I came across this blessed gift of an article this morning and wanted to share it with anyone (everyone) wrestling with sadness. It reminded me immediately of that list of Life Rules I scribbled down a while ago and made me curious if I have been faithful in following them.
Please do read the article (here’s the link again), as it’s far more eloquent, comprehensive, and smart than my list, because…well…it’s written by a saint. But here’s what resonated with me the most, especially in light of everything this blog — and my whole life — has ever been about:
Our bodies, brains and hands and eyes and stomachs and quads and intervertebral discs, are essential to the purpose of our lives. They are not in the way of our spirits, some temporary torture chamber from which we must be liberated or some hideous distraction that we are tasked to ignore.
When I was coaching, I would always ask, “If your body were not an obstacle, what would you do with it?” The answers that would come on the first day were typically harsh. There was this view that being fat, sick, depressed, exhausted or broken in any way disqualified the body from serving any purpose. The body needed to be punished, pushed out of the way, so that the “real person” could finally break out and grab hold of their true destiny. But every single time, without fail, as I saw people care for their bodies (often through the the sneaky trick of calling it a “challenge”, discipline words) — feed them good food, give them good rest, soak them in sunshine, expose them to beauty — their answers changed.
The question was never, “If your body (pain, weakness, depression) didn’t exist, what would you do with your ‘real life’?” It was always, “If your body were not an obstacle, but an integral part of the story, an asset, what would you do?”
I still set my body up as an enemy all the time. I shout at my body, curse my brain, slap myself with rules and challenges and strict discipline. Sometimes, a little discipline is what I need, but more often than not, I just need a shower or a poem or a very long time in the garden. Maybe a pot roast?
And all of it is prayer. All of it is setting my face like flint before the Lord.
I have always been passionate about office supplies. Always. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve sitting at the conference table in my grandmother’s office putting together files full of discarded documents. She let me burn through all the staples, binder clips, White Out, manila folders, paper clips, Post-Its, and legal pads I wanted. And then she let me use her notary seal!
I feel about Back-to-School season like others do about Black Friday. There are few things in life more satisfying than walking out with a cart full of $0.15 composition books, three ring binders, and laminating pouches. I’ll be honest, this obsession is a significant motivating factor in my commitment to homeschool.
All fixation on the smell of the inside of a pencil box aside, this “interest” of mine has actually been extremely instrumental in the management of my mental health. I’ve talked a lot about how embracing the paleo diet and allowing myself to fall head over heels in love with the barbell have impacted my brain chemistry. Today I want to give you a little insight into my other secret weapon.
Now, here’s a little disclaimer before we dive in: I wholeheartedly believe that consistently tracking and reviewing behavior can be critical to significant behavioral change and mental health management, but this is just MY way of doing it. If it looks a little “crazy”, keep in mind that this method has kept me off of prescription medication and out of the mental hospital for over six years. I much prefer being crazy in the confines of fine vintage-look leather than the walls of the loony bin.
So here is a look inside one of my most precious notebooks, my Filofax.
I use a purple A5 Malden as my primary planner. I still mourn the loss of my personal size ochre Malden, which was viciously stolen from my car early in the fall. It proved to be irreplaceable.
I have seven sections, some subdivided into categories.
Mountain — This is where I keep my prayer lists, scripture I’m memorizing, particularly impactful sermon notes, planning for liturgical seasons, etc.
Calendars — Annual, monthly, and weekly calendars. This section is really the guts of my planner. My monthly view is the landing pad for any appointment or event. I transfer all of these to the weekly pages as I plan each week.
My weekly pages are my diary — I record actual events as they happen in this section. Every week has the time blocked appointments noted, but I also record:
sleep — hours and quality are noted at the top of the page.
mood — I generally only note when a day is particularly marked by a certain mood so that I can see patterns of mood swings. I use star stickers for this. Red = anxiety, Blue = depression, Green = change, growth, conversion. This makes it really easy to flip through to see how things are connected.
food — I write down every thing I eat. This isn’t necessarily to track calories or macros (although there are definitely seasons when that is helpful), but because I find very clear connections between my food and my mood, and therefore my behavior. The more data I collect about how certain foods effect me, the better equipped I am to make choices about how to use them.
symptoms (fertility, hormone/thyroid issues, pregnancy, mental health, etc.) — This is pretty obvious, but making little notes throughout the day about any condition you’re monitoring is immensely helpful for detecting patterns. This is especially helpful if you’re on an elimination diet, trying new medication/treatment, establishing a new habit, or tracking fertility.
exercise — I write out my training plan every week in advance (like an appointment) and then record the details in real time. I give myself gold or silver stars to track my effort. If I’m using my Fitbit, I record whatever data it has collected at the end of the day and tally all the numbers at the end of the week. Just like with food, this data tends to closely correlate with my mood and productivity, so watching for patterns is important to me. Nothing motivates me more than hard data.
