Come, sit down next to me and let me complain about my life.
Internet, the last week or so has been just balls. (That’s the technical term, I believe. I’m a writer so I know these things)
Without going into detail, it was just a bunch of total bullshit topped off by a killer migraine – I haven’t had any for a few months now and I’d been hopefully hoping with all my everythings crossed that maybe they had disappeared for good, but I think that there’s some intersection between pressure changes with the spring weather we’ve been having lately, and me having chronically low magnesium levels. One feeds the other, then when you add stress into the mix you’ve got a perfect recipe for migraines.
I have prescription migraine medication but it doesn’t always work, and when it doesn’t, I’m left knowing that the next two days are going to be a complete write-off. My occipital lobes feel like they’re being brutally crushed with many, many hammers; sometimes I swear I can hear my skull splintering.
Everything gets too much. Too much light, too much sound, too many smells – during migraines I barricade myself under a pillow in my dark bedroom and give Olive anything to keep her quiet and occupied. We play a variety of boring games that I can participate in lying down, conducted entirely in whispers (you’d be amazed how creative we can get. One time she made me raise my arm above my head and then played with it for twenty-five minutes by pretending it was a baby and teaching it to walk. All I had to do was occasionally let the “baby” fall so she could catch it, and stand it up again. It was fantastic).
I typically emerge from my room only to cook some mashed up semblance of breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Olive and then crawl back into my sad little bed cave. I lose my appetite and what I am able to force down usually comes back up because the pain makes me so nauseous. This, in turn, means that I can’t keep my kidney medication down which just ruins my life further, and the whole thing is, as I said earlier, balls.
On the evening of this recent madness, after Olive was in bed, I undressed and got into a hot shower. I knew I had another day of this shit ahead of me (for some reason my migraines typically last two days) and I was just sort of done. I wanted the pain to be gone. I turned the water up to almost scorching and sank to the floor of my shower and just lay there. I closed my eyes and tried to relax my head and focus all of my energy on the sensation of the water hitting my chest and my stomach.
Lying there exhausted, I had a flashback to the first shower I took after Olive was born. I remember gingerly stepping into the beige hospital bathroom, being terrified to look at my c-section incision and avoiding it in the mirror. I stood there feeling the hot water run down my neck and over my swollen breasts, washing the stark antiseptic hospital smell off me, slowly feeling more and more human again with each passing moment.
I remembered the showers I took last winter in the days and weeks after my marriage ended. I’d stand there under the stream of water in our bumblebee bathroom and cry for ages, letting my tears mingle with the water until the shower ran cold.
These three experiences are so different yet the rituals are so familiar. These moments will always exist. There will always be births and deaths and migraines and messy houses. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past few years: Life comes together and life falls apart, in ways big and small. The worst thing you can do is resist it. The worst thing you can do is to white-knuckle your way through, desperately trying to preserve the status quo because it’s safe, familiar, or expected. I’m no longer afraid to let go because I’ve realized that the best stuff in life comes after you do. This isn’t abstract hippie bullshit, either, in my experience, it’s completely true.
Life loves a good shakeup, and it often comes just when you need it most – even if you don’t immediately agree with it. The best thing you can do is stock your life with people who love you, support you, and have your back when these moments hit (and people who will allow you to return the favour, when the pendulum swings and it’s their turn). Then instead of resisting the bullshit, invite it in and examine it, see what you can learn from it. Because if you can’t learn from the curve balls life throws you, and be humble enough to examine them and improve yourself based on the lessons they teach, they’re just going to keep happening until you do.
But what got me thinking the most, was those showers. How each time I found myself in pain or under transition or experiencing loss, I got into hot water and stood there until I felt more like me. Until everything was washed away and I came out and looked myself in the mirror and knew it would be fine.
Then, thinking about this, I did a supremely geeky thing, and I sat down at my laptop and created a list of other things that helped me. I created a list of Best Practices for my life. Because often when I’m in it, in the thick of stress and angst and feeling like my life is slowly flying out of my control, I forget what brings me back to balance.
Part of this list reminds me how to best support myself through crises (make sure I’m doubling up on medication, talk my worst what-if’s through with other people instead of internalizing them, make sure I’m getting enough time walking outdoors, not overdosing on coffee to compensate) but most items on this list are made up of the small things that make my life ten times easier when I do them, but that are also often the first to fall by the wayside if I’m busy or stressed or upset.
Things like eating well (and eating all three meals in the day, because I lose my appetite in stress). Breathing properly. Making sure my house is spic and span before I go to bed each night. Waking up before Olive, rather than sacrificing that hour of peace and quiet at the beginning of the day for anther hour of sleep – if I get stressed, I sleep more and sometimes it feels like I’d throw my best friend to the wolves just for another half hour of the good stuff. I also tend to push bedtimes and stay up later getting things done, making me more tired the next day. But if I sacrifice that time and O and I hit the ground running at the same time, I feel like I’m playing catch-up all day.
Other best practices include things like reminders of strategies for interacting with stressful people in my life, making sure I’m on-budget and that my finances are in order, and keeping up to date on my bloodwork. Each thing isn’t just something snatched from the air, it’s stuff that I’ve always noticed a having a positive impact when I’ve done it in the past. It’s like a user’s manual for running my life in an optimal way, based on decades of observation.
So. This is a long rambly way of saying that if you’ve been pacing around and your house is coated with crumbs and stuffed “aminals” and you’re feeling stifled and stuck and frustrated and like you want to throw out everything you own, I hear you. And also, sorry but I can’t tell you what to do or how to deal with it because only you can do that.
So, think back to the times you felt like this before (because these times have happened before, and they will again) and figure out what helps you through. Connecting with people? Running? Venting to a satisfyingly bitchy friend? Vodka? A giant, deep-clean purge of your house and all of your belongings, like I did today? (Seriously it was so unbelievably fantastic, I got rid of so many things I’d been holding onto, cleaned out the junk drawer and the medicine cabinet, donated a bunch of Olive’s clothing including a bunch of her shirts that had suddenly become crop tops because she’s sprung up another inch, scrubbed everything within an inch of its life…it was sublime.)
Whatever your ways to cope, whatever has helped you in the past, write them down. Then keep writing a list of things, that when done regularly, make your life better. Include notes to avoid doing the things that you think will make you feel better but always make you feel worse, instead (lashing out at others, eating an entire pint of ice cream, drinking too much wine – whatever).
Working out. Eating right. Talking to your mom. Putting laundry away right away. Sending and receiving real letters. Not sending any texts or emails when you’re angry. Sorting your mail right when you get it instead of letting it pile up. Hugging more. Kissing more. Loving more.
Basically, with this list, you’re reminding present you how to be kind to future you.
When my migraine cleared, I took stock of my life (hahahahaha! Was there ever a more panic inducing sentence?). I took action on the few things I could take action on – I cleaned my house within an inch of its life (I think so much better in a spotless space), I emailed a few new clients, I revised my budget and played with a few different scenarios trying to figure out how to make things work, I tied up loose ends on a few projects, I arranged some get-togethers with friends. I did my mother-fucking cardio and hated every minute but felt like a rock goddess after.
This is my life. This. The chaos and conflict and flux and limbo and floor-constantly-gritty-with-toddler-crumbs mess of it. It would be so foolish not to do everything I can to make it a great one.
So, that is my life lately. And this is a 1700 word post about making a list.