I am just coming back from a week off from work, as my office closes between Christmas and New Year’s. Having grown up in retail, it still seems strange to me to have that week off, and I was kinda dreading it this year.
Usually we are away for that week, visiting my family, my husband’s family. We like to return home before New Year’s but usually the early part of the week is taken up with family.
My husband works a city job, a job with fewer PTO benefits than I am used to receiving; so he was working this week. Usually, a week where my husband is working and I am not is a gift. I get so much done. I go away for a meditative week of some kind – which often ends up not being meditative for whatever reason – or I stay home and walk and write and go to museums and meet friends for lunch.
This week was, of course, not like that. My friends are either, like me, hiding from the world; or else they have vanished elsewhere. So I set myself several goals – written on a post-it, because that’s what I do with goals – goals that would keep me focused and away from television or video games. I would get so much done this week: I would walk every single day; I would write, work on my book; I would rethink my approach towards my blog; I would finish the jigsaw we had started and start a new one; I would trim my hair early in the week so I had time afterwards to fix any mistakes (or to let any mistakes grow out); I would take the certification exam associated with a course that I took this fall for work; then I would update my LinkedIn profile, focus it on where I want to go next, add all the certificates I earned this year.
Yep, no time to watch TV for me!
Instead, I caught up on my sleep. I slept in until noon every. single. morning. But not real sleep; sleep interspersed with reading (and reading light mysteries, not reading improving works, or all the books I keep buying because I feel like I should enjoy them but I never get around to starting). After sleeping in, I’d get up, do a little doom-scrolling through the news, and then watch TV with my husband.
I did write, I did work on my book, but not as much as I would have liked to. I have an outline and I’m trying to work through the outline, but I feel like sometimes it meanders off and I have to remind myself of the topic of the book and who the audience is.
I did trim my hair, two days ago, so not enough time to correct any mistakes – or to let any mistakes grow out a little. I have to say that I’m getting better at it, but it is scary how much my perfectionism kicks in. I trim it, then the next morning, I realize I forgot entire spots – forgot to trim behind my ears or those long straggly bits in the very back – and then I trim again. And then the bathroom floor is littered with little bits of hair again and I have to sweep up again, and then my perfectionism kicks in again. (This is why it is bad to put me in charge of floor cleaning.)
I didn’t rethink my approach towards my blog. I kind of like what it is. And, as I checked the stats on the blog, I realized that the things I was going to slant it more towards, the important weighty things, get the fewest hits and the fewest likes, which makes me think that y’all might agree. So my new goal is to rethink how to achieve what I was going to try to achieve with the rethinking of my blog, without changing my blog itself… or something….
We finished the jigsaw and my husband has agreed that we will dismantle it, as soon as he has taken a picture of it. A friend from work and fellow jigsaw-ist sent me a link to a NYT article about how jigsaw puzzles are the perfect pandemic shelter-in-place activity because they lower stress, improve your special aptitude, etc. And I agree: it’s easy to lose yourself in a jigsaw. Sometimes, when I used to get stressed at work from all the stuff I couldn’t move forward because of other people’s hang-ups, I used to fantasize that I could go back to the stores and ring on the register for a shift. Unfortunately, when they let corporate drones work in the stores, they weren’t going to let you handle money; so, if you went, they mostly put you on zone maintenance, where you were scanning every single item in bookcase, in order, and the scanner would beep at you to tell you that things were out of order. Boring, mind-numbing work. Early parts of working on a jigsaw are like that: sorting the pieces, picking out edge pieces, segregating every other piece by color: sky, dress, grass, dog, border. Then putting the edge together, a little more goal oriented, but a little bit of a slog. Then starting to work on the different colors. Then it starts to get fun.
I did update my LinkedIn profile, in a fashion. I wrote a little essay about what I’m doing in my current job and updated that piece. Then I added all of the certificates I had earned this year in various online courses. What I’d really like to do is rewrite the whole thing – the tone isn’t what I want it to be and I don’t feel like it’s written for whatever I want my next job to be, but I’m probably overthinking and it’s good enough as it is for now.
I left the house twice, maybe three times, running errands: lottery tickets; grocery shopping. But not walking the way I wanted to. The weather was sloppy, cold rain. But even on sunny days, I couldn’t work up the energy. Even when my husband and I agreed that we wanted to walk together, we couldn’t work up the energy.
And still I slept until noon each day. I reread every Christmas-themed light mystery that I own. One book led to another and I read every book in an overly-long series and then started another.
What was I avoiding? I asked myself. It was becoming pretty clear that I was avoiding something, and feeling pretty darn guilty about it, I just didn’t want to let myself understand what because then I’d either have to give myself permission to continue avoiding it – like the LinkedIn profile – or do something about it.
But I knew what it was.
The certification exam. I have, in recent years, formed a dislike of exams. Of being judged. Of being found wanting, and I was avoiding it like the dickens. So finally, yesterday, an hour before football began, I dragged out my laptop and forced myself to start the exam. Oh, it was bad. I had forgotten much of what I had learned, blocked it out. Some answers were obvious. Parts I was able to cobble together by checking my notes and the book that went along with the course. Other parts were completely foreign to me, a fault of the course that I had taken which had felt, at the time, disorganized and incomplete. Some questions seemed random – they were clearly looking for an answer but the choices given seemed odd, as if they were direct quotes from a different textbook that I had never seen. I finished, checked my answers – had I really answered that? each seemed unfamiliar, odd – and submitted the results. A note came up on the screen: I’d get my results via email within 48 hours. I checked my email: I had passed and would receive my certificate within 21 days.
Perfectionism rears its ugly head again.
I recognize this pattern: I fear something so I freeze, avoid things, procrastinate. But, once I force myself to face my fear, I find that the task wasn’t as daunting as I thought it would be. And then I kick myself for all the time that I wasted while avoiding it. All the walks I could have taken. All the work on my book I could have gotten done. All the improving works I could have read.
I was reading recently that depression is a form of protection. That it starts, not in the mind, but in the body and then spreads to the mind. When threatened, our autonomic nervous system kicks in and spurs us into action – fight or flight. But when we can’t flee or fight – when we’re put in a situation where it’s not safe to do either – we go limp and numb, like a mouse in a cat’s jaws. Our body does this automatically to protect us from the pain and suffering we would endure if we weren’t so detached from our circumstances, the pain and suffering of death. Sometimes this is helpful, when we have been physically attacked, for example. Or when we are a small child in a circumstance we can’t flee and it’s not safe to fight. But, if we stay in this state for too long, our mind gets involved, tells us that this is the solution to everything. That we can’t flee or fight anything, and we should stay withdrawn, limp, lying in bed reading old mysteries for the hundredth time.
The solution, according to this article, is to take small steps. Small steps towards anything. Once you are moving, it is easy to keep moving. And to spend time around people. (Real people, I assume, not Zoom people, which don’t feel real and don’t hear you talking and who freeze up periodically and who are one group, not individuals that you can break off with and talk to, one on one or in small groups.)
I suspect this is one of those lessons I will continue learning, over and over again.
Each time, practice for the next.