Bullet Journalling as Self Help

NB: Yep, it is now October and I wrote this in June – oops. 

Sunday 12th June 2016; 22:35pm. 

I always really struggle to start writing these posts. I have a burning desire to express how I feel, yet I just do not know where to start. That in itself causes a great deal of anxiety for me, which I suppose is almost funny; I use writing to relieve anxiety, yet not knowing what to write or how to start writing exacerbates my the anxiety.

I find myself stuck between wanting to express how mental illness manifests itself for me, which I suppose naturally warrants a negative energy in my writing, and wanting to express hope that things will get better and to encourage others to carry on fighting. To do both simultaneously is difficult. I think I find it hard to start writing because I’m searching for an equilibrium between expressing the stark truth about depression and expressing the sense of hope that I desperately cling onto. When I am immersed in depression, I don’t think things will get better, I can’t see a way out of the pain, and I most certainly don’t maintain the capacity to rationalise and have hope. Yet once I have pulled myself out of a particularly difficult episode of depression, I am able to reflect on my experiences and consider them rationally. It is only then that I can write coherently; representing the bare bones of depression whilst portraying the underlying message of hope that I am so desperate to communicate to others.

Frequently, these posts begin as a series of frantic bullet pointing, littered with darkness, sadness and hopelessness. It is not helpful to publish these in isolation, because they are wrong. Depression has once again clawed its way through all of my rationality, stripping me bare and leaving behind a series of lies. So instead, I tend to leave the thoughts there on the page, and once the episode has passed (which it always does, by the way) use the bullet points as a framework for the post. I listen to what my the depression was telling me to feel, but I reflect on that and tackle each point with as much rationality as I can muster. It is only then that a clearer representation of my personality can be produced.

Ok, enough of my incoherent babble, the reason I sat down to write this piece is because I wanted to share my recent discovery – Bullet Journalling – and how it helps me with regards to anxiety and depression.

So, what is the ‘Bullet Journal’? 

Essentially, the Bullet Journal is a DIY organiser/planner. The beauty of a bullet journal is that it is what you want it to be. It can be your personal ‘dear diary’ log, your ‘to-do’ list, your doodle pad, your academic diary, your ‘books-to-read’ log, etc. Basically, it is anything and everything, and it is yours. Clearly that is a poor definition, and I think that’s because there isn’t a definition per se – it is a journal that you create yourself to suit your needs, without being confined to a pre-determined layout that dictates the way in which you should organise your life.

If you’d like an actual, more-definition-y, definition of a bullet journal, please see the following website created by the creator himself:


How can a ‘glorified organiser’ provide relief from mental illness?

I suppose if someone was asked to suggest a mental illness which planning and organising can relieve, anxiety would be the most frequent and the most understandable answer. An answer to which I very much agree, yes, bullet journalling is a fantastic resource for relieving the toils that come with anxiety. Ryder (creator of bullet journalling and all-round mastermind) has created a system which makes planning your days, weeks, months and even years much simpler and much more effective. Essentially, within each day you would log ‘tasks’ (things to do) with a bullet, which can be completed (turning the bullet into a cross upon completion), migrated to a different day (turning the bullet into a rightward arrow) or scheduled later in the month/year (turning the bullet into a leftward arrow indicative of pushing the task back to later in time). As well as tasks, events that will occur in that day are represented using a O bullet, for example ‘Doctors appointment’ would occur alongside an O bullet. Any notes for the day, or notes from the day that you wish to document can be written alongside a dash -. This system allows an objective overview of the day, week, month, which allows you to clearly see tasks that need completing, tasks completed, tasks migrated, events occurring, notes and the date those notes were taken, and so on.

Honestly, it’s hard to explain but it works. It really, really works. Just take a look at the website, watch the video, Ryder explains it 1000 times better than I ever could. Anyway its clear to see how this may help anxiety, allowing clear, objective documentation of what needs to be completed, when it needs to be completed and any events that co-occur with these tasks. However, the flexibility of the bullet journal allows all kinds of documentation to take place, which can be carried around with you all in one notebook. Thus, I have begun to adapt ‘anti-depression’ strategies (for want of a better phrase) within my bullet journal which help me not only when creating them, but also through the knowledge that I can turn to these spreads and be greeted with a reminder that my life is good, things do get better and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. 

This is a typical weekly spread (inspired entirely by Boho Berry – until I find my feet and my own style).

This relieves anxiety because: I can clearly see each day what tasks I need to complete (which are now all crossed through – indicative of completion), I can see the events I have on that day (coloured circles), the weather so I can assess whether tasks are appropriate for the day, and notes of that day so that I can look back in the future and recall memories of that day. The bar across the top of each day represents each hour of the day (1-24). Blue = sleep, red = busy and white = free time. This means I can see at a glance the times I have available in the day to complete tasks, relax and socialise, aswell as blocking out hours that I need to keep free for pre-scheduled events.

At the end of most double page spread, I try to write a small encouragement for that week and to look back on in the future. I try my best to end each spread with a positive – symbolising that at the end of the roughest of weeks, there will be some positive that can be drawn out of it. 

I also tend to write even the most trivial of events or occurences that had a positive impact on my day. For example, “Saw X friend for an hour’s catch up”. This is helpful for me because it grounds me. I often think that everything is bad, but if I flick back through my journal, I can see at a glance all the lovely things I have done each day that depression fails to remind me of. 

Another thing I like to do is list things I am grateful for each day. This is, again, another way of reminding myself that I have so many amazing things/people in my life so that when I’m feeling particularly bad, I can look back at my gratitude log and hopefully shift my mindset back somewhere towards rationality. Sometimes I just draw an image on one of the pages. I am far from artistic, but just having something to concentrate on can sometimes relieve any unwanted thoughts. I also log when I have accomplished something which demonstrates that depression does not define me – for example graduating, getting a job etc. I try and dedicate a whole page to each of these accomplishments to remind myself that I can do things, even when depression tells me I cant. 

I hope this makes sense, I just wanted to express how helpful I have found bullet journalling. If you are interested, search ‘bullet journal’ on youtube or other websites and there will be huge amounts of resources to inspire you.










Author: empathygirl

I get it. A lot of people don't get it. I try to always get it.

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