When Things Really Are Messy

There are times in my life when life gets really messy. When laundry piles up and the dishes don’t get done and there is darkness.

There are times in my life when everything routine comes to a grinding halt. In such times, I wonder how it all got this messy.

In my messy life, I often get lost in the details.

In my messy life, I frequently forget the importance of taking care of myself first.

In my messy life, I often forget that it is okay to ask for help.

I am emerging from a season of messiness in my life. I see the light in my life for the first time in a long while.

In this season, it is vital to keep going and to clean up the mess one piece at the time. I have to remember that it does not all have to be done at once. One load of laundry at the time, one clean dish at the time, one misplaced household item back in its place at the time. One to-do list at the time, I am going to clean this mess up one item at the time.

I am going to clean this life up– one thing, one step at the time.

How I Get Things Done

I am still working on the concepts in this post. I still work daily to feel satisfied with the amount of things I get done in the day. I am coming from a place of disorder and (more than) slight chaos stemming from health problems with which I’ve struggled for the past few years. So, my solutions for time and task management come from that particular place. This solution is a good place to start when one hasn’t been tracking (or in some cases, doing) tasks for an extended time: like, months or maybe even years at a time.

I keep track of everything I do in a paper calendar. J, my husband, can keep track of everything “in the cloud,” through apps on his phone, but I do best when I can take a pen and paper and keep track of everything… physically marking off tasks as the task is completed. I feel more successful after each check mark. At the beginning of the year (or when they are first on sale the Fall prior to the beginning of the year), I buy a calendar. Matters not what format the calendar takes. Mine is a simple one that only has one line per date, with no actual day even marked. It works for me, wouldn’t work for everyone. Find one that suits you.

If you prefer this method of tracking tasks on paper, the calendar can be as fancy or as plain as you like. I have tried homemade calendars in the past, but I have found that it is much less bulky to just buy the calendar, within an appropriate budget, than to buy all the supplies for making a calendar and putting it in a big, bulky binder. The binder and supplies ended up being equally and in some cases, more costly than just the one-time purchase of a pre-made, relatively plain calendar. This may not be true or suitable for everybody. It has just been what I find works for me.

Next, I keep a separate, additional notebook. I prefer simple, unmarked, small, bendable ones that fit in my purse. My notebook is not spiral bound. My calendar fits inside the small notebook, so I can always keep them together and access them whenever I need to do so.

So, anyway….tasks get listed on lines…one page for each single day, in the plain notebook. As I complete a task, I check it off. Simple as that. I look at the calendar once or twice a day. That’s it, at this point.

I don’t track time with my task list. I used to schedule out, by the hour, various tasks and I found– for me– tracking my time is a recipe for feeling like a failure. That having been said, my meetings and appointments are scattered few and far between at this season of my life, so the way I budget my time is far more relaxed at the moment. My style is likely is not the case for a lot of people.

Even so, I have found that not watching the clock as I complete a task is actually a recipe for success. Back when I was tracking time with my task list, I’d get so caught up in keeping up with the time that I didn’t pay adequate attention to the task at hand. Or worse– I’d feel like a failure when I didn’t fit all the tasks into the time frame I had set aside. I wasted years of low self-esteem in large part due to this method of time and task management.

The important takeaway, for me, with task lists has become this: it is, indeed, okay if I do not complete every. single. last. task on my list. I can’t predict the future, so I can’t predict what unexpected things may come up in my day to make it such that I cannot complete a given line item on my task list. When I don’t complete a task from my list, it simply gets moved to the task list for the next day until it is completed.

There are different schools of thought as to what order tasks should be done, such as most difficult task first. However, I always put some leisure and hobby activities on my list along with the chore-type tasks. I see results a little more slowly than others might and I still put the difficult tasks on my list to be done. I see the leisure and hobby-type items, such as my crochet projects, as a sort of reward for doing other tasks less, well, fun. However, the reward does not always follow the chore-type task….sometimes I’ll crochet first thing in the day. My own energy levels and the types of chores on the list for the day determine in what order my list-conquering activities occur.

Also: I don’t worry about completing my list in the order that I make it, nor do I try to predict at the outset of the day the order of the tasks in which I will complete them. At my stage of goal-related work, I am simply trying to complete the list in any way possible. My method for task completion  is going to be flexible as I get better with finishing tasks.

