I have the great privilege of being my own boss, and mostly the master of my own time. With that freedom comes the danger of drifting along not really accomplishing anything. This was especially dangerous for me a few years ago when I was struggling with unrecognized depression. PJs all day is great every once in a while. Not every day for a year.
Thanks to a good doctor, a therapist, understanding family and friends, and a husband who is my best friend and basically, a saint, my depression is controlled. It doesn’t rule my life.
I am still a super introvert, but that is not the same as being frozen, exhausted, frustrated, guilty and hopeless.
One of the best things about getting healthy again is being able to enjoy planning for the future. I have always been a calendar keeper, a journal keeper and a list maker. Planning is very satisfying for me. Sometimes so satisfying that I use too much mental and emotional energy making the plan, and not enough actually doing the thing.
About a year ago, I discovered the Self Journal. It is a hardbound calendar, planner and goal-setting tool. Each journal covers 13 weeks, and the days and dates are blank, so you can start anytime. It includes goal-setting guides, weekly progress pages, and daily pages that are two facing pages. I use it as a combination calendar/planner, journal of what actually happened that day, and an art journal where I include drawings, photos and affirmations and quotes.
I am starting my fourth 13-week journal today. The first one was not very successful. It was more of an experiment in how to define my goals. I wasn’t the greatest at carrying through on the day-to-day plans. The second journal was better. I read books about goal-setting and learned to hone my goals to better fit the 13 week time period.
I use mind-mapping software to break large goals into parts, and even sometimes into tasks with specific deadlines. Some people do this simply with lists, or spreadsheets, but I enjoy the colorful visual of a mind map, with its bubbles and clouds and arrows. Whatever motivates, right?
My third journal was the most successful yet. I can look back and see exactly how close I came to completing my big three goals. (For the record, I was about 50%.) I’m not discouraged. I can look at the weekly pages and see where I strayed from my goals, and also what exactly got me sidetracked. I had very few “dead” pages, where I failed to plan, and later had no idea what I did that day.
Now, as I set my goals, I am reminding myself that I am planning what I can accomplish in 13 weeks, not in the next year, or in the rest of my life. I have settled on general categories for my three goals: Self-Care (diet, exercise, reading, hobbies, time with friends and family), Getting My Shit Together (cleaning, organizing, developing good daily habits, minimizing the “stuff” in our house and garage) and Helping (making the world a better place, activism, volunteering, donating, being a friend, supporting others.)
Blogging and other writing blurs the lines between all three goals, so that will be part of every day’s plan.
Promise not to judge me and I’ll show you a random page from my last Journal.
Here are some of the resources I have used so far:
Kodak Mini 2 Wireless Instant Photo Printer This prints photos from your phone. They are 2 x 3, and have peel and stick backs, so they fit in the Journal. The photos are very clear and sharp. The photos are expensive, so I use them sparingly to print pictures of family events and fun times, or occasionally a finished project I’m proud of.
For our 29th anniversary weekend, Gary and I went camping. We have only camped once before in our entire marriage, and that was years ago in my parents’ travel trailer with an eighteen month-old toddler. This time, I wanted to sleep in a tent, in a sleeping bag, and cook on a camp stove. I wanted to really get out there with nature. So we did.
Being a planner, I researched what gear we absolutely needed, what we already had, and what we could get by without. I researched where we should go as newbies. It needed to be somewhere far enough from home that we wouldn’t be tempted to pack it in early, but close enough that we could if circumstances became dire. We settled on Cheaha State Park which is about an hour and a half from home, and has beautiful lodges and campgrounds built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. It is at the lower end of the Appalachian Mountains and the park surrounds the highest point in Alabama, Cheaha Mountain at 2,413 ft.
