Something wonderful happened this week. I found the ground again.
Well I’ve been in this kind of floaty limbo since the schools closed on the 20th March and I’ve not been feeling entirely myself as a result. My creative flow has been absent. My productivity has been absent. My drive has been absent. The things about me that make me me have been absent. It was like they all accepted that ride off Brad Pitt and fucked off into the sunset.
Sometimes you need to feel better before you can actually see how off you’ve been. I knew I wasn’t feeling like I was at my best, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was wrong. Yes, there’s the whole global pandemic thing, and the weirdness of being at home for an indefinable period of time, but I’m a resilient being and this isn’t my first dose of change, trauma or grief.
So what shifted?
Sometimes it is all about the small stuff. The minutiae.
On Saturday night, I put my daughter to bed and fought through my tiredness to do the online shopping order. Hurray for having an online shopping slot at the moment, but food has been my planning nemesis for years. Online shopping orders force you to make a plan about what you’re going to eat when and to think about what’s already in the cupboard and the freezer and so on. It took me a solid couple of hours, but I did it. I felt I had actually achieved something for the first time in days.
On Sunday I gave myself the afternoon “off” and sat in the garden painting with my daughter. Nothing earth shattering, but I gave myself a few guilt free hours to do what I wanted to instead of what I felt like I ought to be doing. I have always hated the whole concept of what we should or ought to do or say, but when you’re the only adult in the house and you can’t run away from your house for all the waking hours, there’s stuff that needs to be done and frankly you’re the only one who’s going to do it. So yeah, there’s a whole load of stuff you feel you ought to be doing, all the damn time. It’s like a millstone around your neck. No matter what you’re doing, you feel guilty because you’re not making any headway on the million other things on the list of ought.
The List of Ought ended up catalysing this shift though. My dear friend and fellow coach Victoria recently reminded me of the joys and benefits of a really thorough brain dump. When your brain is feeling overwhelmed, emptying it out onto a piece of paper is hugely cathartic. Once it’s in writing in front of you, you can also group, sequence, prioritise and resize the items on your List of Ought, List of Want, List of Need etc. I added a whole load of self care items to my List of Need and need outweighs ought. My painting session was every bit as much about self care and my sanity as it was about spending time with my little girl. I felt so much less tense after that painting session that I then painted our nails while we watched Ant Man. It’s a small thing, but I usually decline to do it because of the high risk of nail polish ending up on the carpet and stuck to bedlinen.
On Sunday evenings, traditionally (ie pre-lockdown), I sit and plan out my week ahead in my bullet journal. I’ve been using my version of the Bujo since the spring of 2016, so it’s a well embedded habit. It has been making it possible for me to juggle all of my lives, spin all of the plates and keep my little circus moving forwards. For the past few weeks though, with the structure upon which I hang my working life absent, I haven’t felt able to use it. Earlier in March, I had pre-drawn the first couple of weeks of April to include a new column for Toby’s movements, and since he wasn’t going to be going anywhere it was redundant. This redundant column, redundant structure, seemed to make the whole book impossible to use. My ability to just relentlessly keep on getting shit done was closely entangled with my belief in the power of the book. This may sound crazy, and indeed it might actually be crazy, but it’s the way my brain works. As its pages remained untouched, lists unwritten and tasks unscheduled, my productivity flatlined.
What I did last Sunday night was grab a different book.
It’s a pre-printed planner that I had briefly tried back at the start of January and quickly hated because of its ridiculous monthly layouts with weeks starting on Sundays. I had no special attachments to it, and because I had already discarded it, wasting the pages by writing only one task per day presented me with no problems. So I sat and wrote in the key things, usually no more than one thing per day and several days left blank.
I slept well that night, woke up on Monday morning and my only focus for the day was getting to the supermarket for our 2 hour window to collect the online order. We did that and I managed to find an open pet shop with one remaining pair of dog trimming scissors. Result! My mindset shifted from “I feel adrift” to “I’m getting the important shit done” so very, very quickly.
On the Tuesday I finally made a call I’d been putting off since lockdown began, and whilst it wasn’t a comfortable conversation, I felt so much better once it was done. I then faced my next challenge and gave my beloved dog a much needed haircut.
On Wednesday I mowed the lawn, dug over another tract of dirt in the yard and then moved the living room furniture again for my workout with Jo.
On Thursday I helped to resolve a mystery affecting other organisations’ rates and grants – my brain was firing. In the evening we had a TAWN Team meeting and the TAWNies have been truly awesome in getting their businesses moving forwards. I was proud and a little awed. They inspired me to take another action that I had been shying away from, and again it went so much more smoothly than anticipated.
On Friday night, I did my first group chat for fun with friends and we were in a zoom room for about 3 hours. It was so lovely to have time with them, not just because we had 7 of of us together, but with the absence of our children, we got to actually finish sentences and trains of thought!
I haven’t got everything done, but I have found that having the written task of the day is bringing my eyes back into focus.
When you’ve found the ground, it’s so much easier to put one foot in front of the other.
I hope that’s been helpful? Your key change in the minutiae may well be different from mine, but I do believe the brain dump is a universally useful tool and it may help to highlight the place you need to start.