Mental Health Journaling for Today and Tomorrow

It’s World Mental Health Day! According to the World Health Organization:

World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

World Health Organization

While I don’t specialize in mental health, I think everyone should consider themselves a stakeholder in their own mental health at the very least. For many of us, knowledge work is an active part of our weekly work routine. And even for those who don’t associate themselves with that, I encourage everyone to consider mental health as one of the many facets of health that we must all invest in (mental, physical, emotional, etc).

During my sabbatical this year, I spent a week exploring the state of my mental health and thinking of all the ways that I do and don’t care for myself enough. I ended up creating a mental health journal (as I affectionately call it) that is filled with space to clear my head, notes to myself for when I feel down, and things to track while we’re all experiencing the pandemic-specific slippage of time.

This little book is something that has come in handy almost every day since I created it. It helps me get out of my own way, and remember what “my way” is, regardless of whether I’m in the midst of an emerging crisis or floating through the unending emotional drain of a global pandemic.

I’m not much for flip throughs (I can’t imagine that anyone cares what I have to say that much), but I’ll share some of the primary components and can follow up with a flip through if folks would find that easier.

What’s In It

I used a Happy Planner notebook, in the mini size. I’ve been using their products for years because of the extensibility and quality, not to mention the disc bound system is very forgiving of errors and changed plans.

I have four sections: Goals, Track, Think, Know

Goals

This section is mostly as expected, with a laundry list of projects to do and habits to hone. It also has some pages with key questions for goal-setting (what would I do if money didn’t matter, what small changes could I make to improve my quality of life, what activities do I dread the most).

I also take time to write down why I have chosen some of my goals, because if I have learned one thing in life it’s that no plans survive contact with reality.

Track

This section, in the time of COVID, is used to track the passage of time and to remind me of the things I do that don’t require being attached to a computer. Not because I can’t figure it out for myself, but because decision fatigue is a real thing. In those moments when you find yourself once again at the end of your crisis response reserves, it’s nice to flip open a page and see that your past self was looking out for you.

For me, this section includes visual layouts of:

  • things I’ve tracked so I can make changes
  • optimal routines for my work week
  • what makes me feel happy or sad
  • the books I’ve read
  • my hobby stretch goals
  • and when I last took time for myself

It also includes two weekly prompts for gratitude and big wins – moments that often go unremarked on right now.

Think

This section is the best and the worst. It’s just blank pages that I’ve doodled some titles onto. The titles are all big, existential questions that I want to explore (so I can write about them here), or small and relentless fears that are hindering my progress through my everyday life. Because I am a happy planner, most of these pages have some supportive and semi-inspirational quotes to go along with them.

But mostly it’s just a non-judgemental place for me to clear my head and admit to what scares me.

Know

And speaking of blind panic.

This section is my favorite. It has one sheet that logs important dates in my career (and a new page that charts my path) and the rest is just illustrations and doodles of things I have come to believe as a leader.

It has quotes that I say to my team leads all the time. It has my main recommendations about how to stay resilient. It has a tree of questions for when I’m worried. And page after page of guiding thoughts for when I feel the most at sea.

I add to these pages, and refer to them for self-guidance, almost daily. It is clear to me, now more than ever, that I know who I am and what my purpose in life is. It is my sincerest hope that what I reflect into the world matches.

What’s In You

I know that pen and paper isn’t for everyone, so I make the following recommendations lightly.

I think that some of what we will lose the most in future retellings of this time period is how fiercely human this reality made many of us. We will lose our handwritten notes, we will lose how we tried to improve our circumstances, and we will lose how we tried to help each other.

I will always write here, on this site, as I have for a decade. But I think there’s something to be said for the slow, tactile experience of creating something physical that can help you now and can capture who you were for the future.

The Courage of Failing Publicly

When I was in high school, I once refused to do something that my friends were doing because I knew I wouldn’t like the outcome. When pressed about how I knew and asked “Have you ever tried?” my response was this:

I don’t have time to learn from only my own mistakes.

I’ve never been particularly fond of the notion that in order to know what will and won’t happen one has to personally do all the dirty work of learning.

Knowing this about me, it’s less surprising to hear that I’ve spent a lot of time lately encouraging those around me to “fail publicly”. It’s not an easy call to make, of course. No one likes being wrong, let alone being wrong where everyone can see you. The idea behind it is this: if something doesn’t go as planned, and others can see it, then they can help find a stronger solution.

But there are two chances for discomfort here that I rarely, if ever, acknowledge. Boldly doing something in front of people while knowing that it could go badly is a clear risk. It doesn’t matter what that something is, public imperfection is terrifying. The other discomfort comes after that, though.

Failing publicly has no benefit to us, although it still might to others, if we are not able to learn from it. Growth is never something that comes easy and, if we aren’t open to the idea that something needs to be fixed, personal growth can be stopped in its tracks entirely.

I work on projects that, when done well, are intensely public and open. I have made so many mistakes during my time working on them and witnessed even more than I have made. I didn’t start out with the willingness to share my failings and I think that other people could have learned from me… even if I couldn’t have learned from myself at the time.

