On the bullet (journal) train

I love planners. Love. I can spend hours filling in a new one at the end of the year, figuring out what kind of system and I want to use and what colours correspond to what kind of activity – red for important stuff, grey for studies, blue for writing, purple for exercise, green for socialising, black for work.

For the last three years I have ordered a Passion Planner. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it is an amazing product and is hands down the planner that has met my needs in a planner the best. But it has things I don’t need – like the monthly reflection pages at the end of each month, and I feel it’s a bit of a waste. I modified this year’s Passion Planner quite a bit but the end result wasn’t as handy as I could have wishes for. I didn’t want to waste a page for an index so I made little tabs, and they would snatch on everything. And fall off. And some I had to code because I didn’t want other people knowing what as on that particular page – my weight tracker and the present list, for example.

Friends of mine have been using a bullet journal, or a BuJo, for a while now. It’s also all over the Internet.

The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.
Definition from
The Official Bullet Journal Page.

And I was intrigued. I have been playing around with the thought of making my own planner for several years now but had no idea how to start or even what I was missing in planners already on the market. But I decided to give it a try and went on Pinterest and Instagram sometime mid-November last year.

Big. Mistake.

There are so many talented people out there who make the most gorgeous of journals. They have little illustrations and banners and an eye for colour and everything is just so beautiful. So I went with the Passion Planner I had already ordered and, as I said, modified it.

But I kept coming back to bullet journal. And then my friend E gave me a Nuuna book with a dotted grid, perfect for bullet journalling. It has “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” on the front cover, for crying out loud. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t plan anything without consulting my planner, so this was just perfect. It sat in my bookshelf with the rest of my empty notebooks for a while. I would take it out, look at it, feel bad for not using it but also scared of messing up.

Perfectionism and bullet journalling doesn’t go together. It’s not supposed to.

In mid-February I decided that fine, I was going to give this a try. E had been linking me to some videos on how Meghan Rhiannon, a fellow autistic, was using hers, and some of the ideas were just perfect for me. She talked about how she wanted to keep her layout as simple as possible so it’s easier to process, and that just clicked with me. So I decided to look for easy was of setting up a bullet journal. Her layout was good, but not quite what I wanted. Lo and behold, I found the perfect layout to get me started. And I haven’t looked back since.

I’m still learning to use the bullet journal to its full capacity. I have a hard time taking down notes in it, for example. But the whole point is to have everything in one place, so I have better start getting used to it. I have a couple of collections and different spreads (yes, bullet journalling comes with its own language, which was part of what made me apprehensive to start using one) that I’m learning to use. Some will work; others won’t. That’s fine; the next bullet journal will be different. It’s a learning progress after all. It’s learning what works for me and what doesn’t – like the monthly reflection page from Passion Planner.

At the end of this month, I’m going to play around with a different weekly spread. Looking forward to it already.

“Pardenonnez-moi, monsieur.”
– Marie Antoinette’s last words, said to her executioner as she stepped on his foot.

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Executive dysfunction

In psychology and neuroscience, executive dysfunction, or executive function deficit, is a disruption to the efficacy of the executive functions, which is a group of cognitive processes that regulate, control, and manage other cognitive processes.

It’s not laziness. It has nothing to do with not wanting something enough. It’s a complete lack of communication between my brain and my body. It’s my ability to “get my act together”.

Take getting up in the morning. It’s not that I don’t want to get up. I want to get up. I need to get up. Maybe I really need the bathroom, or I’m hungry, or there is something I have to do. But I don’t get up.

Because my body doesn’t want to listen to what I’m telling it to do. It doesn’t want to sit up, throw the legs out of bed and get on with it. Instead, it curls up tighter under the covers and goes back to sleep, no matter how much or how well I’ve slept.

So today I got out of bed at half past four. Yes, in the afternoon. I had been awake since nine, with my body going to sleep on and off whenever I have been trying too hard to convince it to get up. I needed a shower. I wanted to run some errands while it was still light out. I needed to pick up my laundry from downstairs.

“Nope,” said my body, and went to sleep.

People who haven’t experienced executive dysfunction (or impaired executive function, another name for it) have no idea what it feels like and are quick to condemn it as laziness or excuses. Sure, it’s hard for everyone to get up (especially in the winter season). But there is a world of difference between “hard” and “I literally cannot do it”.

Executive dysfunction is common among people who are on the autism spectrum. It also happens to people who suffer from depression or have ADHD – amongst others. I’m not an expert on this. (Side thought: Maybe I should write my term paper on what executive dysfunction is?)

