On Being Unavailable

TODAY’S BREW: As much as I can before the cream runs out

By Julie 

My last blog was about resolutions and crap, and this one is also like that but different.

The last blog proclaimed how my focus is all over the place at the beginning of the year. Possibilities everywhere, chasing down opportunities like the rabid dogs they are and wrestling them to the ground until you too are rabid and like an apocalypse zombie all you can think of is this thing you’ve forced yourself to do and now you’re in it so deep there’s no way out but there’s all this other stuff to do too and wait where did life go?

I’ve spent the last 18 days thinking a LOT about this approach I seem to take every year, and I realized it’s not an approach–it’s a FEAR.

Yup. Doing stuff out of fear.

Fear of being judged for not doing enough.

Fear of MISSING SOMETHING like a kid who won’t go to bed before midnight.

Fear of regrets.

That’s not an approach at all. That’s a defense mechanism. An approach is a plan. It’s a defining of priorities. And that means narrowing down all the things one does. That I do.

This is widely interpreted as “saying no.” I can’t be the only one who hears all the time that it’s okay to say no, to not do EVERYTHING. But it’s one of my core values, one of our very few house rules TO HELP PEOPLE THAT NEED HELP. I can help in a lot of ways. I can do a lot of good! I can make a big difference doing small things all day long! It’s easy to take helping too far, clearly. So I coined a new phrase, because saying NO has such a negative connotation in my head, and I’ve worked my tail off eliminating as much negativity in my life as possible. My new plan?

MAKE MYSELF UNAVAILABLE 

man with fireworks

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

YEAH!

I need, for my mental health and self care and for me to REALLY help when help is needed, to not make myself constantly available. By trying everything, doing as much as I can, working hard at working hard, I’ve not prioritized myself. How do I know this? Not just FEEL this, but KNOW it? Two things:

  1. “Self care” is NOT running from an overwhelming sense of purpose down the craft store aisles. Self care should not be running from anything. That’s the opposite of care, that is escaping. I don’t want to escape the things I commit to doing, whether that be a play date, writing a book, whatever it is that’s got me needing QUIET at the time that I find myself driving to Michael’s. (Where lo and behold I THEN find myself buying stuff that contributes to all the THINGS that I do.)
  2. I–me, who loves and does so many things, that has such INTEREST in the world–could not REALLY claim that I enjoyed a hobby.

That second one was where it hit me.

My definition of a hobby (n): guiltless enjoyment of thing for oneself only. an ongoing love one is invested in for themselves and themselves alone.

I love to read, naturally. Not a hobby. Essential to my life and to my profession.

I love going to Target. Not a hobby. A necessity for STUFF, but also a coping mechanism, i.e. an escape (see above about the craft store).

I love watching movies. Not a hobby. Rarely see one just because I want to see it regardless of whether or not anyone else does. Also necessary for my professional inspiration and one of my favorite family activities–movie night. Which I prepare for…for the family.

Here’s a kick in the pants: I love being with my family. Nine out of ten times, my choice is to hang with my husband and kids.

FAMILY IS NOT A HOBBY.

So in realizing all this stuff, the other day I didn’t fill my two hour window of no obligations with writing, cleaning, editing, doing all the things I can be doing. I bought a movie I’d wanted to see–mother! which turned out to be wildly in-depth and brain-stimulating. I watched it alone without fear of being interrupted and with no judgment. No obligation to do nothing during the duller parts either. When it was slow I researched reptile stuff. Now THAT’S a hobby! I told myself. I love love love reptiles, adore my pets, love making their lives better and keeping them happy. They aren’t necessary in my life, obviously, but I would be miserable without them. And they aren’t for anyone else but me. Researching stuff on them and not guilting myself about needing to do something else felt really good. Fulfilling. Not the same as falling into a Wiki hole. It was good for me.

I’d misunderstood leading a fulfilling and full life with making myself a priority. Or maybe I’ve reached a new phase of living. Because I coined another phrase that I’m especially psyched out of my mind about:

MENTAL HEALTH IS NO LONGER ABOUT STAYING ALIVE.

IT’S ABOUT BREATHING LIFE.

albert_einstein_quotes2

I think I’m in the phase of not just trying to keep myself stable and healthy but wanting to grow that health and enrich and indulge. Hell, try something new if I feel like it–hopefully I’ll feel alive enough to want to try new things, learn something new.

Now I talk a little about priorities.

I have this planner pad that has a section for “today’s priorities.” Now I take offense to it.

A priority isn’t something that changes by the day. It’s a constant value, something important all the time, that drives the To Do and the Why. Important stuff to do every day can change, that’s a thing that has to be altered all the time. But the priority, the driving force? No.

