Organizing my way through the darkness

day planner book

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I will freely admit that I’m a bit of an organization nut.  It’s a trait that has served me very well in terms of maintaining functioning while bogged down in an episode of depression.  I’ve been doing this depression thing long enough that I know what my deficits tend to be when I’m unwell, and I draw on that knack for organization to create a sort of safety net for myself.

Mental illness can wreak havoc on memory.  When I’m ill, my brain feels like a strange hybrid of Swiss cheese and mashed potatoes.  Since I am aware of this, I can try to plan ahead for it.  I do this by setting up an organizational system that can compensate for some of my deficits.  When it comes to important things, my backup plan needs its own backup plan, since I know that I might not always remember to put things in my calendar, for instance.  This has come to the rescue a few times, including saving me from being a no-show for visits I’d booked with my patients for my home care nursing job.

I rely heavily on my Google calendar.  Everything goes in there as soon as it’s arranged (unless I’m really scattered and forget this crucial part of my system).  I use colour-coding to separate work and personal, and have recurring reminders set up for things like bill payments.  I’m also a great lover of lists, and use Google Keep along with Apple Notes.  I’ve got checklists breaking more complex tasks into individual components for those days when I’m feeling too overwhelmed to know how to do anything.  The goal is to rely as little as possible on my brain to remember things.  Working on getting/staying well is hard enough, and any brainpower I can free up is a good thing.

2017 calendar displayed on a smartphone

geralt on Pixabay

When depression muddles my thinking, making simple decisions can seem overwhelming and impossible.  If I haven’t decided ahead of time what kind of yogurt I’m going to buy, I might stand in front of the yogurt section at the grocery store for 10 minutes with a blank stare on my face and absolutely no idea how to make a decision about what to buy.  It’s not a matter of anxiety over what the right decision is, but more like that part of the brain that knows how to make decisions has decided to close up shop and take a siesta.  There has been many a time that I have simply left a store empty-handed, because the default decision is do/buy nothing.  I’ve learned that when I’m feeling like this, I need to decide exactly what I’m going to get ahead of time, when I’m not faced with an array of options.  It feels a bit silly to be so rigid, but it’s a lot less silly than staring stupidly at a sea of yogurt containers.

Mental illness can warp how we see the present in relation to both past and future.  It can be very hard to see a pattern in our symptoms and what might be triggering them.  Technology can be a powerful tool to gain insight into what is happening both inside and outside the mind and body.  I use apps to track almost everything I do: sleep, mood, diet, activity, menstrual cycle, medication changes, alcohol, stressful events, work, etc, etc.  Again, it feels kind of silly to be this rigid, but it helps me understand how I’m doing, and makes it a lot easier to answer questions that my health care providers might ask.  When my depression leaves me feeling totally powerless, tracking things on my apps can help me feel a little bit more in control.

Having a routine is very important to me, especially when I’m not well.  It gives me a sense of peace, and makes it easier to turn down the volume on my thoughts.  Most important is my morning routine.  I drink tea, tea, and more tea, read the discussion forums on a mental health app I use, meditate, and do crossword puzzles.  Even my pet guinea pigs support me in sticking to the ritual – they know that their veggies come at the same time as mama’s first and second cups of tea, and if I happen to forget, they will give me loud squeaky reminders.

We all have our little tricks to help us cope with the day to day experience of mental illness.  These are some things that have worked for me, but it’s always great to learn new strategies from other people who are dealing with the same sorts of issues.  Together we can be stronger, and our bags of tricks can help us make it through.

 

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11 thoughts on “Organizing my way through the darkness

  1. Brazokie says:

    Using Google calendar and taking notes was one of the better things I’ve done to myself to help with anxiety. No longer I need to keep this running list in my head of “don’t forget!” thoughts. All I need to know is that it is out there, annotated. Go ahead and forget and try to sleep.

    The yogurt isle example… yes, I am there. I go in knowing this: I am going to purchase a notebook. Notebook isle… they have one for $1.99 and one for $1.67. Time to overthink what the different features are. Why the price difference? Number of pages? Paper quality? Brand? What should I do? …go home without notebook.

    I am there with you that planning ahead has been the way to go. Plan while I feel alright so that I can afford to come crashing down when I feel awful. Backup plans to the backup plans. Also, one thing at a time. My current goal is to eat better, which I could blow up in an overly complicated flowchart and want to do ALL of the steps at once, perfectly. I have learned I cannot do that, so trying the one step at a time approach. Current step: stop eating out so much. Eat something at home. Once that is achieved, I will worry about improving the quality of what I eat at home, etc.

    Feels good to meet a person with some thought similarities! Thank you for sharing them in a blog 🙂

    • ashleyleia says:

      Thank you for sharing as well! Mental illness means we need to put more thought into these kind of things, and it’s always helpful to get ideas from others in the same boat.

  2. Travis Lee says:

    I tell you the days I don’t use my planner and stay organized are the days I am usually at my worst! Glad to see you have this trait to fall back on. Very helpful post!

  3. emilyhavis says:

    Loved your post. Can completely empathise with the brain fog. At my worst my brain is unable to decide whether it should take the duvet covers off and actually get out of bed! Thankfully it hasn’t been that bad for awhile, but i think it’s also important for anyone with depression that it’s something that evolves as you get older when faced by our triggers. Good that you have been able to find ways to manage your illness and I commend you for your bravery in writing about it and sharing.

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