Annual Theme Life

Discipline: Practice Instead of Procrastinate or Obsess

Trigger/Content Warning for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

In April, I wrote about my most recent suicidal ideation. That post was pretty close to the event both in time and in language, and I don’t want to relitigate it.

Today, I want to tell you the concrete steps that helped me go from that April post to moving across the country. Not because these steps are made of actual concrete handed down from on high and infallible. Because there are steps. Always. In every situation. I don’t know what they’ll look like for you. Or what situation you’ll need them to climb out of. I don’t even know what they’ll be the next time I need them.

I freaked out at the thought of moving across the country because I rely on familiarity, schedules, and routines. Husband straightforwardly said, you will make new routines and become familiar. We were on two sides of that thought chasm. I could not fathom how I could transplant functioning in one place to functioning in another.

The discipline of practice defeats procrastination and (nonclinical) obsession. Practicing what works begins with noticing what works.

  1. I asked for help. I scheduled weekly appointments with my therapist in the months leading up to the move, and I used this time to work through my concerns. I asked Husband to attend some appointments. I also asked my mother to spend some time helping me prepare to move, emotionally and physically.
  2. I established continuity of care. I needed doctors there before I ever got there. My psychiatrist made it an assignment. My sister helped me wade through health insurance fields of frustration and even called the potential providers to set up an appointment. Result: I had an appointment for a psychiatrist for the week after we arrived.
  3. I formed a visual map. I have always said I’m spatially deficient, though not as a diagnosis. I have trouble picturing myself in a location with any directional insight. This increases my anxiety because I’m afraid. Afraid I won’t be able to find my way. Afraid I’ll be late, in the wrong place, and unable to do anything about it. Everything we researched from homes to schools to grocery routes – utterly abstract. Husband was (fortunately) provided a house hunting trip, and I was allowed to go. This three-day trip grounded me in a visual space, making it real to me.
  4. I studied school options. It took a long time for me to be able to send my kids to a brick-and-mortar public school. They’d only been in for a year-and-a-half. One of the first questions lots of people asked when they heard we were moving: are you going to homeschool? I was about to go to a new state and drop three boys into a new school system I knew virtually nothing about. So I learned. I filled out forms and gathered documents and made copies before we left, so we’d be ready.
  5. Organizing before the pack. We were fortunate that Husband’s employer paid for the move and for our home to be packed. And it hit every panic button I own. Why? Why does anything work the way it does in panic disorders? All nebulous. None specific. I just worried. We culled our belongings. We sectioned off an area for stuff to transport ourselves. I backed up the hard drives four ways and removed the data cards from all cameras and small devices, labeling them in Ziplocs. I spent weeks organizing our loose photos from the olden days. Eldest and his best friend wrote a book menu in Excel – documenting every book we own by ISBN, title, author, and who owns it. We updated our movie menu. We organized and organized and organized.

If you’ve moved, you probably know that the packers pulled things from random shelves to form mash-up boxes just for kicks (maybe). That our school choice turned out not to be much of one in July, that the schedules ended up decidedly different from Oklahoma, and that bus routes were ridiculously longer. That the psychiatrist was a curmudgeon who wondered aloud how a person could be depressed in the presence of beaches. That traffic patterns are whimsical, unknowable terrors. That Florida would need to revaccinate my kids because reasons. That spreadsheets and Ziplocs are less than half the battle of moving.

And if you’d told me, you would have done me a tremendous disservice. The benefit was not in the tangible product of all that work. No, the merit was in doing rather than obsessing. The merit was in moving forward instead of procrastinating in a slurry of anxiety and tears.

These specific steps, practices in preparedness, weren’t what made the move easier or healthier. That I took steps at all – that was the thing.


The Reinvention of Me: Flexibility

Part of my reinvention theme this year has embraced: less planning, more doing. For an anxious, depressed procrastinator, that’s huge. I adore a good plan and I enjoy a bad plan over no plan at all. I’ve said before that the worst of the postpartum depression in 2008/2009 robbed me of spontaneity. It made me inflexible. I simply had no capacity to be whimsical.

My family learned that they had to suggest things early and often, otherwise I might have just shut down. My parents, both of whom I trust with all that I am, couldn’t come over and offer to take the boys off my hands. I’d freak out. Over time it became easier for them to call and ask to take the boys somewhere and for me to say, ‘let me think about that’. I’d need a few minutes or many minutes to acclimate to the idea.

I could not handle small changes in schedules, like Husband driving to Tulsa for a work commitment. I lived by a schedule. It was my lifeline.

When I returned my children to physical school in January, my mom came to sit with me. She helped me negotiate the big fears I had in their absence. I needed a schedule. I needed a piece of paper that told me what to do so that I wouldn’t waste away from waiting.

For those first months, the schedule was elegant with only a bare minimum of items: take boys to school, start the washer, set out something for dinner, eat lunch, finish laundry, pick up boys. Then I added volunteering at the school library. My mom and I settled into a pattern of working on Indelible Words.

Then the end of May arrived and my kids were with me again. The deep breath I’d been holding all rushed from me. Instead of setting up a minute-by-minute schedule, I set up a point system. It gave me time to work, them things to do and opportunities to work through boredom, and all of us a flexible plan.

I began posting in earnest. I wrote a crude schedule and focused on staying ahead (if only a little). It felt overwhelming sometimes as the tide rose and fell.

The last weekend in June, I created a brand new production schedule. I wanted to see my goals. It still isn’t a minute-by-minute guide but it helps me visualize my daily needs. How many words do I need to write per day? Per week? How do I want to proceed in finishing books I have underway? The production schedule answered that. It allowed me to keep a consistent word count while moving between and among projects.

I set it to begin July 1. Every day doesn’t look the same. I have to remind myself of the big goals and allow myself the flexibility for life to happen.

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