The other night my 11 year old had a three hour long panic attack. A real live panic attack. Everything else in the world stopped, and I spent yesterday contacting everyone in the mental health profession I could find to ensure I got him an appointment to see about medication. (Discussed in-depth with his therapist, of course.) All the other things that I HAD to do got put down without question. Because those other things might be important, but Bennett is the priority.

The priority gets top billing. The priority gets as much time as it requires. The priority is the driving force and sometimes it needs be in the passenger seat and let someone else drive.

Things to do are not as important as the priority. Nothing else matters without that priority.

It wasn’t just about changing a schedule, it was eliminating things that will prevent me from giving all the attention to his needs AND give me sufficient time and energy to take care of MYSELF from the agenda. Refusing an editing job takes a lot off my to-do list and gives me more time to allot to the priority. Why spend a lot of time on stuff if it detracts from the priority, the reason? The things I do have to be driven BY that thing. I write because of me, because of my family, because it being a hobby wasn’t enough. I spend all the time with Scholastic that I do because it contributes to my heart and mind and it puts me where the priorities are in a meaningful, outstanding way for them. Those are cohesive priorities–writing and my family and literacy.

The important stuff–editing in this case–is still important, but it’s not crucial right now.

Being unavailable to do things for a person because I want to rest up–not need to, but want to–so that I’m not drained and can take care of my family… helping is important, but it’s not the priority. It’s a value but it’s not the number one thing. Bennett is. If staying home for the four hours I’d spend helping out someone else will help me plan for and be on A game for Bennett in his time of need, recovering from and handling his anxiety flare-up, then it’s a four hour rest that was well worth it.

And at the end of the day, I might just have a little energy for myself.

You can’t take care of everyone. But you can take care of the ones that matter really well, with the ability to give extra for everyone else, by prioritizing. Being unavailable for EVERYTHING so you can do SOME THINGS really well and remind yourself what’s important. What’s MOST important.

I guess that’s what it means when they say you can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself, right?

So now. Go take care of yourself. Keep one tab open at a time. Shut off your notifications when you’re driving and at bedtime. Those EMERGENCIES we all lay in wait for in the middle of the night or on the drive home are rare. Give yourself the peace of mind to be unavailable to come to everyone’s aid all the time. Be a priority and you’ll feel like one.

 

 

Working Hard at Working Hard and Looking for Opportunity

TODAY’S BREW: Gingerbread, because I’m still holding on.

By Julie 

BEST OF NEW YEARS TO YOU ALL!

I don’t know about you guys, but a new year for me doesn’t start out with I’M GOING TO CHANGE EVERYTHING I DON’T LIKE AND DO BETTER AT ALL THE THINGS I DO LIKE AND ALL OF THIS I WILL DO FROM A TREADMILL AND ALSO GIVE UP SUGAR.

New years start for me more like

Christmas decorations have invaded and conquered

I’d really like a new couch. Again. As I do yearly.

I have six books I want to write

I don’t want to write

the gym would be awesome

*does six situps, watches tv*

*cleans the kitchen, living room gets messier while no one is in there*

*struggles with wanting to change into a new planner despite this planner going for another seven months*

*chalks up laziness to “enjoying this time”*

*watches movies, eats crap*

*goes to bed*

I do THIS every year now, too: I run myself ragged (this year more so than usual) the month before Christmas until the week of Christmas break I cannot think of anything but relaxing with my family–which is perfect. I wouldn’t change THAT for the world.

Then January first comes along.

Leftover Chinese food calls to me.

The kids have a half week of school in which I readjust to normalcy as best I can, but by Sunday I feel as though I’ve wasted my life.

My focus goes from family to CLEAN THIS GODDAMN HOUSE to shit, I haven’t touched my newsletter in months. 

*start PR from scratch*

In any case, what I want to say here is that this is a pattern for me. And like any pattern, it creates some discord where I want to break out of it, but year after year I fall into it.

For me, the new year isn’t a renewal of self, it’s a building from the ground up after running myself ragged. That whole “self care” thing is generally me working so hard at working hard that I suddenly just need to rest.

And there it is, folks.

I work hard at working hard. 

*suddenly blog post becomes something else*

I’m a hard worker. I throw myself into everything I do with such force and determination that it burns me out. But working from home, 5:00 never comes. There’s not a point in the day that I’ve worked as much as I can and it’s time to go home, chill and get back up the next day. There’s also no steady paycheck, and because of that every moment that I’m not actively doing things is a loss of money in my mind. Plight of the middle class, I guess. That line of thinking has consequences. I pick up odd jobs like a freak. (Currently working three part time jobs from home). It’s impossible to do three jobs 100%. I am not 300% of a person. So even while working hard at all three, I’m still losing money if I look at it too deeply.

