Kitty Blackadder

Kitty Blackadder

A Scottish blog about anxiety, minimalism and eyeshadow.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Minimalism and Nostalgia - What I've Learned.

If we were to make a scale running between "cold hearted bitch" and "tears up at every Disney movie ever made", then set me up with some Kleenex because I am most definitely a nostalgia loving, sappy, kid at heart. Even for those who would consider themselves more "practically minded" than me - the person who kept every sketchbook I ever filled as a kid (spoiler: they were all filled with pictures of horses and 'fashion designs' - all named after birthstones or zodiac signs. The fashion designs... and the horses) - I think the idea of tossing out irreplaceable childhood mementos and memories can be pretty daunting. I mean, I can't just go out and get some Tazos if I decide I want to get into it again, can I?

And of course, as I would point out with all aspects of minimalism - if you want to keep all of those mementos, then you do you - there is of course no right or wrong here, BUT, what if you do decide you don't want the entire space under your bed to be occupied by Beanie Babies and souveniers from a theme park that doesn't exist anymore? Well, here's what I did - what worked for me, and what I regret.


Method One: Put things away in a cupboard? (AKA the "Out of Sight Out of Mind" Method)
  
The first thing I did came right at the start of my decluttering journey, and to be honest, didn't work that well for me (I mean, there's probably a reason everyone advises to leave photographs and sentimental items until the very end, but hey, I'm a rebel). I chickened out of even dealing with all the ornaments and trinkets I had amassed from 18th birthday gifts and the like, and instead I put them all in a box and we shoved them at the back of a cupboard somewhere. Some people like this approach, the idea is that you put them away for some months and then if you don't miss them, or feel anything when you take them out, then they go bye-bye. Of course, the cupboard we shoved the box in happened to also house the Christmas tree, so when my box of precious, irreplaceable items came back out it was during the annual Christmas Tree stress-athon ("Which cupboard did you put the tree in?" "How should I know you put it away!" - Christmas is not Kenny's favourite thing in the world.) We plucked the box out by accident, thinking it housed the sparkly reindeer (as you do). So, as I looked back through my items it was less of a 'well thought out reunion' and more of a quick rifling through newspaper and trying to make a split second decision before the "high up cupboard" was closed again and out of my reach (I do not 'do' ladders, for everyone's sake). In amongst this I sort of realised that this just hadn't worked for me, because I hadn't dealt with the emotions associated with the items before I put them away, I just had that decision to make from scratch when I finally took them back out, which made the whole excersise seem a bit pointless (and we never did find the sparkly reindeer last year). It took me just as long to decide how I felt about things then - and at a much more stressful, less convenient time - than if I had just gone through the process properly in the first place - because of course I didn't actually want to keep the ceramic owl I painted when I was six, I wanted to 'keep' the memories associated with it, so physically hiding the owl didn't help - it was never about the owl.


Method Two: Taking Photographs of Items and Then Getting Rid of the Actual Items (AKA Let's Get Digital, Digital)

Another thing people suggest doing if you have a bunch of bulky items that you only keep because they remind you of something or someone, is to just take a photograph of those items and then toss the giant stuffed bear/vase you hate/hat that hasn't fit you since you were eight, and hey presto, a giant box of memories can be condensed down to the size of a flash drive. It sounds great, and for some things I did like this - like, for example with my childhood sketchbooks, I took a bunch of photos of the meticulously labelled sketches I made of outfits for each of The Spice Girls (trust me, they have no idea what they're missing out on here), and stored those digitally and then was able to get rid of those books and believe me, that felt great, they really did weigh a ton and take up hella space, but... that was about all I liked it for. During my degree (which is in art), I primarily kept visual journals, and again, these things were so bulky that they took up about half of my bookcase, and I mean, how often did I even look at them? So I did the same thing, I took photos and then tossed them, and boy, do I regret it. These pages were layered and textured - they were tactile and meant to be interacted with - the emotion that I felt both for and from them, came from physically touching them and seeing all those layers of writing, of scribbles, of images, and in reducing them to a 2D photograph I robbed myself of ever really getting to "experience" those pages as they were meant to be experienced again. The same is true of some stuffed animals I got rid of - it wasn't what they looked like that held the magic, it was the feel of their 'fur' or their particular level of squishyness if you gave them a hug, and a photograph just doesn't give you any of that.