I go through periods of this. There are times when I am the very essence of productivity. I pop out of bed at eight in the morning with no difficulty at all and do all the things. I love these times. I get to feel accomplished and, above all, normal. And then there are times that are the complete opposite. There is no popping out of bed. Making any kind of decision is like going through molasses while constantly forgetting where I’m supposed to go. I will space out and just stare ahead.

My periods of executive dysfunction are brought on by other people’s expectations. Or my own. I’m terrible at keeping the two separate. More than once (or twice…or ten times) I’ve broken down because I feel I’m disappointing people who are flabbergasted by my tearful apologies or furious accusations of “you expect so much of me but give nothing back!”

Send help.

“I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
Virginia Woolf‘s last words

Kismet

“Is this my fate? Is this kismet?”

The quote is from an episode of Dexter, but don’t ask me which one or even which season. It was before the show went to the dogs, that’s all I remember.

The quote is burnt into my brain because that’s when I knew who I was looking for. So did my flatmate at the time. We turned to each other and said, at the same time, “that’s it”.

I had convinced him to get a cat, as long as he or she would be my responsibility in every way. I had yearned for a cat for years. Growing up my family had a dog and a rabbit, but cats have always been my weak(est) spot when it comes to pets.

And now we knew who we were looking for.

kismet
/kɪzmɛt,ˈkɪzmɪt,ˈkɪsmɛt/
noun
noun: kismet
  1. destiny; fate.

Impatiently I waited for kitten season to start, and once it did I slavishly kept an eye out. I sent several emails, only to be told that sorry, the kittens already had homes. It was a tiny heartbreak every time.

Then I found an advertisement announcing that four black and white male kittens were looking for a home in mid-June. Something clicked in my gut. I emailed the woman behind the ad – were there still kittens left? Yes, there were two. She sent pictures of Kitten 1 and Kitten 2.

Kitten 1 was so adorable, and I wanted to take him on the spot. Flatmate convinced me to scroll down to Kitten 2. And there he was. Kismet. There wasn’t any doubt – we had found him.

This was in April, and the kittens were far from old enough to be taken from their mother. So the agonising wait began. Luckily, we got continual updates and pictures, and the more I saw of this lovely little creature the more I knew that this was him.

On the 21st of May, flatmate’s birthday, we enlisted a friend with a car and drove the two hours it took us to get from us to where Kismet was. I hadn’t slept well the night before, being all nerves and excitement. It was a little early to take him from his mother, but she was getting more and more aggressive towards the kittens and we were genuinely worried for their safety. They were an independent lot, so we took the chance. Still, I worried I was about to make a huge mistake that would scar Kismet for life.

Kismet was completely uninterested in me when we finally got there; he had a world to explore with his sister!

(A sister, by the way, I ended up adopting almost a year later. Her name is Minnie, and she’s Kismet’s complete opposite in many ways. But that’s a story for another day.)

This is almost five years ago now. The fluffy, blue-eyed kitten has grown into a sleek, green-eyed (neutered) tomcat. He has helped me stop self-harming and despite being a bit of an asshole, he’s always there when life is rough, purring up a storm until I’m smiling. I had to put him out to foster for a while, as he didn’t do well in a small flat without access to the outside, but it did feel like a part of me was missing while he was gone. At the same time, I couldn’t bear to go see him often because I would cry for days after.

I wanted to have my first cat from kittenhood. All other pets that come my way will be rescues, the kind that have a hard time finding their Forever Homes. And I will love all of them with all of my heart.

But Kismet will always be something else. I love Minnie so much it hurts sometimes, but when Kismet is on my lap, like he is now, I feel whole. He and I belong together.

We are each other’s kismet.

“Dictionary.”
Joseph Wright‘s last words

Praise Prozac

I resisted medication for years before finally joining the Prozac Nation. Years, I tell you. I wasn’t going to be a weakling and rely on drugs to function as something resembling a human being! No, sheer bloody-mindedness was going to accomplish that.

And no, I don’t think people who need to take medication to work are weak. But I did, back then. And I didn’t really need it, because I held myself to a different standard than the rest of the world. I just had to get my act together and tough it out.

Yeah, I was stupid. I probably wasted some years of my life sabotaging myself.

But I caved. And am I ever glad that I did.

I’m not going to lie: The first two weeks of being on Prozac were hell. While my body was coming around to this new thing I was feeding it, I was suicidal and short-tempered and unstable. My mood swings were of epic proportions and completely exhausting. I honestly thought that this wasn’t going to help.

But it got better. A whole lot better. I’ve been on them for four years and I will sometimes catch myself reacting to a situation in a completely different way than I used to. Things that go wrong don’t ruin my whole day any more. I’m a lot better at handling sudden changes, even though I will never like them. My pathological need to be in control has become milder. Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a high-strung control freak, and that will never change. But I’m less obsessive about it than I used to be. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you a story. Gather around.

