day and said, “Oh, I’m depressed because a bunch of shit happened to me.” or “Gosh, I’m feeling anxious about a party because my brain isn’t working very well today.”

The changes and the issues were subtle. One day I was dizzy. The next day I was fine. There would be a patch of days where I didn’t sleep well then it would go away. A week or three would go by and then, suddenly, I would just not feel well, kind of blah. To compound this I have always been in the “Shake it off and keep going” camp of guyness.  What I didn’t notice, over the flow of time, is that those cycles started spinning faster and faster, coming on more and more often.

And with all of that came the issues of memory.

Shortly after the events that brought on the PTSD (over ten years ago), I began to look into planners, organizers, etc.  I was just starting to forget dates, numbers, and appointments. and I started looking for something to help me stay on track. Unfortunately, as you may have noticed, I’m a Creative and I didn’t like the idea of a hard and fast appointment book. I wanted to be free, man. Not be confined to the grid, ya know?  Whimsy be my wheels!


My beard was not cool enough for this.

I went through planner systems and ideas pretty quickly. I read “Getting Things Done”, looked at Franklin Planners and I worked with the ideas of Mark Forster and his systems. (I still use Mr. Forster’s ideas in my current bullet journal for work.)  I went through every organizational system I could find. I tried an index card system and even tried the infamous Hipster PDA!   —>

During that time, I heard about bullet journals and I actually gave them a go for a few months. It faded away because I was trying to follow the rules instead of creating my own creative guidelines. Being a creative person it is super important to “make things mine.” For some reason I kept getting hung up on sticking to the rules of an organizational system instead of turning them into guidelines.

And then I gave up.  For one reason or another, none of them were working. And when I gave up on a system things would get rough because even though some symptoms were lessening each year, the anxiety and depression were getting sneakily worse.  It’s nefarious like that.

Now we can fast forward a bit to Fall of 2014.  My mTBI symptoms had really come to the fore due to stress and, my arch nemisis, lack of sleep.   A friend recommends the book “Power of Now” and  I read it, get gobsmacked by it and begin practicing.  It slowly begins to help.

More importantly it began to give me the perspective, through mindfulness, to look back, to see those markers I mentioned earlier and how I chose to face my issues.  I also continue to dance around with planner ideas and ways to keep track of everything. I discover Midori travellers notebooks and decide to make my own. (I’ll cover this in a future post.)

And, here we are!  It’s the turn of 2016 and  thanks to finding the #Rockyourhandwriting challenge I discovered Kara’s site over at Boho Berry, then Dee’s site at Decade Thirty.  I’m introduced to the creative bullet journal community online and I fall in.  Something “clicked” and I realized how much freedom and flexibility the basic idea of the bullet journal gave me.  I made an agreement with myself and a few rules.

I would go through one month building a journal that worked “for me” and then re-assess.  Did it help?  Did it hinder?  I would review things and build an entry for every day.  I would not be afraid to be creative, to doodle, to get mad, to be grateful and to use it to collect all manner of inspiration, thoughts, fears, and trivia.   I would spend time each and every day with the journal, even if it was for ten minutes.  I would use it for time for myself. More importantly, I would do so with a deep breath and mindfulness.

What’s the difference?  Well, something happens when you reach a place where you begin to work with your disadvantages instead of resisting them.  When you let go of who you think you should be and decide to live your life, in this moment, just as you are, the good and the bad.  This is what changed the most for me.  I’m now using the bullet journal to actively work with who I am and how to move forward because it’s flexibility is only limited to my creativity.  The key components stay in place and continue to work their logistic magic.  The rest is up to me.

And that, my friends, is why I bullet journal.  It helps me to stay focused on the internal (and external) things I want to be focused on.  It also allows me to get creative, draw a doodle, write down inspirational quotes and just mess around.  For the first time in a VERY LONG time I feel like I’m moving forward instead of spinning in place or, even worse, taking two steps forward and four steps back!

Perhaps that same perspective would have worked with the Hipster PDA?

Somehow, I just don’t think so.

Interested in more?  Here’s a good starter list of Bullet Journal resources.



Posted on March 6, 2016, in Bullet Journal, Creativity, Meditation, Organization and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. It’s amazing what an effect on your life the bullet journal has. I was suffering from anxiety/ depression after returning to work after maternity leave. I wouldn’t say that my bujo has stopped the symptoms entirely, but it’s definitely helped me get on a more even keel.

    • Yes, it’s simply one tool of a larger toolbox. A bullet journal by itself is not going to be entirely effective with anxiety/depression and could even add to it, you know? For me it’s the combination of my daily practices PLUS the bullet journal that does it. Thanks for commenting!!!

  2. I’m slowly, slowly working toward some sort of external memory to help the last worn remains of my own steel-trap mind cope with ordinary life. Bullet journals always have felt like One More Thing to learn before any good comes from them. Something like, “Learn this Martian language and it will magically replace all your problems with inner chaos, outward clutter, information overload, and general overwhelmedness with order, love-hearts, and sparkly unicorns.” So I never got far before. But I like keeping notebooks, and I like the idea of transmogrifying the basic bullet journal into something creative to solve my specific problems. Maybe I’ll give this another look. I could use some unicorn magic.

    • It’s the tranmogrifying that you should focus on! The bullet journal itself is actually very hence it’s simplicity. However, it can appear complicated on the surface when you look over all the different variations, spreads, charts, etc. All of those are just people applying creativity into “what works for them” One thing to remember is you can’t do it “wrong.” One of the most important bits of advice for me was to look over it when the month was over, assess what was worked, what didn’t work and to look at how to fix it. But, heck, I love doing that anyway. 😀

  1. Pingback: Gratitude and Anxiety | The Yote Den

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