Feeling like you have your shit together is a house of cards. It’s comprised of the ways you judge whether you’re adulting successfully. The foundation is maybe your job or your stable relationships, on top of which sits your bank balance, perhaps, and your holiday plans, then your achievable fitness goals and your unintimidating to-do list, and so on. It’s whatever supports your self-worth and your sense of inner peace. If the structure is sound and has many storeys, then you can stand at the top (this is where my clever analogy starts to break down – don’t try to stand on a house of cards, just go with it) and look down on your life and say to yourself: ‘yes, I have my shit together’.
Poor mental health is your obnoxious younger brother who wants to scatter your cards purely because you worked so hard to assemble them. Sometimes you can protect your card house pretty well, but the rest of the time your safest bet is to build it smaller, and stack it with less important cards; lower the stakes.
For me, right now, having my shit together means a few very easy, low stake things. I get up between 8.30 and 9.30. I drink a glass of warm lemon water and it wakes me up (says science. I feel like the gallon of tea I chase it with probably helps). On a good day I rattle off 500 words – my daily target – give myself a high five and make porridge (side note: my love of porridge is legit ruining my life. How am I ever supposed to beat the blues back into remission when the best part of my day, my favourite thing, happens at breakfast? It’s all downhill after porridge). On a less good day I break my target into chunks and reward each with more tea, and eventually porridge if it’s taking that long. Sometime in the afternoon I do some yoga or some cardio (I love this website, because poor people don’t gym), I do some housework, I read, and I write in my journal, and once I’ve done all those things I usually feel somewhere in the range of ‘okay-well-today-hasn’t-been-a-total-disaster’ to ‘that-was-pretty-successful-good-going-Hannah’. The remaining hours allow room for spontaneity, socialising, and Netflix (since I’m being honest, probably not in that order).
A lot can be said for routine, for me anyway. It’s a red flag system. It provides me with a measure, day to day, of how I’m doing, so if anything changes or gets too hard, I spot it early. I’ve had to cut back on what I expect of myself, and as I go through my ups and downs, I reassess and adjust accordingly. When I really have my shit together, I’ve been applying for part-time work (unsuccessfully, so far) and working on other writing projects, but recently, the above is how my house of cards looks.
But then a slump happened.
First I lost the 500 words. That’s the foundation of my house of cards. Being productive creatively has a mainline to my self-esteem, because let’s be honest: if I’m not writing this novel then I really am just an unemployed 25-year-old living with her parents. But one day, just over a week ago, my brain locked me out. It started doing a lot of wallowing and panicking, and it wouldn’t let me back in to talk it through – and I noped out. Then everything else came tumbling down.
Texting back? Nope.
Errands? Nopity nope.
Fresh air? Absolutely not.
Porridge? Well … yes, go on then.
These are things I do to look after myself, to avoid this type of spiral, but as soon as it starts to feel like going through the motions, I realise all over again that how together my shit is isn’t always going to be in my control – and that’s depression. Sometimes I simply can’t try so hard, and maintain this semblance of routine so rigorously.
Something like motivation has started to seep back in in the last few days, and although I haven’t gone back to my novel yet, I did start this blog. I battened down the hatches and waited out the slump, without freaking out the way I sometimes used to. Because it happens. Depression makes your house of cards wobble, and sometimes it makes it fall, and all you can do is take a deep breath, acknowledge it, and start putting it back together.
I just need to find a stronger adhesive than porridge.