I used to have to know exactly what was going to happen when. And when I, sometime last year, was going to see Deadpool with Scout, I felt he was cutting in really close to the bone time-wise. (I want to be everywhere half an hour early.) Yeah, I got a bit of a pulse, but I didn’t break down crying or start yelling at him. I might have wanted to, but the point is that I didn’t. I was able to see that he knew where we were going and how long it would take us to get there. And guess what? We made it. Easy.

Now, this isn’t just Prozac. Part of it is me learning that the world isn’t going to end just because I don’t decide everything and know everything and control everything. But I’m convinced that if it hadn’t been for medication, I would never have got to the point of being able to learn any of that. I would have been so caught up in my own thought patterns that I would have been unable to take a metaphorical step back and look at the situation, take a deep breath, and be rational about it. Because so what if I’m late to something sometimes? It happens to the best of us.

I don’t regret not being medicated before. I’ve learnt the hard way that I can’t just clench my teeth and get through things, toughen it out, and that I was just being lazy, or making up excuses. But I’m so, so glad medication is an option.

You wouldn’t begrudge someone with a broken leg the use of a crutch. I had to realise that what I’m doing is the same thing.

So thank you, Prozac. I know I don’t say it enough.

And for anyone reading: don’t hesitate trying medication if your health care professional suggests it. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you less. You might even discover you like the person you are on meds a lot better than the person you are off them.

I did.

“I’m going to the bathroom to read.”
– Elvis’ last words.

New year, new me

But not really.

2016 was one hell of a roller coaster ride, and I’m not just talking about the slew of celebrity deaths. (Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher though…sigh.) But me and the Terrible Twosome both made it through – a little battered, but whole and generally pretty healthy.

At the beginning of 2016, I decided that it was going to be a selfish year. My focus was going to be on me, on my health and on what I needed. It was a steep learning curve, with plenty of (completely baseless) guilt to go around, but it was good for me. So I’m going to continue in the same vein this year. Sunshine summed it up really well for me:

“Do no harm. Take no shit.”

Another way of putting it would be as follows:
Self-respect is putting what you need before what others want.
Selfishness is putting what you want before what others need.
It’s a paraphrase from something I found online. This does mean that I have to learn how to distinguish between other people’s  “want” from their “need” though. I automatically assume that everything they utter is something they need, and that I don’t really need anything but want a whole lot. I’m a work in progress, people.

The main hurdle is that I’m afraid of upsetting or hurting others. I don’t deal well with other people being angry with me, because I’m dead certain it means they’re leaving me. I’m very much aware of my moderate to severe abandonment issues, thank you very much. I even know which very specific event triggered them. So to anyone who thinks that all you need to do to get over such things is to pinpoint what started it all: HAH! Ahem. Anyway.

One major win of last year was that I ended a toxic relationship with a friend. It was rough, and I still feel bad for it sometimes, but I also feel relieved. I had started feeling responsible for her in a way I don’t want to feel responsible for anyone, and it just didn’t work any more. Gold star for me.

Resolutions, even deceptively simple ones like mine, are hard without a support network of some kind. And being the geek that I after all am – enter the apps! Well, app. I’ve used Habitica for a while now. As the name kind of suggests, it’s a habit-tracking app. But it’s also a game! Level up, collect all the things, join a party and battle nasties. The app on my phone is really buggy though, but that can be my phone. That thing has a Personality. Good thing the web page works just as well.

Under my dailies,  I have made a list of habits that help me function somewhat like a human being. Have I eaten enough? Drink enough water? Taken care of my skin morning and evening? Brushed my teeth? Taken my medication?
I’ve also added things that focus on routine – getting up at a reasonable hour (that’s before 10am), making the bed, practising my Italian and Dutch in Duolingo.
Most of the things on there are very basic things for many, but they are things that I will forget when I’m focused on other things or depression rears its ugly head.
And it helps! Both as reminders, and as encouragement as I don’t want to lose my streak or let the boss hurt my party members. I just need to make sure I don’t bite over more than I can chew – there are so many challenges I want to participate in. Aaah!

Speaking of not biting over more than I can chew: I’m going back to school this semester. I signed up for two courses, because how hard can it be, right?
The next day I cancelled one of them. Baby steps, baby steps. I have my work at KIA and the Norwegian cancer society to keep up with as well, after all. And my book. And from July – December, being the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for my region. So one course for now, see how it goes, and maybe another one next semester.

I think 2017 has some great potential, but it will be what we make of it.

“Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”
– Karl Marx to his housekeeper, after she asked if he had any last words. They did become his.