Let me say, that NO map provided of the park and the campgrounds is accurate. I picked a campsite in what they call the “Lower Campground” because it seemed a little more remote than the tent sites up on the top, and also was more shaded and better fit my idea of getting out with nature. It was the correct choice, but only because we were stupid lucky. What looks on the map like one continuous campground with a lake and a bathhouse and several nice amenities is actually two campgrounds separated by a paved road that has a pretty good amount of traffic during the day. And of more significance is the fact that the bathhouse and lake are located inside the State Park (behind a gate where you must buy a pass) and our campsite was located outside the park. So popping over to the bathhouse with the actual flushing toilets was not an option. More on the toilet facilities at our campground in a minute.
Everything I read about camping for beginners said don’t try to set up your brand new tent in the dark, so of course we did exactly that. It really wasn’t that hard. Our tent is a simple Kelty 4 person dome, and it went right up easily. We got our campsite set up, sprayed ourselves with insect repellent, and then it became obvious that we were going to have to visit what was preciously described on the campground map as the “modern outhouse.”
Now, I am no delicate flower who has never used an outhouse before. I grew up in the country. My elementary school had an outhouse for the first two years I attended. The algorithm for using an outhouse is not something you forget:
It is: T(P-B)<t(Sa-Sb)
The T (time) you can P minus B (where B= breathing) must be less than the t (time) S can travel from a to b (where S=spider, a=anywhere and b=your body.
Also, in this particular “modern outhouse” the girl potty and the boy potty are right next to each other (as in the same space) so it provides a unique bonding experience for couples who might be in somewhat of a rut about these things after 29 years of marriage.
After that adventure, we relaxed in our camp chairs and munched on snacks of M&Ms and Wheat Thins and watched other arrivals until bedtime. That is how we realized that we had really lucked out in our choice of campsite. Although we could see the paved road, it was far enough away that the noise was minimal. Best of all, our site was sheltered from the others by a hill, so that we could only see one other site. We were secluded from other campers, and this turned out to be a good thing. By morning, the campground was full of tents and trucks and kids. But we were secluded from all of them. Not that we are anti-social, but this was camping. I wanted to be out where it was dark and naturey.
Except for the fact that it was Alabama hot, we slept pretty well. All the websites were correct that a good inflatable mattress made for camping is a must. Ours has a battery operated inflater, and it worked great. We slept on our sleeping bags rather than in them, and a little battery operated fan hanging in the tent made it tolerable. We folded back the rain fly so it just provided a little privacy on one side and left the rest of the tent uncovered. We could see the stars through the trees. It was wonderful.
The next morning, we made sausage and eggs on the camp stove, and then set off on hiking adventures.
Cheaha Mountain is rocky. Like, I can’t begin to tell you how rocky. The trails are well-kept and well blazed, but you really have to pay attention to where you are putting your feet. I always hike in boots, because they make me feel more secure. I was certainly glad I had brought them, even though we did not hike any significant distances. I wished for my hiking poles, which I didn’t bring. Gary and the boys make fun of me for using them, but I like them, and I don’t care if they make me look elderly.
First we hiked out to Bald Rock. It’s a short, easy hike out to a high overlook. there is even an accessible boardwalk if you choose to go that way. We took the ground trail, and it was nice. The view is incredible. The drop-off is perilous and there is no railing, so the folks with kids were nervous. I don’t like heights, but this one did not bother me, because no one was getting too close to the edge. The danger was obvious, and people had a death grip on their kids.
We walked back on the boardwalk, which is elevated ten or twelve feet above the ground, and gives a different perspective. There are seating areas along the way, and the whole thing is sturdy and nicely maintained. Best news: there are actual flushing bathrooms at the parking area to Bald Rock!
We went back to the campsite and made some lunch. Hot dogs cooked outside are really delicious.
After lunch, we set out for a hike to the other high overlook in the park, Pulpit Rock. this hike was shorter, but significantly more difficult. There is a steep descent at the beginning, which means a steep ascent when you come back. Saying this trail is rocky doesn’t even begin to cover it. You are often just stepping rock to rock. It was dry the day we were there, so not slippery, but still requires constant attention to where you are placing your feet. There were not nearly as many people on the trail as the one to Bald Rock. We passed maybe three groups each direction.
