A Hard Year: Calendars

How people deal with stress varies. Actually, on the whole I deal with stress pretty well and I do that with systems and planning. I love having a plan and navigating complex systems. I use these tools to prepare and avoid problems and have a strong will to stick with a plan.

In the spring of 2016 I was saving up money to visit my girlfriend in Italy around April and May. So I started figuring what kind of time and budget I could work with in February to buy a plane ticket with a minimum wage job in the space of about two months. All this with groceries, rent, and student loans to pay. It wasn't going to be easy, but I had my mind set. I started planning.

This is the kind of long term sketch I do to figure out how events fit into a long term plan. I returned to this page a few times and made changes. Eventually it was less helpful as life started to get in the way.

This is the kind of long term sketch I do to figure out how events fit into a long term plan. I returned to this page a few times and made changes. Eventually it was less helpful as life started to get in the way.

I've been writing out little calendars for years. I think I started in high school when I had a lot of papers and tests all dropping in quick succession and I particularly like seeing months written contiguously, starting the week on Monday is a more recent development but one everyone should adopt. Then I used it for planning running seasons; workouts, races, that sort of thing. But in spring 2016 I was looking for some broad scale points of interest like when I wanted to be traveling, when I wanted to buy a ticket, the time I wanted to take off from work. But not all of this went according to plan, but it feels better to have a plan.

What was new for me was very deliberate day to day planning. To save up I wanted to plan as many details of my day as possible. It's easy to do this in principle and easy to do in isolation, but to pull off my goals meant laying plans which were going to put me under huge amounts of physical and financial stress. That stress seems obvious now, but it was my choice and something I was proud to take on. These calendars show about as many problems as they show solutions.

This page budgeted some expenses at the top and then started organizing some methods for meeting those goals. There are annotations about how well that went.

This page budgeted some expenses at the top and then started organizing some methods for meeting those goals. There are annotations about how well that went.

The stress was compounded by my personal life which was characterized by denial about separation, conflict, and, until too late, untreated anxiety. In February, some of the effects of my life style can be seen in the annotations. Days I was in the hospital or ate on someone else's dime stand out.

I wasn't deterred in March though. In fact I began planning a little more coherently and rigorously although with the same masochistic goals. But I began thinking about more specific things than how to portion meals. I had some presence of mind to schedule when I would go to the grocery store or do laundry based on when my checks came. These were the kinds of facts of life which hadn't even crossed my mind when I planned February--a sense of unreality I wasn't even cognizant of. At least I had an outline of what I was doing in March, 2016.

I created each of these pages or a variation of them as I reflected to keep closer tabs on what was more important in my life in March, not just what I wanted to be able to control at the time.

I created each of these pages or a variation of them as I reflected to keep closer tabs on what was more important in my life in March, not just what I wanted to be able to control at the time.

March turned out to be somewhat different as life where I was living deteriorated. The words "Go Home?" at the end of the month stand out now. I would have to move at the end of March although it was not the way I wanted things to happen.

March continued a less than healthy approach to scheduling.

March continued a less than healthy approach to scheduling.

Scheduling was difficult over these months. What I would and what I could do day to day seemed unknowable and out of my control. At one point I cried in a therapist's office just trying to set up a second time to meet in a week. I couldn't do it. It should've been necessary to be seen more than twice a week, but making that happen was impossible. Feeling in control of the most minor things was difficult, and probably invited the preoccupation with things like food these calendars schedule; a topic I'll examine next week.

It turned out that this kind of careful planning is one of the best ways to live my life. I still write detailed monthly catalogues like these and they're more helpful in health than in anxiety. I don't think I was doing anything wrong here. There's a desire within myself for exercising self control and I was desperately seeking it out at that time. I wrote as much:

"I just completed a lot of work on planning out the next month of expenses in the effort to save money for travelling [sic] to Italy. I'm really happy with the way all this has taken shape. It's comforting having the work put in, and I can take pride in the end result in a number of ways. Practical, aesthetic, overall sense of accomplishment, goal setting." February 21, 2016

"I just completed a lot of work on planning out the next month of expenses in the effort to save money for travelling [sic] to Italy. I'm really happy with the way all this has taken shape. It's comforting having the work put in, and I can take pride in the end result in a number of ways. Practical, aesthetic, overall sense of accomplishment, goal setting." February 21, 2016