If I Work Hard Enough I Win

I’m not ready to start thinking about work again, being only, strangely enough, in the middle of this very extended holiday. But I am about to turn in all my school reports. And I have made a detailed book list for the fall. And two friends were chatting away about bullet journaling (which turns out not to be at all what I imagined). And then Bearing Blog wrote about how she divvies up her time and keeps her mental health always in view. (Oh how I love Bearing Blog and her calm, rational way of thinking.) And it reminded me that, when I’m in the thick of a school year, I do get into an ugly, constraining loop of not being able to stop working.

In fact, sometimes when I am on holiday I am not able to stop working. And sometimes, when it’s a nice, pretty day outside, I am not able to stop working. Last year I spent most of our sunny weeks away cleaning, picking up, and neglecting the stack of books I had brought to read. This year I’ve done a lot better. I’ve read whole pages. And I’ve even watched some stuff on YouTube that wasn’t on any list of things I’d promised myself I’d watch. I feel myself to have ever so imperceptibly climbed down from my high wire of school panic that keeps us all moving down the road of success. (Cough. Joke.)

But I know that as soon as the soles of my very comfortable new shoes hit the pavement in Binghamton, no matter how calm and relaxed I feel on the drive home, I will launch into my usual Compression of All Time and All Tasks into one untanglable mess. I will write out a huge list of all the things that have to be done from now until the return of Jesus. I will accord them all the same status and weight. I will carry the list around in my grubby fingers, never letting it fall or be separated from me for even a second, except for the critical moment when I unaccountably lose it. And when I fail to achieve even one point on the entire list, however small and inconsequential that one point is, however quickly the important moments were dispatched with promptitude and good humor, I will still count myself a failure.

I am probably painting too bleak a picture. And if you met me, you wouldn’t think I am so unhinged. But if you were able to see into my anxious mind, you would recoil and go buy a box of wine.

So, obviously, as per usual, of course, necessarily, as I vow every year, I don’t want to do this again. I want to find The Perfect Organizational System that will remove entirely the existential gaping maw of failure. Because, of course, if I just do all the work, I won’t fail. Right. I mean, that’s what it comes down to. It’s me just working hard enough and not forgetting anything that is the difference between life and death.

I believe this what people mean when they talk about self care. You have to climb down from insanity one way or another. You have to take care of your mind and your body and not let the drumbeat of modern life, with all its complexity and external pressures, overtake your internal mental health. I do think this is why so many, sometimes me included, rush graspingly to control the externals–to become minimalist, to become organized, to become thin, to attain some outward standard what will magically penetrate the interior mess.

And because the outward and the inward are tied up tightly together, it’s not half wrong to do something about the externals. If you’re house is filthy and you can’t think, cleaning your house is a good idea. If you, like I, suffer from hypoglycemic sugar spikes for even so much as glancing at a bagel, it might be a good idea to avoid the bagel. But that is only half the equation. The internal impacts the external as much, if not more. Never attending to, or caring for the soul, will keep you from enjoying your very clean house and your very perfect school year.

So magic probably won’t be a help. But a miracle might–the miraculous weight of God’s intervening, preventing grace to give mental health to the one who asks, and a reordering of time that keeps the end in view so that the urgent present doesn’t win the day. Still, though, if bullet journaling is what it promises, maybe I could try that first.

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