Ultimately, I  regret getting rid of my journals - if I knew then what I know now, I would have kept them. With the teddy bears and everything else, I think ultimately I would have let them go onto new homes (and new hugs #sappy), but I think I would have less emotions about it now if I had made a clean break  - thanked them for their service and released them with love - rather than trying to kid myself that I could "keep ahold of them"  through the photographs. You cannot have your massive Eeyore and eat it, or something like that.


Method Three: Better Check Your Mum Doesn't Want That Teapot

Marie Kondo cautions heavily about storing things in other locations - whether that's hoarding 33 lipsticks in your desk at work or never fully moving out of your parents house; all of these items are still our posessions, even if they're not physically in our homes. I totally agree with her there, and I did even go as far as clearing all my stuff out of the attic at my Mum's - well, except the guitar, I mean, I feel like I totally might come back to that. One day. Not soon. But here's the thing I learned with nostalgic items - it wasn't just me who felt nostalgic about some of them. There were items I literally had boxed to go out to charity, but after mentioning them to family members they gratefully scooped them up - totally appalled that I would consider getting rid of them at all. The reason I didn't feel like this was 'cheating' was because I had made my peace with these items and was ready to let them go, one way or another, but I'm not going to lie, it was easier to know they were going to my mum who would cherish them, rather than just releasing them into the big unknown. Of course, I have no idea if she still has the items (I mean, yes, of course she does, she is NOT into minimalism), but it did make it easier to let them go at the time. So while clearly this shouldn't be your main method of letting go of items, it possibly is worth checking if that handmade felt Christmas tree bauble you made at pre-school means as much to someone in your family as it once did to you (Unless you're a member of my family where my mum "forgets" to take my 23 years old felt bauble out of the Christmas Box, EVERY YEAR).

Method Four: Suck It Up Buttercup

 I wish I could say that there was some easy way that worked for me; some trick or step by step process, but there wasn't. I've taken several passes through my memories box at this point and honestly, I still don't really have a shitting clue about what to do about a lot of it. I have days where I feel like my heart is being ripped in half at the thought of throwing some of these things out, and then I have days where I feel like my memories box is like a dangerous, emo, wormhole transporting me back to my teens - which it has to be said, were not great - and really, should I revisit those times? Is it healthy to keep the memories of these places and people alive? Is it healthy to not remember them?

Ultimately though, the best method that worked for me was just to sit down and really face the music, and go through it all, all at once. I had huge success in some areas - such as the afformentioned childhood sketchbooks - but I have not done so well in others - stuffed animals have faces, okay, so it's harder, you have to like look them in the eye as you tell them you don't love them anymore, oh jeez, here come the Toy Story 3 flashbacks...


Anyway, I have learned a few things along the way through doing this though, namely:

1. The memories that really matter to you, the people that really matter to you, you won't forget, no matter what, so while I'm not suggesting that you throw out all the old photos of your closest family members and just keep the ones of you with random people at parties (that would be a hilarous photo album to show future children though), but just that if there are items you're holding onto purely because you're scared you'll forget an amazing day, then it is ok to let go. You won't forget.

2.  You don't have to get rid of anything. I mean this in both the short term and the long term. Marie Kondo talks of the importance of decluttering once and doing it so thoroughly and properly that it is not an ongoing process, and while for the most part I do think that makes sense, I also know I had good days and bad days (or good months and bad months actually) when it came to decluttering and if I had tried to force anything I would just have ended up building a Beanie Baby fort and defending it with my life - so yeah, in the short term, if it really doesn't feel right, then it isn't right; stop the process for as long as you feel you need to. And of course, in the longer term, even if you feel commited to minimalism, remember that there are no rules attached to minimalism, so you can keep every certificate you ever got in school, or have every wall decked out with 100 photos, that's all totally cool - if it's what feels right for you.

3. Not all memories are good memories, and by that I don't just mean the ones that are obviously not good - like the time I was chased by a gaggle of geese at a farm park when I was a young child. I still can't hear that awful honking noise they make without practically hitting the ceiling. I'm also referring to memories that "should" be good, but aren't - for me, for example, that was basically anything to do with school. My anxiety crippled my life during my school years and while I always did really well academically (well, I mean, PE doesn't count right?), I found that any time I looked at a school certificate or souveneir from a school trip, or even photos from back in the day, all I really felt was the fear and the shame and the guilt associated with my anxiety back then. I could consciously remember the feeling of our choir winning the competition, or of getting an A in maths when nobody thought I would (I did do well academically in school, honestly, but there was a certain floppy haired boy in maths class, so you know) - but at the same time as I was trying to focus on those memories, I would also feel the bottom drop out of my stomach and all those bad feelings from the past come back, and ultimately the bad feelings were worse for me than the good thoughts were good. So I got rid of everything from my school days - at least this way nobody can hilariosuly print an old school photo of me in A1 size for my 30th birthday or something...


