How I used my Bullet Journal to revolutionise my health
It’s a pretty big claim to make about what essentially is some paper and pens, but it’s true.
First I better put this in context. If you don’t want the back story, feel free to skip on to the next header where I’ll explain the system I use. Otherwise read on…
On 3rd July 2015 I had a frantic day and my back was sore and painful at the end of it and it hasn’t stopped hurting since. It is now 31 January 2016 as I write this. I spent month’s slowly getting worse until I was signed sick off work on 24th September because I could no longer drive for the 35-40 minutes I’d need to get there. I was eventually diagnosed with sacroiliac joint dysfunction (which I still can’t pronounce, so let’s use the shortened SIJ dysfunction!) and hip flexor tendonitis.
I then spent the next few months going slowly downhill until by the end November I hit my lowest point. I was thoroughly sick of the massive impact the SIJ was having on my life. The amount of painkillers I was on meant I lived in what felt like a permanent brain fog. I felt like I was living with an idiot in my head who kept hiding words and my memory was awful and sometimes nonexistant. I could forget what someone had said in a blink of an eye. My mobility was still fairly limited even after having physiotherapy for 3 months, meaning I could barely get out of the house. I was sick of telling the kids “Sorry we can’t do that because of my bad back”. Basically I was completely and utterly fed up.
Are you feeling thoroughly depressed yet? I was, and that’s what brought me up short one day, the realisation that if something didn’t change soon I would get yet another prescription to add to my list of painkillers, for antidepressants. Something had to change. I’d tried adapting everything I could around my bad back but I struggled to keep track of things with the brain fog. I’d tried to log symptoms and track my physio in my various planners, but I kept swapping what I using so much I was just getting lost.
Then one day I stumbled across a blog post by Kara at BohoBerry about bullet journals. Now bullet journaling wasn’t new to me, I’d read lots about it, and even implemented a few of the techniques, but it always seemed too simple to be able to deal with my chaotic life. But I read Kara’s blog and it was that magic thing of reading something at the right time and place. My head was finally in the right place that the system just clicked for me. I needed a simple system, where everything could be in the same place.
Bullet Journal Beginnings….
I decided to get professional about my back and I started to call it my #beattheback project. I set up a bullet journal pinterest board and began reading whatever I could get my hands on. I finally stopped just admiring the pretty pictures of the bullet journalists I followed on Instagram and was much more interested in reading about the techniques that they used. I then just sat down and listed what I wanted to keep track of in my bullet journal:
Activities – driving, walking, anything else
Sleep chart for my little boy
Eating chart for the children
Christmas Presents List
Christmas Card List
It seems like a random assortment of stuff I know, I’ve just typed it exactly how I wrote it. But that is the brilliant thing about bullet journals they can hold absolutely anything and everything. They are created by you and so they are each utterly unique. Now I won’t go into the eating chart and sleep chart because they were for my kids, or Christmas as it’s no longer imminent (yes I know some people plan for it all year, I am not one of them) but let’s look at the others:
Back pain / Hip pain
I needed to keep track of when I had flare ups with my back and hip. Basically when did they hurt, how much and what triggered it. This is what I created for December:
There’s loads of information here, but nothing I could quickly gain from a quick glance. So I then tweaked it for January adding a traffic light system because I colour code EVERYTHING:
*The motivational sticker is optional.
I can now see instantly where I had flare ups and using my other logs to try and work out what I needed to adjust so that I can get more green than pink days.
Have you ever tried tracking your exercises by simply writing the word exercise and ticking it if you did your entire routine? Did you find it made little difference to getting you off your arse and doing it? I definitely did! If so, give this a try just track all your exercise for the month in one place. I know it’s what really made the difference for me. Now for me I’ve done this purely to track my daily physio exercises, but you could change the headers to whatever you wanted.
*Yes I really do have exercises like going from sitting to standing. I have to do it 5 times every other hour without using my hands. At the beginning I couldn’t even do it once!
You can see I’ve literally listed every single exercise individually. I currently have lots of little exercises that I have to scatter throughout the day rather than a huge workout. Before I could never remember what I had already done that day or what I was due to do next (brain fog attacks again!). This has helped me massively! Just psychologically being able to see my progress in those little coloured in boxes gives me the boost to try and get them all filled in every day. If I haven’t it is because I physically can’t that day, in which case you’ll normally see a pink box in my Back and Hip Review. This is the essential part for me as it means I can draw links between activities, times of day etc. and lean what causes me to have flare ups. This means that one month later my Exercise tracker looked like this:
Activities – driving, walking, anything else
Now I’ll be honest this layout still needs tweaking. It’s got lots of information, but I need to find a way to summarise it better. There’s no colour code so obviously that’s an issue…I’m joking! Well, I’m half joking anyway.
The big reason that’s stopping me getting back to work is that fact that even sitting in a car hurts. So I need to log when I do it and for how long for. We live in a tiny village, and my other half doesn’t drive. So for me being able to improve my driving is huge. If I can’t drive my whole family is housebound, and cabin fever kicks in very quickly. Thankfully I have a lot of family nearby who help out when they can.
I also log when I’ve managed to do any of the physical housework as obviously my back prevents me from doing a lot. I’m not that lazy!
I track what and how many I’ve taken. This simple thing has meant I’ve been able to slowly reduce the amount of the painkillers I take over the day. Green means I took less than normal, red means I’ve had to take more.
Using this in conjunction with the others it shows me the links between things. If I’ve had bad flare up and increased the amount of painkillers I’ve had it shows up in these symptoms. I’d tried to discuss the side effects of the pills I’m on with my doctor a few times, but my back would be all flared up due to the drive and with the brain fog I’d always managed to either forget to ask, or not realise that my questions hadn’t been answered. When you walk into your doctors surgery and show them not only a list of your symptoms but an accompanying colour coded chart. They sit up and take note. I’d write down what I wanted to ask and put ticky boxes next to them, and hey presto I got answers. They may not have been the ones I was hoping for, “ah yes Ruth, well if that’s the case I’ll prescribe these magical pills that will make everything better”, but it gave me something to work with.
If you’ve read this far then 1. Thank you for sticking with me, and 2. you probably think I’m a bit mad giving colouring in some small square boxes such significance.
What makes all the logs, trackers and reviews so effective is not what is on the page, but how it makes you focus and engage with topic. When I sit down to write out my Back and Hip Review for the month, I look at what I’ve written down this month, and think about what information I need to record and is there a better way for my to do it. Having everything for the entire month on one spread means I can see the progress I’m making. I fill my various charts several times a day which means that I’m constantly drawing my focus back on what I need to do to achieve my goal, #Beattheback. And I’m doing it. In one month I improved massively, as I was constantly focussed on my goal. I can see how I progres, and if I haven’t filled in a box for that day it reminds me. All those little actions over the course of 31 days added up to one big improvement in one month.
You could do this too!
Pick up a pen and paper and think what do you want to work on this month?
What do you need to do achieve that?
Now break it down into the smallest steps and make a log or tracker for it. Now go and do whatever you need to start filling in those boxes!