The Journal-Planner That Turned My Real Life Into a Video Game

One of the toughest things I had to give up when I got sick with Long Covid was my morning ritual of journal-planning. I’d been doing it for years and years: just me, a good-smelling candle, a cup of coffee or PG Tips tea, my favorite fountain pen of the moment, the morning sunshine, and my journal covered in nerdy queer stickers. Every morning, every single morning, I wrote down thoughts, feelings, dreams, frustrations. I logged my gratitude. I made any necessary updates on my small but active ENEMIES LIST (just kidding! kind of!). I also planned my days, my weeks, my years. I tracked my goals and my progress toward achieving them. I made lists of chores and daily tasks. The neuro-cognitive dysfunction of Long Covid made it harder to keep up with everything going on my journal, but the real problem was my newfound weakness and fatigue. My journal-planning time had always been full of hope and feelings of success. I’m a middle-age butch lesbian. I owned my to-do lists. But in those days, my journal-planning became a living, screaming record of all the things I could no longer do. Endless broken lists I was too sick to even attempt to finish.

As I started making progress in managing my Long Covid, I began thinking about journal-planning again, but I just couldn’t make myself do it. I had at least a little bit of trauma around those first few months, every morning, when I opened up my cute little notebooks to see my failures from the day before glaring back at me. It’s hard to plan when you have chronic illness and disability because you never know, from day-to-day, what your body’s going to act like. Could be a perfectly regular day. Limited energy, sure! But energy nonetheless! Pain-free! Migraine-free! No dizziness or lightheadedness, no heart rate ofrblood pressure going berserk! Body controlling its temperature like normal, able to keep food and water down! Simply able to be upright! But, for me, not all days are like that. In fact, most days aren’t like that. Most days my body is doing something weird that limits my capacity to wholly commit to completing a full to-do list. I’ve made so much peace with how much my brain and body have changed in the last three-and-a-half years — but I still don’t love thinking about everything I can no longer do.

A hand holdingTHE HERO'S JOURNAL on a street in Queens, NY

I now have one desk drawer full of empty notebooks and journals and planners because I kept buying them and also kept being too scared to do anything with them. Enter: The Hero’s Journal, a 90-day planner/journal that turns you into the main character in your own adventure, loading you up with tips and encouragement like cheese and bread for your cozy little traveling sack. You can choose a D&D-style classic fantasy adventure, a magical school, or the entire galaxy in space! First of all, there’s no blank pages, so that intimidation factor is immediately — poof! — disappeared. Instead, there’s illustrations that carry you along your chosen journey, and individual boxes for you to list out the things you’re grateful for that day, a list of the day’s allies, a list of the day’s threats, notes, tasks— and, right up top, a reminder of what your ultimate goal is and a place to add three things you can do today to help you reach that goal. Plus! A geeky inspirational quote!

The journal is divided into different acts, like a real story, and different weeks within those acts. You plot and reflect at the beginning and end of each week. There’s also a whole thing at the beginning where you learn about making yourself the main character in your own story.

A page from THE HERO'S JOURNAL shows our hero camping out in the wilderness in autumn

When I first got the Hero’s Journal, I cracked it open and colored in the first week of pages. The journal is all black-and-white line-drawings, so it’s perfect for that. I didn’t have the courage yet to start planning or journaling my feelings, but I do love to color as much as I did when I was a little girl, and by the time I got through, I had made the world of Istoria even more inviting. At that point, I couldn’t help but use it the way it was meant to be used. I made it my own, and then I owned it!

What I’ve found is that the Hero’s Journal is more about the vibes, like cozy fantasy, than it is about actually making it to Mordor with a cursed ring in your pocket and hurling it into a fiery doom. Every day, the journal invites you to think about what you actually WANT to do, and what you’re really CAPABLE of doing, and it doesn’t guilt you about any of that stuff. It also invites you to celebrate your victories, no matter how small. Yesterday, my three daily goals aimed at my ultimate quest were simply: double daily electrolytes, give Socks and Dobby their medicines (x2), stretch neck + hips. I did all three of those things, which I wouldn’t have even considered actual tasks before I got sick, and was proud as heck of myself when I looked at them this morning. Because I know, even though they might seem small, they’re crucial in helping me reach my BIG GOAL.

The Hero’s Journal, for me, isn’t just about doing; it’s about really thinking of my own self and my own needs, and about my big whole life story I’m living out here. I’m learning to care more about who I am, as my life’s main character, than what I accomplish on my life’s adventures. Or, as my quote of the day reminded me recently: “Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.” If it’s good enough for The Last Unicorn, it’s good enough for me.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1719 articles for us.


  1. I’d been hesitant because of the price tag, but this article convinced me. Also, the most basic, thin-paper journals seem to be $30 now. And recovering (mostly? partly? is this my new normal?) from an illness already feels like being shoved out on a quest, might as well break out the colored pencils and learn something.

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