So that's it, that's what I tried and how it worked, and what I know now, which admittedly is arguably still not very much. For me, this was definitely one of the most challenging aspects of shifting to minimalism, but I overall feel I've done pretty well in letting things go, but as you can hopefully tell from the hopefully artsy pictures that I have hopefully taken and sprinkled gracefully thoughout this post, I definitely haven't gotten rid of everything either.

Ironically enough, for me the next step is to actually bring out more nostalgic stuff in the form of getting some digital photos printed (did you know we can do that??!?) and getting some memories put up on our walls. I very much like blank walls, but I very much like some of the people I've been lucky enough to know and some of the places I've been lucky enough to go to, too. The difference is that while sometimes I used to feel like I was living in a time capsule surrounded by so many memory triggers, now I can be sure to choose the photos of the times I really want to remember and then bring them out where I can enjoy them.

As always, if you yourself have gone through the decluttering process - KonMari style or otherwise - let me know what your experiences were, and hey, if you're not into the thought of minimalism at all, let me know about that too!





Friday, 11 August 2017

5 Things I've Learned So Far From Jogging

I've been jogging consistently for a couple of months now. I know, I'm as shocked as anyone to be honest. In fact, I've actually had this post typed up for several weeks now, but still felt too nervous to post it, in case it turned out this whole thing was just a phase after all. Who knows, I've had weirder.
Coming to jogging as someone who'd never consistently exersised before, there's been a lot to learn: some of it good, like the cool 'respect nods' from other joggers I pass, and some not so fun - oh hello shin splints. But yeah, it's been an interesting experience, and so today I thought I'd share 5 Things I've Learned So Far From Jogging;



1. The sheer terror that is accidently leading a jogging convoy

This has actually happened to me twice now, and it's not getting any less awful. I jog in Glasgow, in a pedestrainised area that's ideal for jogging, which I am grateful to have close by, but of course, it means that every other jogger in the area is using it too. Sometimes, because the paths are also full of bikes/small children/very bold pigeons, it's not uncommon for there to end up being 5-6 people jogging in a convoy when the path narrows, because it makes it easier to keep moving through the 'crowds'. Now, this is totally fine if you're out just running your usual 10k or whatever, but if, like me, you started jogging with the fitness level of a cushion and running for more than 45 seconds at a time made you feel like your life  was at risk, then suddenly finding yourself in a narrow space, with 5 people jogging in rhythmn behind you and no space to 'pull over' is literally terrfying. Both times I had to pull out the big guns and blast Eye of the Tiger to get me through the stretch... and then collapse off to the side with all the grace of a bird shit hitting the ground at the first opportunity. Suffice to say, I am a solitary runner.

2. The hardest step is the first one

#CHEESE
I know, I know, but it is true. Once I'm out there with my music on and breathing in the fresh air I am always up for a jog, but sometimes, sitting in several layers of pyjamas, watching the rain lashing the window, it just doesn't seem that appealing to go out there. The deal I always make to myself is that I have to put on my running gear and go out there. I don't have to run, I don't even have to move from the pavement in front of the door.. but I do have to go out. Shockingly enough, once I'm out there, I always want to run, not least because I'm worried about looking funny to people on the street if I just do a 180 and head back inside.

3. I thought I knew what sweating was before. I didn't.

While, yes, I knew I wasn't exactly an active person before I started jogging, I did think that I had experienced being sweaty before. You know, on sunny days, or when lugging furniture up three flights of stairs (PIVOT!), but, oh, was I wrong. When I am out running, I can literally feel the heat radiating from my face which, by the way, is so red Santa has just recruited me. I am sweating so much it gets in my eyes - and that freaking hurts by the way! Also, sore nose from hayfever? Sweat will get all up in there and make that sting like heck too - who knew?!

I'm telling myself that the sweating must be good for me. I mean, it shows I'm working hard, probably. However my skin is not liking it. Hello breakouts, couldn't see you there, under that one massive zit the size of a baby's head.