NEVER LOOK TOO DEEPLY.

Then I go back to the reasons I work from home. And there are many:

  • my physical condition was such a nightmare that I almost DIED from overworking myself at my out-of-home job.
  • my mental condition was worse than my physical condition.
  • being away from my kids as long as I was and coming home too tired to be the best mother I could was destroying me. Like, puking in the bathroom at work after sobbing all the way there kind of destruction.
  • I want to think my body and mind don’t need a lot of attention, but they do. They just really, really do.
  • now that I AM home with my kids, I’ve been able to throw myself completely into their care–and if I hadn’t been here, I would never have seen the extent of Sam’s disorders, and his mental condition would be partially dependent upon my work schedule.
  • I’m home to do homework. And to volunteer at school, and run the book fairs, and be present for activities. Every day can be movie night, game night, whatever night we want. We’re together and we can talk. Once again, that means I see Sam’s mental health, I see Ben’s anxiety levels. I can do something about them.
  • Wait, wait, listen to this: I can actually take care of my home.
  • I’m living my dream: I’m an author. End of story.

And it comes down to this every time, right? Every time I wonder why I work hard at working hard it comes down to listing the reasons why I belong at home. From my own mental health (because quite frankly, I still have nightmares about working outside the home) to being able to run the little Christmas store at school to living my dream of being an author, the thing I went to school for, the thing that’s always been my end goal.. I have to list it to justify why I don’t make 50 grand a year anymore.

I AM NOT A DOLLAR SIGN.

I AM NOT A DOLLAR SIGN.

I AM NOT A DOLLAR SIGN.

I can say it all I want, but it never stops plaguing me. Knowing that I can do MORE, even if it kills me–until it kills me–it’s always there, under the surface.

In the meantime, I can’t devote all my time to writing and marketing or freelance editing, because I’m spreading myself too thin to prove that I have value.

I AM INHERENTLY VALUABLE.

I suffer no lack of self-confidence. I know I’m a lot of things to a lot of people, and I’m a lot of things to myself. But the part of me that dives right into everything and learns along the way is really prominent. It’s something I’ve always been proud of. It’s something I try to instill in my children, that there is no better way to learn than by doing, and learning is the crux of living.

Despite telling them that they learn by doing, they still do not make me coffee.

Maybe this year what I should learn by doing is to say no to taking every single opportunity afforded me.

That sounds NUTS.

But one thing I’ve learned in life is that opportunity comes to me because I’m always looking for it. Thus, lots of opportunities come up in my world because I’m very open. I talk to everyone. Prime example: Went to the Minute Clinic yesterday because it sounds like there’s an ocean in my ear. (I’m fine.) A couple of women who did not look like they got out of a Rolls Royce were also there. They talked to me–and I talked back.

Come to find out, one of those women just returned from a two month stint in Africa working in an orphanage. The other one has some mental health issues and has two older kids who have Bipolar Disorder just like my Sam does.

These are things that take a toll on people. While some others made sure to look the other way when their eyes met because these ladies were kind of a mess, I didn’t, and I met two people that are entirely devoted to others, at their own expense. I learned a couple of things then.

  1. Judging a book by its cover never goes away. I’ll  never do that–unless it’s an actual book because come on. Cover art is everything.
  2. Caring takes a toll.
  3. Value isn’t in what others see.
  4. Lulumon lady with the super nice purse probably didn’t play board games with needy kids in Africa this week.
  5. Maybe Lulumon lady did…but she never met my eyes and we never spoke.
  6. That woman who went to Africa chose to come home, no matter how much it hurt her to do so, even though she could help forever. That there was so much more to be done. I don’t know how to stop doing. 

There’s no measure for doing good in the world. While I can say that this editing job made me x amount of money, I cannot give the measure of what it means to know what every meal my children eat is, what the value of that is. The editing job gets finished and I can see what my work did, in real time. The momming job never ends, and I’ll never know when I’ve done enough. I’ll never know on paper how much worth I had at working hard. Even in writing, I can type THE END and measure how much the expenses of publishing and the ongoing income of the end result comes to. At the end of the Scholastic Book Fair I can say exactly how much money we’ve made the school and how many books went home with kids and into classrooms. But when it comes to just plain doing good? Being the best person I can be? I never know when to stop. I never know when I’ve done enough. I never know how to slow down.