My goal, besides getting things on my list done: to be gentle with myself through the entire process. I want to push myself in order to grow, but I do not push so much that I get discouraged and give up on the task list completely. Feeling good about the process is key, for me, to lasting change.

I hope some of these ideas give somebody, somewhere, some hope. Behavioral change is, indeed, possible… I am living proof that such is the case.

Let Light In

I struggle with depression sometimes. When I do struggle, sometimes all I can do is open up the blinds to let the light into my home. On days in which I remember to open the blinds, I can nearly always salvage something good from the day.

Note to self: remember to open the blinds.

Stigma

For the past four days, I have been steadily transforming our home from a dusty, cluttered space into a space into which I will be proud to invite guests. I’ve also done a lot– a. lot. — of silent introspection. Doing away with the layers of dust and piles of laundry has meant that I had to face the demons inside me that allowed our home to get that state of disarray in the first place.

Pair my ungraceful motherhood transition with a hefty dose of serious depression… the situation here at home has been a recipe for those layers of dust that have accumulated throughout the house. Once those dust layers had settled, well, they fed my depression steadily and helped to lower my already low self-esteem. After all: if I couldn’t do something simple like keep the house clean, what did that say about me as a person?

I know myself and the chain of events that led to those piles of dust well enough to know that there’s no part of the situation that could have been any different. I shattered myself by illness perspective and circumstance on many fronts.

Shattered. I repeat the word because that much emphasis on my shattered abilities is appropriate. I was completely and totally shattered by my perceived loss in ability. I didn’t understand what was happening to me and I was angry. I felt out of control. My perceived absence of control materialized as my perceived inability to care for my surroundings. It was all I could do to fall into survival mode, as I cared for my children and myself and J as best I could. I’ve operated in only survival-mode for years now. All stability of my expectations for any potential future occupations fell by the wayside. Uncertainty and instability swept my already low self-esteem far, far away.

The situation remained as such for much of the previous seven years. That’s a long time. It’s almost more time than is possible for me to wrap my brain around.

Almost.

So, what’s changed? What happened this week that gave me the energy and insight to get out of the recliner and start caring for and about my environment, my house and, by extension– myself?

A recent physical health issue has given me hope that my mind, which I’d long since banished away as defective, isn’t so defective after all. There is something physical to which I can now point and say, “This causes at least a little bit of my issues.”

The stigma that surrounds mental illness, as I have experienced it, lends unspeakable amounts of shame to the way I have long felt about myself. I know plenty about experiencing stigma. In my case, my stigma is equally self-imposed, as is any stigma coming from outside myself. That stigma has translated to a paralyzing loss of hope. I’ve long felt utter terror about the potential lack of any sort of enjoyable future for my life, in my more depressed days.

In the case of the before-mentioned physical illness: I instantly felt better about myself when I heard I suffer from a physical illness for which there is a treatment method. Unfortunately, however: the reason I feel better about myself has to do with the hope that maybe some of my problems do not stem from mental illness. Maybe at least some of my mood issues have come about due to the physical problem that comes along with my illness.

I’ve bought into the mental illness stigma our world perpetuates on a daily basis. I’ve dealt with mental illness daily in some way or other for nearly nineteen years and I have wholeheartedly bought into the stigma. I’ve bought into the lie that mental illness is lesser– that I am somehow lesser because I have a mental illness.  I’ve dealt with my own mental illness for nearly nineteen years and I should know better. I should know that mental illnesses are equally as valid as any physical problem and that my mental illness does not speak to my character. Yet, here I am, grasping at the hope that I have a physical problem that explains some of my behavior and my moods, at least in part.

After all these years, I’ve learned nothing about how to fight the world’s stigma against mental illness. After all these years, I am still running away from my mental health diagnosis, full-steam. Those stigmas have been just as stifling as my real health situation and in my case, my health remains unchanged, as of yet. I still have a mental illness. I will always fight my natural tendencies to cave into that mental illness, to bend to its will. The terror and shame from the stigma, though…that has lifted somewhat because my own self-imposed stigma lessens a little bit through my new physical diagnosis. I’ve lifted some of the stigma I’ve imposed on myself all these years because of my physical health…

Quite tragically, it means that I have learned nothing of compassion toward my own mental illness. And for that fact, I feel sad. I want to know and, thus, behave better. For myself, for others.