4. Living in Scotland, it's not okay to skip a jog because it's raining.

Yeah, jogging in the rain may feel pretty awful, and look a bit daft tbh, but in Scotland, it's not that feasible to avoid it. It's honestly comical how many times the sun's been shining and in the 3 minutes it takes me to wrestle on my sports bra suddenly people are out there building arks, however, waiting it out doesn't work (the rain knows you're waiting. It can sesne it ...), so the only option is a rather soggy session out there. Oh well, that's why we have hair dryers and fleecy blankets right?

5. The change from dreading it to missing it happens really fast

In the couple of months that I've been jogging I have managed to catch a virus that left me with all the energy of Lupin after a full moon, and fall and hurt my knee which (while luckily no real harm was done), looked like some kind of monster from the realm of Mordor was about to hatch out of it for a couple of days. Yeah, sexy. The thing is, if either of these things had occured during my Stardew Valley Hibernation of Winter 2016 or let's face it, any other time in the preceding 25 years, I probably wouldn't have been too bothered. Bring on the Netflix, I would have said. Pop some corn. Charge the Kindle. Order the Dominos. But now? Jeez, I was so agitated with not being able to get out and run for a couple of not insignificant periods of time. I felt worked up and like I wanted to punch the wall sometimes - before quickly remembering I had no energy to do that anyway.

Jogging has so quickly gone from being an obligation, to being time that I really cherish. It's time that I can listen to whatever I want, time that I can focus on me, I can listen to myself and push myself and do something just for me. I can smile when I run, I can cry, I can sing along to the Moana soundtrack when there's nobody behind me (or occassionally, when I just *think* there's nobody behind me).

So there we have it, 5 things I've learned so far from jogging. Are you a jogger? Can you relate to any of this? Any tips for me? Or, what things have you learned from whatever sports you take part in?

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Sneaky, Sneaky FOMO

I had heard of FOMO (or "fear of missing out") a lot over the years as various bloggers on my feed lamented not going to Ibiza for the first Summer in 5 years, or not going to the music festival that EVERYONE was going to. I saw colleagues totally burn themselves out drinking many nights in a row because they couldn't bear the thought of not being at the party, just in case, but honestly, FOMO was never a big part of my life.


As I think I've talked about a bunch on here, I was never part of the in-crowd as a kid - like it or not, that was something that just wasn't an option for me - so growing up I missed all the parties, all the scandalous happenings, the drunken outings and the 'squad' holidays. As time passed, I never did go out to da club and I never did get something pierced.  I never got sunburned, never had a crazy fling, never kept up with the chart music, the TV shows or the celebrities.

Part of this, I think, was falling in with an older crowd at college - as in, they were in their 40s -, and then also being in relationships with older men - all people who had done all the typical "young" stuff and had moved on - so I think I just sort of moved on too. That and the fact that as time passed, I felt I had sort of missed the boat on a lot of it: getting drunk at 18 for the first time and making a fool of yourself may be excusable and pretty normalised, but I felt it would just be a bit awkward at 25 or whatever.

So yeah, I kind of marched to the rhythmn of my own drum, I guess: I had my interests, my music taste, my Netflix list, and I didn't really care if they were "cool". In a lot of ways, I suppose I didn't know what I was missing out on. Colleagues at work would initially spark conversations with me about current goings on, but after a few rounds of; "no, really, I don't own a TV", and "Yeah, I've never been on a night out", or even, "what's One Direction?", and people soon gave up on me and moved on to chat about the weather - now that I can do, have you seen the rain lately? Occasionally my sister would look at me like I had three heads as we listened to music together, but other than that, basically everyone knew I was on my own path.

Now though, having started this new barista job, I am surrounded by lovely young folks who are so nice to me, and don't seem to be giving up on me easily either. We've had lots of chats about what the nightlubs in Glasgow are called, what Grindr is, what the bands I listened to when I was 14 are doing now (hint: it's not good), and why Love Island is such a thing (I still don't get it). But, despite how nice everyone is, as time passed, I started to feel really out of it, I felt "uncool" and like I was really missing out on a lot. I started to want to keep up with the things they kept up with, I vowed to participate on the next night out and I would grimace at myself when I was just so out of the loop with EVERYTHING.

