For my birthday last year, I wanted just one, simple thing: a diary. Specifically, I wanted a Passion Planner.
I ordered one as soon as I could so that I could start my year with one. When I received it in the mail, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was almost ashamed of how giddy I was.
I absolutely adore planning: I love organizers, diaries, and calendars. I am the sort of person who owns multiple sets of highlighters, pens, and Post-It notes. My favorite aisle in any store is one that has stationery in it. I love the smell of new notebooks, the look of washi tape, the feeling of writing with a high-quality pen (and yes, I can feel the difference between a ‘bad’ pen and a ‘good’ one).
But my love for planning goes beyond my love for washi tape. For me, using a planner is a fantastic form of self-care.
I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many people don’t realize that one of the symptoms of PTSD is an inability to concentrate. I struggle to focus on simple tasks, and I often forget important details.
Trauma has an ability to strip you of who you are. I used to be a quick-thinking high-school student who mastered speed-reading and could write exceptionally quickly. I always had a lot on my plate, but I always managed it all. I remembered all the tasks I had to do, and I seldom had to write it down.
PTSD changed me. I now get distracted easily. I sometimes have to read a paragraph five times before I process a single word. I struggle to remember the errands or work I have to do, which frustrates me. I often have conversations that anger me because I can’t find the language I need to express myself, nor can I process what the other person is saying. Many times, I’ve sat down to read a book only to end up crying because I can’t understand a word I’m reading.
It means that talking and reading – things I love to do – become draining tasks. It means people think I don’t care about them because I forget details about their lives. It means I’m afraid to pick up books, which have always brought me joy. I’m starting to get better, but I still need help.
Planning is one of the many tools I use to fight back against my trauma. When I write out a daily plan each morning, I’m practicing self-care. I’m preventing myself from stressing about things I’ve forgotten. I’m giving myself a game-plan so that I can focus. Ticking tasks off a to-do list also helps me feel like I’ve accomplished things: when I realize how much I’ve achieved, I remember to congratulate myself for trying hard.
When I know I’ve written down all the tasks I have ahead of me, my brain doesn’t distract me from work by stressing about everything that I have to do. When I start getting distracted by other tasks, I simply tell myself to write down the task and return to it later.
The way I decorate my planner is also a form of self-care. I try to make my planner as beautiful, neat, and fun as possible. Many people take a minimalist approach to planning, using very little color and decorations, to help them focus on the tasks in their planner. Personally, I like using pastel colors and stickers so that planning is an exciting and creative pursuit in itself. This way, planning is a fun activity instead of something boring and dreadful.
To me, self-care isn’t just about feeling good and having fun. While bubble baths and meditation can be useful forms of self-care, we often forget that taking care of yourself includes making sure you’re functioning on a day-to-day basis. I need to remember to buy groceries, email my therapist, and pay my rent so that I can function. When your brain struggles to cope, like mine sometimes does, writing down your tasks can be super useful.
Receiving a diary in the mail might not seem like a cause for celebration. But to me, keeping a diary is nearly as important as seeing a therapist or having a healthy sleeping pattern. It helps me keep it together, and for that reason, it’s important to my mental health.
When you use a planner, you’re giving your future self the gift of organization. You’re taking care of your future self and your present self. As many people with mental illnesses will tell you, believing in a future is sometimes a difficult thing to do. What a beautiful statement it is, to tell yourself that you have a future, and one worth planning for.