Sometimes life requires you to make changes, sometimes small, sometimes big.
Our family is squarely in big changes territory at the moment.
Because sometimes two intelligent, educated, mostly successful in life people can make a string of terrible decisions, or at least decisions that seemed good at the time but ended in terrible outcomes. We’ve made a few of these in the past few years and this last one is such a huge blow, it really does feel like a life reckoning. We’ve now depleted most of our easily liquidated investments, we’re carrying more debt than we ever have, our credit has tanked, we’re living in a house we can’t afford, and have had to borrow unconscionable amounts of money from family over the past year just to stay afloat.
You know, fun times.
And we’re less than a month away from my 38th birthday, and while it’s not, of course, the big 4-0, I really find myself left wondering why the fuck I still don’t seem to have my proverbial shit together.
And then I think: OH, RIGHT. YOUR BRAIN IS A TOTAL FUCKING DICK.
I usually get hung up there, honestly. Dealing with mental illness can be so incredibly overwhelming, it’s easy to just get mired down in it, to wallow in it, roll around in it, cover your entire being in it.
And then hide yourself away from the world because you feel like such a freak.
But the bottom line is that those of us who live with mental illness need to work harder at some very basic life skills than those not struggling in the same way, and I think this is where my ingrained-from-childhood thought patterns work against me.
Because, you see, I never had to work hard for really anything as a child. I was always ahead of the curve developmentally–academically, socially, physically, you name it. I did pretty much everything early and well with little to no effort on my part. And when you’re a child for whom practically everything comes easily, the praise you receive for your accomplishments tends to focus on that innate ability, leaving concepts like effort and hard work and grit out of the conversation. Eventually this can translate into believing that if you’re not good at something without trying, you’re just not good at it, regardless. I loathe not doing things right or well, and have always passed over trying new things unless I was fairly certain I would do it well the first time.
And yes, sadly, my missed opportunities have been many.
So as I’m finally really, truly coming to terms with the fact that I have some pretty serious handicaps in life and need to work harder at some aspects than others, my first instinct is to just assume I’m properly fucked and will never do life well, which is, you know, a slightly less than helpful attitude. But our situation has become completely untenable and something’s gotta give, so changes and hard work, it is.
I’ve decided on a three-pronged approach, giving up two habits and creating a new one, and I’m sharing them here for accountability’s sake.
First, I’m giving up pot–and I wish you could see the pinched, grimaced face I’m making as I type that because it would really help convey to you how much I do NOT want to stop smoking pot.
I didn’t start smoking until my mid-twenties but it quickly became a daily or near-daily habit because–SURPRISE–I like getting high. A lot. And people love when I’m high. Getting me high and sitting back to listen to me wax poetic about whatever’s consuming my brain at that particular moment is a favourite pastime of friends and family. My brain really takes to the creativity-inducing effects of pot and I have some of my best writing ideas while stoned. It allows me to more easily make connections between concepts and events and extrapolate meaning or synthesize information. A therapist once asked what I like to do when I get high, and I was forced to admit that I just like to sit around and think. Literally. Sometimes I even have a subject already picked out to think about after getting stoned to see what sorts of new insights I can discover. It also super mellows my anxiety and ups my patience for parenting, which are pretty big wins.
But then there are the significant downsides to smoking on a regular basis. I am naturally a pretty low-energy person who really, really likes sleeping, and getting high eventually just makes me tired and I want a nap or to pass out on the couch halfway through a movie. So I feel better while stoned, but my productivity goes way down, and for a homemaker who struggles greatly with the basics of homemaking in general, lowered productivity is obviously hugely problematic. I also go way beyond simple munchies while high–I binge eat. Full stop. Many nights I will just binge straight through until I fall asleep. I will eat until my stomach hurts and I feel nauseous. And then I will eat some more. Sometimes I even wake up with bits of food in my mouth because I literally fell asleep while eating.
And that is REALLY fucking hard to admit.
Anyway, I could do that in my 20s without major ill effects, but not so in my 30s, especially post-babies, and while I carry it fairly well on my tall frame, I’m currently officially obese with 80 or so excess pounds weighing me down, literally and figuratively. And while I’m extraordinarily lucky in that my base health stats like blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar have all remained in a healthy range, I know full well the risk I am running for complications simply by carrying so much extra weight. And when I’m sober, I actually have a pretty damn small appetite, easily getting by on a fraction of what I would consume on a day when I’m smoking.
So this is officially my second full day sober. I’m not terribly happy about it and keeping it up will take a gigantic effort after essentially being a daily smoker for, like, 14 years, but I can do hard things, right?
LIE TO ME IF YOU HAVE TO, DAMMIT.
Secondly, I’m leaving social media, which for me just means I’m leaving Facebook because Twitter gives me a godsdamn headache and Instagram got old pretty fast and I’m not cool enough to have jumped on any other social media train. And while learning of the recent data breach was upsetting if totally unsurprising, I’m mostly leaving because I think it’s wreaked havoc on my mental health over the past decade. Social media does social anxiety zero fucking favours. And these days I mostly just use it as a news aggregator anyway, and clearly that service can be found elsewhere. Yes, it can be a great tool for connecting with people and disseminating information and organizing and amplifying diverse voices and independent media, but none of that is worth the downsides to me anymore.
I will, however, keep blogging and may eventually make a Facebook page for the blog to extend my reach and all that, but we’ll see. I created my Facebook account on our honeymoon in Costa Rica, and as next month we’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary, it feels like a good and natural bookend to that chapter of my life.
And finally, I spent some time recently (stoned, natch) deciding on one thing in my daily life I can put my effort into that will net the most positive results, and that thing is creating and maintaining routines.
Those of us struggling with mental health issues often have an extremely hard time with routines, yet routines are precisely what our brains need as a way to help circumnavigate the crazy. And I struggle more than some in this department because my intense oppositional defiant disorder makes me eschew things considered normal for most people. I’m a stubborn contrarian at heart and have always identified with it as an important part of my character, but I’ve realized recently that my never-ending quest to do things outside of the norm has left me really ill-equipped for a happy, productive life. I find myself flabbergasted at the idea that some people get up and go to sleep at the same time every day and night, or have the same thing for breakfast every morning, or start every morning with a run, or meal plan and grocery shop on the same day every week, or walk the dog at the same time every night. Like, it just does not compute in my brain that this is possible or necessary or even desirable.
But routines are all of those things, especially when your brain is wired differently, and creating and maintaining them becomes a positive feedback loop with major benefits, including a hugely calming effect in general. We do better when we know what to expect. And while I’ve known this intellectually for many, many years, having worked with children for a very long time and studied sociology, I finally understand that this is also true for me, personally, that I don’t actually exist somewhere outside the realm of other humans as I seem to prefer thinking I do. And as I gear up to start homeschooling our five-year-olds soon, I absolutely know solid, healthy routines will be vital for all of us.
So that, friends, is the official plan for Operation Get Your Proverbial Shit Together, Woman. I will aim to post to the blog several times a week to rant or rave accordingly and keep myself accountable, while also blogging about the usual varied collection of interests.
Join me for the journey?
It’ll be a gas, I promise.