It was one of my annoying husbandly bits, I suppose. My wife would request something simple, non-urgent, like, “Can you please fix the drawer on my desk, whenever you get a chance.” I’d spring into action, floating on my why-wait feeling, emerging with tool kit in hand. While I was this way with chores, when it came to my mental illness & the tugboat it conducts, I waited, was coerced to wait, was debilitated into waiting.
At the urging of my new therapist, I’ve taken the month of May as a break from larger reality & honed in on one basic thing -- what keeps going wrong & how can I fix it for the future, to keep it from happening again? The patterns were clear--a period of normalcy leads to a big life change which gives way to a monster meltdown only to be masked by a break-through that starts the cycle all over. If I’m to make the next period of normalcy my everyday normal with smoother transitions, less catastrophic meltdowns, & more purposeful break-throughs, I have to take control & stop being passive about the rhythm of my mental health.
I don’t want to be like P, this guy I met while in the psych hospital. During group, when we would talk about why we were admitted, he would accept that he had a problem, but wouldn’t admit to the cycle, habits, symptoms or effects causing & continuing his problem. I don’t want to be my 20’s self, willing to accept whatever the closest trusted person would label me -- you’re a monster! you’ve got multiple personalities! you’re fine! I don’t want to be my teenage self again--quitting sports & the arts, keeping a girlfriend as a distraction, dawdling in the void; I was playing it safe in my environment instead of managing my problem.
Even then, as a seventeen-year-old, I knew what James Clear would later articulate on the Making Sense podcast: habits are solutions to recurring problems. I summoned my Midwestern work ethic. I summoned my hardcore / straight edge ethos. I summoned a funneling of the energy to somewhere good for once. I got into shape, losing 60 pounds. I fell in love for the first real time. I fully engaged my mind for the first real time as an English major / stoked poet at Ball State University. I finally saw the importance of being mindful of & intentional with what I put in my body-mind & what I do with that body-mind.
Spoiler alert: of course it fell apart. I was young, my mental illness was setting in, & I lost track of that control. The cycle has repeated itself, turning in on itself, for the better part of the last decade. As Peggy Orenstein reminds us in her book Boys & Sex, what we consume becomes part of our psyche. Here at the pile of rumble that is the Great Convergence of 2020--my latest mental health crisis, my wife leaving me, COVID-19, another dislocated shoulder, a backed-up septic tank--I do declare it is time to start being 100% proactive about this stream of knowledge, influences, & factors in my life, in an effort to prevent recurring patterns & to sustain a healthy trajectory
Because of my disorder, often I can’t fully control my body-mind, but when I can, I need to make the best of it. For my thinking in this sabbatical & for my own accountability moving forward, I want to document how I’m setting up my new life. As Cal Newport advised regarding technology use, I have spent the month stripping away activities, occupations, & habits, paying attention to which impulses & needs rise naturally day-to-day & using those pieces to build back some semblance of a life. I am also following what James Clear mentioned, encouraging us to focus more on the daily habits rather than the goal, the habitual pieces that lead us down the right chosen path.
A Litany Of Values Towards Better Living