I vastly underestimated my ability to do something "impossible." And I vastly overestimated my ability to recover from it.
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It is curious, the formless form recovery takes.
When I was recovering from my Crohn's onset nine years ago, there was a constant tension between wanting to leap forward, back into life, and needing to fall backward into bed. Maybe this is how our crazy will to live manifests itself: as soon as we're assured that we're not actually dying, we're programmed to grab for the next branch to pull ourselves up with. Only it's not the logical branch—that one right there, just a few inches above us, with a groove that looks uncannily like a handle; it's that one over there on that other tree—at the tippy-top, a mere vine's-swing away. And so—well, there's a lot of falling and flailing.
What I want right now, for example, is to EAT THE WORLD—to "Mary Poppins" my way back to order and sanity, to launch the 147 new ideas that have floated into my head since this 50-for-50 madness began, and to experience the hell out of everything I've had to put on hold. I want to wrassle my Excel spreadsheets to the ground and merge them with MailChimp and fulfill all those perks, already. I want to write that first book I've been putting off for five years. I want to bake a freezer-full of SCD-legal bread, walk a labyrinth, drive cross-country, spend an hour on the phone with each of my friends, and digitize my tapes. I want to read the 25 books piled up in my to-read stack and buy 50 more (and still check out a couple every time I visit the library). I want to go paperless, speak Spanish, walk a mile a day, learn calligraphy, buy a sofa, move, adopt a dog, fall in love, host a dinner party, spend a month in Australia, plant a garden, and empty all my inboxes.
What my body wants, on the other hand, is to sit in a tub of extra-salty water with the lights out, a glass each of seltzer and bourbon beside me, and some soothing BBC porn streaming from my laptop a few feet away. (While I slowly, carefully shave my head.) (For the third time in two weeks.)
Two steps up, four steps sideways, and a backwards dip into the bath. It's quite a pas-de-deux I'm having with myself.
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For me, one of the most insidious but helpful indicators of overload is the desire to acquire.
It can manifest as the desire for tangible goods, like books or gadgets or art, but just as often these days, it shows up as digital items—electronic file folders overflowing with stories to read later, eCourses I have no time to complete. I have showed Brooks Palmer my considerable and embarrassing hoard of paper and CDs, but I lacked the fortitude to share the rickety hard drives filled with busted fonts, crufty Quark files, and PDF manifestos.
And let us not speak of the overworked, underutilized Someday/Maybe list.
I have now read enough books about clutter and watched enough episodes of Hoarders to know that this itch to take things on speaks to some lack that these items can never, ever fulfill. When I am sane and well-rested, I have the discipline to resist all stores but the one that sells groceries, and to visit that one only when well-fed, and with list in hand. When I have rested my body I can exercise it, and when I've exercised it, I can make it sit still and write. When I have allowed myself to really feel all the things I am actually feeling—which I hate to do, because it almost always involves crying—I find a calm afterward that allows me to do or even just be, that transforms me from Ms. Pac-Man nom-nom-ing my way through random ones and zeroes to an actual human being who can listen to herself and others with something resembling compassion, who stands an honest-to-God chance of really being useful.
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When things get really crazy, the only thing to do is get super-normal. I go back to the small, simple-not-easy things that ground me in reality, then let me inch across that ground. I make my bed. I wash the dishes. When enough days have passed where the dishes have been washed, I clean the sink. I buy groceries and cook meals from them instead of eating takeout. I walk, I work out to an exercise video, I hold Horse Stance for five minutes. I lapse. I write my morning pages. I recover. I lapse again (which I guess would be a relapse). I meet with my master mind group; they tell me to do what I know I must, the simple-not-easy things.
Fall off. Get back on. Fall off. Get back on.
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I had an idea that recovery would take two weeks, and so I dutifully blocked them off on my calendar. It turns out that blocking things off does not a restful time make—you actually have to rest, too. But there is always something else to be done that looks more interesting, and, more to the point, that seems more productive.
As always, the first step to changing a behavior is realizing you have it; the next is noticing when, then why it's happening. You get to—or really, you have to keep living your life as you change. Recovery, a.k.a. living, is messy and non-linear. But much like life itself, it beats the alternative.
Wanna make some art, lazy-man style AND help clear out your house at the same time? Check out my friend Leah Peterson's Group Painting project and contribute some earthly detritus. I'm releasing last year's three Nikki McClure calendars. Yay, art!