I always felt a heavy weight of my To Do list. It was as though I couldn’t really enjoy life, because I was so distracted by all the other “things” I needed to get done. Looking back, I remember feeling this way in my early 20s, after I graduated university. Even though I had no real responsibilities besides work, I never felt I had time to just relax. I remember questioning what I could eliminate from my life to make it less hectic, but I never could choose something I felt was expendable. So I carried on, doing more than I should have, and never really taking time to just be.
This feeling carried on through the years. I always had a large pile of papers to go through and a never ending To Do list. Whether it was something related to the house, or my dance, or friendships, I always had a nagging feeling. A feeling that didn’t allow me to ever enjoy the down times, because I felt the guilt of not being productive.
This was still the case, right before I became ill. I bought my house in the summer of 2014 and did a major renovation to the upstairs. The plan for the following summer was to focus on outside upgrades. But the inside felt cluttered and disorganized, and my To Do list was becoming longer and longer. I always felt that I was catching up, and never on top of things. And if I did make some great progress on my list, before I knew it, more was added.
I knew I needed to make a change. I just didn’t really know how. I thought I was approaching it the right way by just working on my list as I could, but again, I never felt I could get ahead. Until my health forced me to.
I really do consider this health journey as a blessing. It has given me insight and time, that I would have never had otherwise. I feel that from a spiritual perspective, it was the universe’s way of forcing me to stop, reanalyze, regroup, and proceed. Which I have done.
In the early weeks out of the hospital I wasn’t working, and then only part-time hours. Added to that, the prednisone had me awake for about 18 – 20 hours a day, so it allowed me to be super productive. Like inhumanly productive. During this time, I went through my house, from room to room, purging and cleaning as I had longed to do.
- Basement Living Area – re-organized the furniture, went through dvds, organized workout stuff, organized Arrine’s play area.
- Basement Office – went through filing cabinet & started to go through boxes.
- Laundry and Furnace Room – went through storage shelf, cleaned behind furnace, installed new filter.
- Kitchen – organized the pantry, got through huge paper pile on kitchen counter.
- Living Room – organized paper tray holder, bought new throw rug & lamp.
- Linen Closet – went through all boxes and containers and organized – make-up, toiletries, oral care, travel kits, nail polishes, medications.
- Arrine’s Room – tidied and organized toys.
- My Room – went through jewelry box and dresser drawers with papers and trinkets, bought new bedding.
- Bathroom – bought new shower curtain and towels.
- Exterior – installed new mailbox and house number, fixed garage door opener.
- Finances – got them TOTALLY in ordered and organized.
- Clothes – went through bedroom closet, 2 chests of drawers, basement closet and basement wardrobe; donated 4 garment bags and one small bag.
So, after all that, I was feeling pretty darn good. Like unbelievably good. Mentally I felt refreshed and clear. I could sit and paint my nails and not feel guilty as I was thinking of how else I could be getting other things done. I could go to bed at an earlier time, and not be thinking about that pile of papers in the kitchen I needed to get through.
I still have a lot of organizing in the basement and garage I need/want to do. And I plan for that to be my spring cleaning project. I also want to go through Arrine’s room and purge some toys and books for donating. But I feel on top of things now. Like when something new needs to be accomplished, I can just get it done and not feel as though I am adding it to an already existing super long list.
I still have work to do on this though. I still struggle when in my mind I mentally prepare and plan my day, and then plans change. I remember sharing how I had planned to get “x” done on a certain day, and then instead, plans with a friend happened instead, and I never got what I originally planned to get done, done. And my dear friend Marlene provided me some great advice, “Have ‘Spend Time With Friends’ on your To Do list. Then you can still cross it off.” And I loved that outlook. It seemed so simple, yet so impactful. I needed to think less of my To Do list as things that I didn’t really want to do, and include a lot more of things that I enjoy doing.
Now my mental To Do list includes taking lots of baths, reading, watching X-Files, spending time with friends, and going to bed early when I want to.
But to have continued success with this, I know I need to keep my To Do list manageable, and not allow things to pile up, because that is when I start to feel overwhelmed and anxious. And this is now what I do:
- Address a To Do right when it happens. Before I would open mail and then add it to the pile. Or read my emails, and not respond right away. This would just cause things to grow and grow and then become overwhelming. So now, if I get mail and open it, I ensure I have time to address it. I pay that bill or file the paperwork or whatever it may be, THAT DAY, so that I don’t create another mountain of paperwork on my kitchen counter. Same goes for emails (which I am still working on), but it’s such a waste of time to read an email and not respond right away if needed, because I know I will just have to read that email again next time, before I actually respond or act on it. My email Inbox is still overwhelming to me, but I am slowly getting there…
- Dishes before bed. I despise a cluttered and dirty kitchen, and my dishwasher and sink seemed to always pile up and then I would have to spend a chunk of time doing the dishes. I try really hard now to get them done each day, which seems to be working. It seems much less daunting needing to wash three dishes instead of an entire sink, and then my house overall feels more tidy. And further to this, just getting general tidying done each day. Waking up or coming home after work to a tidy house, feels less overwhelming with everything else that needs to be done in a day.
- Prioritize. This is also something I have struggled with. And I think I a lot of people do. But I get it now. Before I was prioritizing externally. As in, “What do I need to get done first? The laundry? Get that gift bag together? Renew that membership?” But now I prioritize me first. Yup. Did you read that? I prioritize ME. What needs to be done to take care of me first? Once that is determined, everything else falls into place without much thought. Such a simple concept, that I have not done until now. I think a lot of us feel selfish when we put ourselves first. But really, if we are always doing things for others, or external things, how are we going to find our own internal happiness and contentment? It’s not selfish to say “no” to requests because you have other commitments, or really, just don’t want to do it. So many times I have done things for other people, even when I didn’t want to, out of fear of them feeling let down or unimportant. How about find things to do and ways to help in manners that you actually want to do? Then you can be happy about your actions and still be prioritizing yourself. I remember my trainer telling me a while back that this is his priority list: 1. Himself. 2. His daughters. 3. His girlfriend. And I didn’t get it at the time. But now I do. I will be a much better mother and friend and daughter and sister, if I put myself first. Ensure I am healthy physically and mentally first, which will then allow me more time and energy to focus on my other roles. Now if I don’t feel like doing it, I don’t do it. I don’t have enough time in my life to be doing things I just don’t want to do.
When I was first out of the hospital, I felt as though I was in a slow motion bubble. The world was whizzing by me, and I was just doing my own thing, contained to my little amount of space. I don’t feel that way anymore, but I miss my bubble.
I was anxious about returning to work full time, as I was unsure how it would affect feeling like I was still on top of things, and to keep the weight of my To Do list from growing. It has been a month and so far, so good. I still feel consumed by my health and all the time and energy that goes into appointments and everything else associated with it. But I don’t feel as though I am behind in my house work or To Do list. Part of it also is the mental shift, I think. Where I have redefined what being productive is. That has been a huge positive shift for me.
I don’t think I would have reached this mental state of feeling at ease, had it not been for my illness. It was drastic measures to get me here. So take from this. If you can relate to anything I have wrote about this constant feeling of being on edge about all the things you need to accomplish, sit back and take a moment to reflect. It’s ok – you can take 10 minutes for yourself. How can you really make some changes in your life now, without the universe needing to shake you roughly first? Prioritize differently? Change your definition of being productive? Devote some time to that To Do list? Change your processes for getting things done?
Don’t keep putting off these changes that you know you need to make. I kept brushing them off, and then I was getting part of my lung removed!
I share my struggles and learnings, so you can just learn, and not have to struggle as much to get there.