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If You Can't Fix It, At Least Take a Note
My best mental health barometer is writing down my intentions for what I plan to do every day. The next morning I check off the things I have done and then periodically review how I’m doing with everything. It doesn’t really matter that much what exactly I set out to do on any given day, or how much of it actually gets accomplished. But if skip the whole process entirely for a few days in a row, there’s clearly something wrong, and the sooner I figure out what this could be the better.
For the last few days I didn’t even feel like opening Complice to enter my intentions or results. It’s kinda understandable, given that I’m sitting at home with a sick kid and my usual routines are disrupted. But on a day like this I can still choose what’s currently the most important for me and what I want to get done above everything else, even if it’s as simple as going to bed early or taking a shower. Why the resistance?
On the days when I manage to actually keep track of what I set out to accomplish and how much of it gets done, the results are quite enlightening. Weekly and monthly reviews are even better at helping me notice patterns. That’s how I learned that the first thing I usually drop when things get rough is reaching out to people outside of my immediate family. I will usually give up on yoga before I stop cleaning or cooking, and on making art or playing music before more intellectual pursuits. I’m more consistent in taking care of my house and family than in taking care of myself. I make sure not to skip walking the dog two days in a row because I’ve learned the hard way how moody I get without leaving the house, but I still put it on my list cause I don’t fully trust myself not to forget. Not doing yoga for a week makes me equally irritable, but somehow I still always choose writing this newsletter over yoga. From what I’ve observed so far, I’ve been choosing to write this newsletter above almost everything else.
Why is it so hard for me to keep in touch with people? I enjoy their company and almost always come back home uplifted and energized. I know it serves me well and I would feel much better day to day if I spent more time hanging out with more people than just my husband and kid. But especially on a week like this, when I can’t go out anywhere for I don’t know how long, trying to schedule an appointment feels ridiculous and pointless. The last three times I planned to leave my daughter with a babysitter, at least one of them developed a fever. In the last few months I had to cancel most social meetings at the last minute, and the ones I managed not to ruined our sleep for the following few nights.
Why is it hard for me to prioritize art or yoga if I know how essential both are for my wellbeing? This probably comes from my childhood where I had to max out every exam and class before I could even think of anything else. I left school almost two decades ago, but the feeling that I must prioritize and excel at intellectual pursuits still persists. Since my first job fresh out of college this mindset kept following me at work, always giving there my 110% even while everything else in my life fell apart. Looking back, many times things fell apart precisely because I was just unable to relax a bit and take care of anything else.
Now that I don’t have a job, I’m clinging to this newsletter above everything else, because it’s the most job-resembling thing out of everything I do. It exists in the world of words and ideas, the one I feel most comfortable with. It gives me a sense that I’m doing something useful with my time. A year ago I was at home with my daughter without having an intellectual outlet like this and I still was unable to find time for friends, yoga or art, I was just much more miserable than I am right now.
So why do I keep writing this rather than exercise, play guitar, or simply go early to bed? Maybe as a reminder to myself that not all patterns can be changed overnight. School and work made up almost all of my life so far, it might take me another few weeks or months before I really allow myself to take care of my body first.
For now, just keeping track of such patterns so that I understand what behaviors I normally fall back to is already great progress. You can’t solve a complex problem without getting a good grasp of it first.
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