Eventually, thankfully, I had a couple of realisations - brought about by a guy at work talking about "dabbing" and the awkwardness of us just staring at each other for about 10 seconds after we realised I had no idea what that was. The first realisation was that I am older. I am 26, my fiance is 35, so of course my life does not look the same as my 20 year old colleagues'. They're out partying and eating instant noodles (I mean, probably not at the same time, although as I've covered, I actually have no idea what goes on at parties), and Kenny and I spent yesterday at Dobbies choosing out compost (honestly. not. even. joking). Our idea of snuggling up to watch something does not involve the dramas of random singletons on an island ('cos I think that's what Love Island is... right?), we're currently rewatching David Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants, and you know what? We love it. While age certainly shouldn't be something used as a rule - as in I don't think every 26 year old is too old to hit the clubs, I just know I am - life does move through natural chapters, and I am not in the same chapter as my workmates are.

That sort of leads me onto my second realisation about why I was all of a sudden drowning in the FOMO. More than the fact I felt out of touch, and like I was missing out on things now I think it was the realisation that I am truly past the point of a lot of things happening in my life. I am an adult. I am a pet-parent. I'm getting married. I think working with all these young people who're so free made me freak out a little about the fact I'll never be like that again. I will never be able to just "crash on someone's couch", I have a cat who would spend the night sharpening her claws for when I did come home. I will never use a dating app, heck, I will never have another first date. I'll never have a holiday romance, an awkward morning after or a love affair with Aragorn (although that might be mostly because he's ficticious). I'll never know who's on TV, I'll never keep up with the Kardashians. I can't go back and have a massive 21st birthday party, I can't get a drunk tattoo and regret it when I'm older, I can't... well, I can't be 20 again.

It has to be said that I have a history with struggling to accept things like this: that my life has passed some sort of threshold I can't go back from. I spent much of my 11th birthday in tears becuase my Hogwarts owl never arrived (I sat up half the night with my window open, waiting for it), and on the eve of my 16th birthday I had quite the freak out about my CHILDHOOD BEING OVER, prompting my mum to rush out and buy me several My Little Ponies. So, yeah, I think this is another example like this: something I just need to build a bridge and get over. Because let's face it, I have a lot to be grateful for; I shouldn't be sitting around feeling jelly (that's something young people say) of my fellow baristas.

I have my wonderful fiance who is just honestly like the other half of me, I have my beautiful fur-baby who I love more than I would ever have thought possible. We own our awesome flat, I'm lucky enough to be studying again and at 26 I can finally use a can opener with at least some competence. With so much to be thankful for, it's time to let go of some things too - and to accept I'm the outsider at work, and that's actually okay.  So here's to propogating aubergine seeds, shopping for a new matress, listening to Bach and still not having a fucking clue what dabbing is.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Minimalism Means Muffins



I'm not 100% sure where I'm going with this post if I'm honest; I've changed the title 11 times and normally that’s a sign for me that I’m not sure enough to write whatever I'm trying to write, but I've had the idea brewing at the back of my mind for a while and figured it was about time I try and commit something to paper, erm, web page. So, a lot has changed since I started embracing a “less is more” way of living – a lot of things that can be easily quantified or explained a la “oh my gosh, there was floor under all those clothes?!”, but some other things that are potentially even more palpable for me as experiences, but at the same time, a lot harder to pinpoint. This post is about two of those things.

banana pancakes with blueberries and the heading "Minimalism Means Muffins"

So, guys I’ve been making muffins. Like on multiple occasions. I know, right?  Baking for me is one of those things that I always see myself doing (and for some reason I always tell employers I do when they ask me about “me outside work” at interviews – what’s that about?), but I actually never do. I guess it always falls below the other tasks in life like work, cleaning and making “proper” food, because apparently “brownies aren’t a nutritionally balanced dinner”, pfft. Even in terms of hobbies, baking falls way down on the list for me; something about the idea of dragging 18 utensils out from the back of cupboards, and then reaching for all the ingredients – about 50% of which will have now expired of course – and then after it all, I have to clean up, are you serious? Yeah, somehow reading a book with a huge mug of tea and a blanket just seems more relaxing somehow.