Pulpit Rock is spectacular. It is a huge boulder, seemingly balanced on another, with a large part of it just hanging out in space. I didn’t go out on it. Duh. There were, of course, two young males sitting out on the edge, being cool. I heard their friend, standing back on solid rock behind them, say, “Y’all my anxiety is up there with those clouds right now!”
We made the hike back to the trail head, including the killer steep part, and decided we were ready to go back to the campsite and chill. We stopped by the little store and grabbed some more water and ice and a bundle of firewood, and spent the late afternoon hanging out, dozing and snacking and watching some sort of emergency over by the lake that involved ambulances and sheriffs and a LifeFlight helicopter. We never did find out what happened.
As dusk approached, I made our dinner (foil pouches with chicken, peppers, onion and potatoes) and Gary started a campfire. It was 80 degrees, but it is not camping without a campfire.
And you know what? Men love sports, and they love cars, but they really, really love fire. A campfire can entertain a man better than a 60 inch Hi-def color TV. We had a good evening, me with my wine in a coffee cup and Gary with his fire.
On Sunday morning, we slept until it was light, which we never do at home. The lack of showers and the heat combined to make us sort of offensive, so we decided to pack up and head home. We were missing our cat, too.
We broke camp like pros, packed up the car, left no trace, and headed down the mountain. The GPS thought we needed to see more nature on the way home, so it sent us along super-uninhabited back roads that were barely paved.
We saw a car, empty, parked on the side of the one-lane road. Gary said, “What do you think that’s about?” I said, “Well, disposing of a body, obviously.” I mean, you know you are FAR off the beaten path when your GPS looks like this:
Eventually, we reached something like civilization, and the little town of Munford, which sits beside I-20, familiar territory.
We got home by midday, enjoyed the comforts of air conditioning, refrigeration and running water, apologized profusely to the cat for our absence, and napped.
The verdict on camping? I liked it. I want to go again.
My mother was an English teacher in rural north-central Alabama. She taught at the same school in the same town her entire 30-plus year career which meant she taught two successive generations of Blount County teenagers.
She was an exceptional teacher, and she loved teaching and loved her students. Over the years, she taught every grade, but her favorites were the seventh graders. She thought they were the best combination of wild and sweet.
Like every teacher does, she had a million stories, some hilarious and some horrifying, about her students and their lives. No one who knew Mother has not heard the story about Rose and the homecoming confetti.
But that story was not my favorite. I always preferred The Lasagna Incident.
Mother was a talented seamstress, and she made all her own clothes. In the early 70’s, she had a very chic, white wrap-around skirt that she had made. A teacher wearing white to school was a pretty daring move, but I guess Mom though she could carry it off.
It happened that lasagna was served in the school lunchroom that day, and of course she accidentally dropped a big blob of it, full of bright orange grease, right in her lap. The thin little lunchroom napkins did nothing to protect her white skirt. Nothing was removing that stain, so she spent the rest of the day with a big orange Rorschach blot across the front of her thighs. By next class period, she had explained the blob about fifty times to curious 12 year olds. It became so tiresome and distracting that she finally took off her cardigan sweater and tied it around her waist like an apron, so that the spot was covered.
The last class period of the day, Mother was standing outside her open classroom door, waiting for the “late” bell to hurry the last stragglers into the classroom. One of the stragglers was a perennially late, bright-eyed little motor mouth named Joey.
Joey came tearing down the hall and skidded to a stop in front of Mother, words tumbling out of his mouth.
“Mrs. Patterson,” (in his native tongue it was pronounced Miz PAIR-sun) “Miz Pairsun, what happened?”
Mother sighed and launched into the explanation of the lasagna incident, lifting her cardigan apron to show Joey the stain. When she finished, she saw that Joey’s eyebrows were drawn together in puzzlement.