So… Note to Self – Do what you can with what you’ve got and let people see where you don’t have what it takes. Someone else might have exactly what is needed to get the job done.

Election Results 2016

 

don-t-forget-though-that-no-matter-which-side-josepha-haden-chomphosy

Everyone has really strong feelings about last night’s outcome. I’ve seen posts ranging from anger and betrayal to joyful exuberance. Embrace the freedom of speech we have here and learn how to open your mind to understanding. The path to a brighter future necessarily has to include us all, whether we agree or not, and we won’t get there by refusing to listen.

Sketchnotes and the Talent that Wasn’t

I Confess I’m Envious

For years I’ve been slightly and openly envious of the people in my life who are able to take notes with corresponding illustrations. To my mind, it is an indicator of deeper understanding of a concept which implied a more complete learning/recollection of it. A year or so ago I discovered Sketchnotes. It appeared to be a system for hybrid note taking so I set about trying to learn how to do it. For the life of me the reading of the tools never lent itself to an understanding of the process.

Cue the long and thoughtful look at how this is a direct parallel to digital literacy and empowered access to the tools we work tirelessly to provide.

So when I heard that there was a workshop happening in my town I signed up immediately.

I’m Good at What I Do…

…mostly because I avoid what I know I’m not good at. It turns out that sketching on the fly is one of those things I’m not good at. It’s not like I didn’t have a hint that would be the case. I have a large drawing of my college campus on  my wall that I did, though, so I certainly hoped I was wrong.

Apart from the fact that my taco sketch definitely looks like a hotdog, it’s not the worst I’ve ever done. I’m going to share the process photos a bit later, since that’s the part that makes all the difference, but I wanted to be sure to share my first attempts here.

Next Up?

Sketchnotes of my travels from the year. I’ve taken quite good notes, without ever even considering doing this, and I might as well make sure they are put to good use. In the weeks and months to come, prepare yourself for some mediocre and slowly progressing sketching and noting!

Learning to Fail

Failure is inevitable for most of us. Throughout our primary and secondary education we are given no option but to get into situations where we are guaranteed to fail. Everything from debate classes to cheerleading tryouts and, if you were like me, all the way back to the monkey bars is designed to challenge you to the point of failure build character. Most of us found areas where we clearly succeeded and some even go on to make a living doing those things. Some of us just avoid what they found failure in.

The startup culture values the concept of failure, saying that no great successes were ever achieved without failure. Fail fast, fail often is a common mantra in a world that values quickly finding flaws in a product so that you can find the subsequent solution.

I’ve been known to shy away from failure.

Far from that, I have made a habit of avoiding things I know I’m not any good at. A handful of years ago, I realized that this habit wasn’t based on any real evidence that I would not succeed. I would worry and worry leading up to the onset of a project and get so distraught over the possible outcome that, as often as not, I wouldn’t even begin.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose application of the word. Consider the flea! — incomparably the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of fear were courage.

Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

The idea that courage is the ability to overcome fear was somewhat foreign to me. It’s not that it sounded odd when I heard it laid out, it’s just one of those things that was not clear until I’d seen it. Avoiding what I wasn’t guaranteed to be good at was actually just me being a coward.

So I’ve taken up, and really failed at, a lot of things: kayaking, West Coast Swing, coq au vin, and sewing an Armani design… just to name a few. The only way to learn is to boldly try. I’ve been learning to fail, and therefore broaden my horizons just as my teachers promised, by boldly trying things that I have no prior knowledge of. My next guarantee-free hobby will be learning Spanish.

I am starting with Duolingo to get some basics under my belt, but after that I will move on to conversation groups and Spanish radio.

If not radio, then something equally immersive!

Notes to Self: Staying In

Note to Self:

When you’ve already decided to stay in for the evening…
1. Don’t look for things and events going on in town.
2. Don’t go about trying to find someone to attend those events with you.
3. When you do 1 and 2 anyway, don’t be upset when you can’t find anyone to do anything with you.

New Years Resolutions 2010

I still haven’t done my New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve thought about them, technically, I just haven’t written them down. It’ll be very difficult finding them next year.

The thing I have to work on this year is constant balance.

At the moment the way my life works is cyclical. For a month I will be social-centric and do nothing but get out and party with friends. Then I’ll be focused on getting my home life under control and reorganize my home for days, making detailed lists of what I have and what I need. Then work comes in and I spend 18 hours a day working. It all starts over again from there.

From time to time I get sleep-centric or appearance-centric, but those are so few and far between they don’t even merit an honorable mention.

my intention this year is to spend some time on each of those things without getting such tunnel vision. As M Marine says, though, “You’ve always been a little intense.” He says these things in response to announcements from me like this:

“I’ve just listened to [fav song of the moment] for eight hours straight.”
“It’s midnight, I’ve been working since 9am… but I just have one more avenue to explore on this account.”
“I’m on weekend lockdown while I clean the old homestead and inventory my belongings.”
“I have parties every night for the next three weeks, but we should get together after one of them.”

See?

Best to graze, as it were.