housework & errands — It has to be done. Recording and highlighting it just makes me feel like a responsible adult. I also really appreciate being able to look back over a week and see that, even if my house is a wreck and the fridge is empty, I DID put forth some effort. Of course, it can also reveal when that effort wasn’t quite enough and illuminates an opportunity to improve.
homeschool lessons, activities, read alouds — While lesson plans are in a different section (I’ll show you this later), this is where I record what we actually do and WHEN. It helps me keep a realistic view of how “school” actually works for our family, when and where my kids are learning best, and how I’m managing our time.
any other thing I might want to track — the dot stickers are a visual reminder for when I’ve written somewhere (yellow, with the location noted), recorded a note in my kids milestones pages (blue, with initials noted), spent time outside with the kids (green — too few of these is a depression trigger), or had a time sensitive appointment (red — too many of these is an anxiety trigger).
I will often place a blank piece of note paper in the middle of the week to track daily to-dos or information that doesn’t fit in the daily space. I fold these pages vertically so that I can get the weekly visual when flipping back through for review.
My calendar section is also home to my “Critcal Season” calendar. Every fall, as my mood turns dark, I go to PDFcalendar.com and print out a calendar where I can list every single thing that will require my energy or attention. I have found that having it all laid out for me in one big chunk is far less overwhelming than allowing it to roam menacingly in my head. It also allows me to cross off every day, not unlike the days of a prison sentence. This year’s chart was especially long and helpful because it included our kitchen renovation, the holidays, and my third trimester.
The rest of my Filofax is mostly dedicated to lists and record keeping:
School — This is where I keep the homeschool lesson plans and other information related to school. It is divided into three sections:
Term — This is a print out of the Ambleside Online curriculum specific to the term we are in. I check it off as we go for quick reference.
Week — This is where I break our school work out into weeks. I created this document myself, so it’s specific to our family. On the outside of folded sheet I record specific activities or books the girls chose from the shelves in our school room or other notes that don’t quite fit in my boxes. The post-it at the bottom reminds me of any work leftover from the previous week that I need to squeeze in somewhere to stay on schedule. I keep four weeks in the Filofax at a time, then transfer the completed weeks into a separate 3 ring binder.
Lists — These are supply lists, book lists, ideas for montessori work lists, etc.
Family — This section holds Christmas and birthday wish lists, helpful medical information for each family member, and milestone records for each kid. The milestones are my favorite part. They’re basically just running lists of things each of my kids does or says that I want to remember. I also make note of stages of development, particular interests, weird and/or annoying behaviors for reference later down the road. I’ve kept one for baby 3 since September, which includes all kinds of pregnancy symptoms, any notes from prenatal visits, etc. It’s kind of a list maker’s baby book. When I make a note on a milestone page, I put a little blue dot sticker on my weekly pages with that kids initials in it.
Household — This section is mostly just for reference. It has my “master chore schedule”, basic household budget, contact for service providers, etc.
Progress — This is where I keep logs for any activity/skill/hobby I’m specifically trying to improve with regular practice. Right now it has piano, reading, and training. In each category I note the date, time, skill practiced (or pages read), and any notes from that session.
Projects — This is where I keep notes and to-do lists specific to ongoing projects, like our kitchen renovation. And yes, there is a tab called “Filofax” where I wrestle with all my organizational dreams and plot how to better track/document/archive/and arrange all my data.
In addition to the tabbed sections, there’s the front and back pockets. The front holds my Frixion erasable pen and highlighters, the stickers I use throughout, and Jesus.
Tucked into the back pocket (that’s designed to hold a notepad), is my trusty Kindle. The day I figured this out was one of the happiest days of my life. Here you also see my favorite pens — a good old fashioned black ball point (I like the stolen ones the best), and a micron 01.
There you have it, folks. The veil has been lifted. Some of you are horrified, some are scandalized, but I have a feeling that few of you feel a little vindicated. Some of you are secret list makers and hoarders of highlighters. And I love you.
“I have begun to think,” he wrote in a late letter,
“that one cannot help others at all.” This
from a man who once called friendship the highest
virtue. And in another he wrote: “Will I ever
attain the end for which I have striven so long?”
His greatest aspiration was certainty
yet his doubts made him blame himself wrongly,
perceiving each painting a disaster. These swings
between boldness and mistrust, intimacy and isolation
led him to stay at home, keep himself concealed,
becoming a sort of hermit, whose passion for the world
directed every brushstroke, changed each creation
into an expression of tenderness, which he dismissed
writing: “a vague sense of apprehension persists.”
“Cezanne’s Seclusion” by Stephen Dobyns, from Body Traffic.