“Oh.” he said. “But, Miz Pairsun, I meant what happened to yer hair?”
A few months ago, I watched my niece moderating as her young sons played a game. They were doing the usual banter kids do in competition: calling each other out on the rules, watching to make sure the other didn’t gain some advantage in a way that was not “fair,” often with the admonition, “You can’t do that!” And finally, “Mom!”
She intervened gently, saying, “Why don’t you give him grace for that? Remember, he gave you grace before on that other turn?”
I could tell that this is something they had talked about before. Both boys understood “grace” as part of their family dynamic. Sometimes you give it and sometimes it is given to you. It keeps the peace and keeps the game going.
I have thought about this often in the context of our adult relationships. There is power in the ability to give grace. Most of the time, it costs nothing, sometimes, it costs a lot. Sometimes it is easy to give, done almost without a second thought. Other times,it is very hard, and we wonder if our grace is being taken advantage of. It takes effort, and trust, and something like love to give grace with no expectation that it will be returned, or with the certain knowledge that it will not. Continue reading “Giving Grace”→
You’ve worked super long hours three days in a row. You’ve handled several items of personal paperwork that HAD to be done. You’ve done the emotional work of making sure everyone in the family is heard and appreciated and reminded that you love them. You’ve been there on the phone for a friend who is facing a huge disappointment. You have screened calls from three other friends, letting them know by text that you’ll talk soon. You’ve filled prescriptions. You’ve bought food. You’ve cleaned the litter box.
You’re spiraling. There is no time, NONE, for anything except the next thing. You are struggling with making your daily “Finish Strong” checklist and getting into bed at the time you must in order to be functional the next day.
Your introvert self is screaming for some time alone to gather your energy and recharge.
How do you take stuff off your mental plate, when EVERYTHING needs to be done?
First, realize that you CAN’T do everything. Your work stuff must get done, and it must get done by deadlines. You have to put other things on the back burner, just for now. The trick is to write those things down, even the most minor of things that take up space in your inner brain schedule, and then let them go until they come up on your calendar, or you can delegate them to someone else (Always plan to check back on your delegated tasks). Make a form text that says, “Hey, I’m sorry about the telephone tag, but work/life is crazy. I’ll call you back on (date).” Only send this when it is true, and DO call on the date you say you will.
Second, say NO to anything new. When you’re already at max mental and physical effort, DON’T take on anything else. Even if it’s something you think you want to do, you won’t want to do it when it is time. The hours in a day are finite. Sleep, as part of your self-care, is non-negotiable. The solution is saying NO in the first place, not cutting corners on things you have already committed to in order to cram something else in. Be impervious to guilt. You are good enough. You are better than good enough. You are kicking ass.
Third, don’t spiral. YOU are in control. Mental effort spent worrying and stressing about not getting things done is wasted energy. Use positive self-talk to reassure yourself that you are on top of this, you control your time and choices, and you are doing great. If you forget something, apologize, forgive yourself and move on. Remember to write things down, and carry your list, journal or whatever with you, and check it often.
Last, as you begin to get past the crunch, start scheduling downtime. Schedule time to write, journal, take photographs, paint, play music, craft or whatever re-fuels you. NOW you must prioritize those blocks of time. Say NO without explanation. Hire a sitter without guilt. Your scheduled downtime is important, just as important as any other responsibility or task. Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty for getting low on energy and re-charging. Re-charging is what fuels your super power of great focus and persistence during the busy times.
Don’t compare yourself to other people. Everyone is good at looking like they’ve got it together. It is one of our major talents. Don’t fall for it.
If this sounds like advice from an expert who has it all together and sails through life, never faltering, or screwing up, or bursting into tears of frustration and exhaustion, it most certainly isn’t. All these things are what I know I should do, not what I DO do. But writing them down is a coping therapy in itself, helping me to pull out of a dive when one happens.
Say it with me: It’s hard, but I’ve got it. I am enough.