I went camping last weekend. It was lovely.
“Lovely” because what’s better than sitting around a campfire with your friends? And when said campfire is perched beside a rushing river that snakes among a forest of eighty-foot-tall evergreens with butterflies fluttering in the nearby grasses and eagles circling overhead? Heaven.
Plus, I make a mean margarita, and what’s camping without an afternoon cocktail?
There’s no Wi-Fi or cell service so other people and your thoughts are the only options.
A few drinks, a few conversations, and some riverside-contemplations, and I realized something. I’m not happy with certain aspects of my life. I want to do better in a few areas. Productivity, for example.
I used to be a productivity demon. I was a multitasking master. A champion in my own mind. How times have changed. These days I’m the queen of puttering. And the jobs never seem to get done-done. I can’t remember the last time I celebrated crossing a finish line. Everything is a work in progress.
When I had my nervous breakdown and fractured into a million shattered pieces, I worked hard on putting the puzzle pieces back together. Some, however, appear to be missing.
There is a reason, however, that my productivity is low.
As my report cards used to say, “Michelle needs to make more of an effort.”
I’m highly motivated by positive feedback. Perhaps that’s what life needs? If I knew a report card was coming, I’d probably be more on top of things. Or at least, I’d look like I was. Part of the current problem is I simply don’t care.
Still, I decided as I sat in the forest, away from my life and the stressors and reality of trying to function with a mental illness, that the time to up my game was now. I would accomplish more than anyone could reasonably be expected to once more.
Monday was the day. I got up early. I got dressed. I cleared out the inboxes in record time and mostly avoided jumping on Twitter and criticizing right-wing politicians.
I wrote some new stuff and edited some old. Not my book; I don’t seem to be able to get back to that.
I worked on the “Understanding Islam through scripture” course I’ve been taking and started “Understanding Christianity through scripture”. HarvardX offers some wonderful (and free) online courses and I’m working my way toward a certificate.
I finished this week’s exercises my counsellor assigned; some stuff about shame. I exercised intermittently; I’m not back to being able to that for more than about five minutes at a time either.
I weeded the back patio. I put away my camping gear. I played a game of Scrabble with my son and his girlfriend. I wrote in my journal, did my daily reading, and meditated.
You’d think I’d be full of nothing but pride and joy as I climbed into bed. Tick “yes” for “achieved camping resolutions”. Just like old times, every minute of the day was full and an impressive number of things got accomplished.
“Understand your need the right way…just as you would feel uncomfortable or even fall down when you use the wrong-sized shoes, so will you stumble if you exceed your limits in other things. Avoid excess.”
– Epictetus, The Enchiridion.
I read the above quote Tuesday morning. Timing really is everything. The words would’ve been ever so much more helpful had I encountered them twenty-four hours sooner.
I didn’t use to need to. I was all about excess, in everything. Please, perform, perfect. With that as a mantra, you have to be excessive. When your sense of validation is entirely external, it feels like the outside stuff needs to be impressive.
My neuroses were excessive too. I mean, not much about bulimia says, “restrained”.
I forgot, when I was remembering the days of excessive productivity and performance, when I was looking at the person I was through rose-coloured, tequila, and campfire-influenced glasses, how the periods of excessive productivity always ended.
I don’t want to have another nervous breakdown. Been there, done that, got the scars.
“Better” doesn’t have to mean “back to the way thing were before”. I get nostalgic because change is hard and I feel bad about the whole “not being able to fully shake the depression this time and become a functioning member of society again” thing. I thought being excessively productive would make me feel more like me.
I’m not the same person I was before. I assumed I would be again eventually but then again, that person had several serious, full-time neuroses that were killing her.
If I could stop judging myself for my changed circumstances, I might be able to embrace this new reality. For there is an ease that comes with a schedule full of white space.
I would have liked to have read the Epictetus quote before I overwhelmed myself with a day that took two to recover from. I hate being weepy. But late is better than never.
Avoid excess. Understand your needs the right way.