My muffins – because I’m only competent enough to make one kind, you see – are banana based, and one day, I was working at my laptop at the table and I noticed the bananas in the fruit bowl were really past it. Huh. Those would be good to go into muffins, or else they need to go in the bin. Then I literally just turned my head to the right – didn’t even have to move off my chair – and I could see we had flour, oil, etc. I could picture the mixing bowl’s location, the baking tray – heck, I even knew where my apron was. And all of a sudden I stood up from my laptop and I made some muffins.

two egg shells in an egg carton

Normally, I plan baking like a week in advance, warning friends and loved ones not to call that day BECAUSE I’LL BE BAKING, only for it all to end up in a frustrated mess starting as soon as I lay the scales out on the counter. Normally it seems arduous and like it takes hours, and now, suddenly I’m that person that just “whips up” some baked goods in time for Kenny coming home – I mean, just the one type of baked goods really, but you know. Could this spontaneous muffin spawning be related to minimalism somehow?

Another thing that happened is my return to the world of lasagne making. I’m not a great cook, I’m not even really a good cook, but I am competent, especially with simple recipes, but guys, can I make a lasagne? No, no I cannot. Every single one is either too dry, or to saucy, or the béchamel is sweet or something else weird. I actually gave up altogether a couple of years ago because I got so frustrated and it legitimately made me feel not so great about myself – I’m the daughter of the world’s best lasagne maker you see, although I could be biased there. Anyway, one day recently, I woke up and I wanted lasagne, big time. I went to the store and I’m peering into the ready meals cabinet, having resigned myself to something sub-par and preservative laden, and suddenly I think, “no, I’m going to make a lasagne for dinner tonight”. I Google a recipe on my phone and standing there in the store, I’m able to recall what ingredients I have, what size dish I’ll use, and exactly what’s on my schedule for the rest day – so I know how to time this out. I was so calm, so able to make this split-second decision, whereas normally with my legitimate anxiety issues and my not-so-legitimate lasagne angst this would have had me in cold sweats and ready to hide under the duvet. Long story short, I made a lasagne, my béchamel vanished altogether (?!?!?!?!) and we ate dinner at like 9:30pm, but you know what I did after dinner? I didn’t cry. I didn’t apologise 8,000 times to Kenny for making us eat so late because I had some weird whim. Nope, I cleared up and then I reached for my cooking notebook and made some notes re: my discovery of vanishing béchamel. I stored the leftover pasta sheets, calm in the knowledge I’d be reaching for them again soon, and I went on with my life. Could this be a minimalist thing?

pile of banana pancakes with blueberries
Erm, yes I am aware that all the photos in this post are actually of pancakes rather than muffins, but I didn't take photos of the muffins, so these are banana pancakes instead... close enough!

It's very hard to see how muffins and lasagne would be related to it all if I look at the big picture, but I think when I break it all down it becomes pretty clear that all of this was a direct result of my adopting a more minimalist lifestyle. Everything from the fact I could actually see the fruit bowl on the table to know that we had bananas that needed using - rather than finding some furry blue unidentifiable shapes in a bowl under the clutter three weeks later - to knowing what ingredients we have and where they are, to not being so hooked on some trashy Netflix show that I feel I don’t have time to make a lasagne. I could make notes in my cooking book, because I could FIND the cooking book. I didn’t end up a frustrated, sauce covered mess while cooking, because I had my apron to hand and I wasn’t multitasking 17 things so I actually remembered to put it on.

a forkful lof food in front of a stack of pancakes

I feel this may not come across that clearly, like I said, it’s harder to draw an arrow pointing to it and say “result of minimalism”, but for me, the connection is as clear as day and I honestly, truly, would not have believed before I saw the results for myself that learning to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle would have opened up my mind and my mood and my opportunities so much that I would feel like I had the time, or the ability to make muffins – as silly as I’m sure that sounds. I feel more in control of my own time and my own mind; there is no “chore I should be doing”, there is no Netflix running in the background to distract me. I feel like I’m really starting to see the effects of my hard work to “live lighter” trickling down into real world results, and I like what I see. Now, does anyone have a good lasagne recipe they’d like to share?

stack of pancakes on a plate on a wooden table

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Simple Way to Help Fight Daily Anxiety

There are a million posts like this on the internet, and, generally speaking I'm not that into posting 'tips and tricks' for anxiety or depression because I feel like they're complicated illnesses that a) there's unlikely to be a 'quick fix' for and b) I'm probably not that qualified to give out advice on the subject, BUT, I had to share this idea...
notebook filled with done lists

And what makes this one different? Why share this one? Well it provides almost instant gratification, doesn't require any prep work (or require you to happen to own a full set of healing crystals, or live next to lake you can swim in...), and I think it's pretty risk-free, you don't like it; you stop it.  

With my anxiety, I definitely need to feel organised and in control - I make lists, I catalogue eyeshadows, I have a Spreadsheet for what I eat in a day and one that lists all the bras I own, but sometimes, I end up feeling like I'm being controlled rather than like I'm the one in-control but I still need to track things, I need to make that list. (And yes, it would be great if one day I could tame that need and not feel so out of control if I haven't planned for something, but honestly, one battle at a time...)

So every night before bed I make a to-do list for the next day - I've done this for as long as I can remember. Now when I'm 'well' this list will consist of bigger, more impressive things like:

- jog 4 miles in the a.m.
- work 10am - 7pm
- dinner with Dad after work
- going to the cinema @ 10pm

You know, normal life stuff. And then, when I started to get mentally worse recently, I adapted the to-do list so it looked more like:

- get up before 9am
- wash hair
- eat either breakfast or lunch
- text someone

writing a done list in a notebook

Really simplified right? I thought I would set myself super achievable goals and that would allow me to easily tick them all off and feel really accomplished and proud of myself, gold stars for me. But let me tell you, when you deliberately write a list of four ridiculously easy things to do in a day and then, because you're so unwell you can't do any of them... that is not a healthy or a good feeling. I was going to bed every single night feeling more like I was failing, like I was falling further down into the depression  BECAUSE CLEARLY I COULDN'T DO ANYTHING SO WHAT EVEN IS THE POINT. Seriously, for every one thing I managed to tick off the list, there would be three or four I just couldn't face (sometimes, for days at a time), and those to-do lists would just rub that in my face, day after day.


So it was time to regroup and try and find a way to still make those lists without those lists making me crazy and I remembered something I'd learned on a training day in some job or other (you know, the sort of days where there are 'team games' and 'creative exersises' *shudder*) and the tip was actually given as a tool to motivate staff when you're running a particularly difficult shift, but hey, it applies here and the idea is... to write a done list.

So simple, and so widely used by people in all sorts of settings, it's potentially not that surprising that it would help manage daily anxiety, but what's interesting to me is that it doesn't seem to just be a tool to help me cope day to day, it actually seems to be improving my overall mood. Having the list to look at at the end of the day is cheering, but having a week's worth to look back at lets me really see how all the little pieces come together. Sure I only managed to study for 2 hours a day instead of 3, but you know what - that means I'm still 14 hours closer to achieving my dreams than I was at the start of the week.

It also helps me plan my time for the week ahead (because yes I do still need to have a rough plan of my time or else I just feel so lost). I can see realistically what I was achieving each day and I can be more gentle when structuring the week ahead - it means I can see I can usually study for about 2 hours a day, so I plan for 1.5 and then I'm proud of myself for doing more, rather than planning for 3 and 'failing' every day. 

notebook full of lists

One thing I would say is that I think these lists are pretty personal - and of course, completely relative. For example, here's my list for yesterday:

- Managed to cook dinner
- Managed to text my sister to say good luck for her interview
- Managed to do some programming
- Managed to listen to my body and sleep when I needed to
- Managed to speak on the phone






So... for me, that was a pretty alright day actually, based on how my life is at the moment, but clearly to almost anyone else this list would look ridiculous: 'I mean okay, so you managed to take a nap, stuff your face, mess about on your phone and what even does 'some' programming mean? Did you call the doctors? You know that's important. Did you eat anything before dinner? You know you need to eat...' and so it could go on. One thing I'm really learning with my mental health is how personal the journey is. My done list is (usually) for my eyes only and that way I can choose to attach only positive feelings to it. I'm learning to measure success by my own standards and to notice all progress, not just significant progress and sometimes even though the people around us might only ask because they care, it can be hard having to say over and over again; "well no, I ... I didn't actually manage to do that today..." and have them look shocked - that always makes me freak out about why I didn't do it. 

Every journey starts with a single step, and the journey to mental wellness is no different, it's just that while from the outside, the first step might be "eat breakfast each day", depending on your starting place your daily achievements might be "was able to consider eating today, and was able to open the fridge", and there is nothing wrong with that. Even the smallest step is a step in the right direction and so I think the done list is a great idea as long as you remember to count everything you've done as an achievement not just the big stuff, and you know what it's okay if all that's written down some days is "kept breathing" because I know that sometimes, that can feel like a battle in itself.


 
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