I said my first NO to a book signing opportunity for the week after Christmas.

I’m still thinking about how much cash that would have made me. And I also know how much more health it would have cost me.

Opportunities and DOING aren’t any good if you can’t enjoy them.

Enjoying the good you do matters.

A good deed is still good if you have something to gain from it.

I don’t know if there was anything to be learned here for you. I like the idea that there is. I know that just writing this has helped me along the path to just being able to say I’m going to stop doing this now. It may not be done, but I am. 

Also, I am done right now.

BYE GUYS. Be you this year.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lazy Lie

TODAY’S BREW: Chocolate something or other by New England Coffee

By Julie 

Truthfully I’ll be drinking as much coffee as humanly possible today without floating away, seeing as I jumped up from an unintended nap exclaiming, “The kids went to school but I didn’t! What did I do?!”

Aaaaand so begins my battle/race to wake up once a week or so, where I wonder all day did I drink enough water? did I drink not enough coffee? what have I eaten? is this hormones? until I eventually just go to bed and start over.

ANYYYYHOOO, what I’m writing this post about today is the joke, “hahahaha I was just being lazy.”

Fuck this joke.

This post means a lot to me because it’s a realization that I’ve never ever ever had before in any sense. I dive into everything with 110% of my being. I can’t do anything halfway and I never know when to quit. It’s not always an endearing feature. I will beat a dead horse until I am dead and horses all wish they were dead too. The entire equine community will fear my name. And I’ll cry in my grave for not having stripped and eaten the horse because it left some shred of opportunity that I didn’t take advantage of.

So when I dove into indie publishing, it was hard and fast. I tried to do everything right off the bat even when I didn’t entirely understand the market, didn’t understand what success would look like… There is SO MUCH involved, it’s wild. So many intricacies, so much knowledge that only experience can bring, organizing of typographer/cover artist/proofreader/formatter team, constant speed requirements that frankly, I couldn’t fulfill.

Even now, it pains me to say that I couldn’t do it.

Will I be able to do it? Sure. But I couldn’t then.

I was not capable of putting out 5 books last year like I planned, while writing short stories monthly to post on Instafreebie (LOVE Instafreebie), edit for clients, promote my books, search out venues to promote the books, blog, emails… Just learning how to physically do all that, building all that stuff is a challenge for me. I am not good at tech things. I may love robots, but I am not one. I can barely live without Cortana and I’m proud that I know what Cortana is. Then throw in all my life stuff.

Everyone has life stuff. I have more life stuff than anyone. THERE, I SAID IT. I WILL NOT DOWNPLAY HOW MUCH I DO. Here’s a brief, and I mean  basic list of stuff I’ve done in the past couple of months.

  • had a hysterectomy. recovered FAST.
  • ran a weekly writing workshop at the elementary school starting 4 days later.
  • launched THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS 2 weeks later
  • OWNED Halloween, complete with costume, trick or treating twice in one day, ending with a party. Two weeks after surgery.
  • edited 5 books for clients
  • OWNED Christmas like nobody ever has.
  • immediately planned the world’s largest birthday celebration for Bennett.
  • worked at the holiday shop at school
  • mommed a child with multiple disorders, who has excelled in school and grown exponentially in an emotional sense while struggling with BPD.
  • mommed a child who gets multiple awards at all times and had a piece in the Plymouth Center for the Arts show last month and is generally amazing.
  • attempted wifery. It is as much as an achievement as it is a crime the way I do it.
  • renovated my entire kitchen. MYSELF.
  • planned, staffed, worked 40+ hours of a week-long book fair that produced thousands for underprivileged kids. So, there’s that.
  • lost my 16yo puppy
  • continued to do all the shopping, quality time, cleaning, Ambassador of Fun in my House projects and outings, constant presence at school, reptile caring, family stuff, multiple therapy and doctor’s appointments for Sam and I, and then just basic life stuff.

This is the past few months.

Is it a big surprise that I didn’t have the passion to write? That even though I felt physically better than ever after my surgery that I just didn’t feel like writing? That it didn’t have the feeling of fulfillment it once did? And of course, the longer I went without doing it, the harder it became to do.

And you know, after surgery it felt AMAZING to physically be up to doing the things my brain and heart always used to be able to handle. And I enjoyed just being me without hurting and being tired. It’s wonderful to enjoy my life, my family, my home. And my kitchen, which I renovated in A MONTH, by myself (oh yeah, that gets its own post), is such a hub for the family now that I am enjoying just doing dishes, and sweeping, and doing kitchen stuff. Goddamn, it feels good to have a clean home, a thing that suffers when doing everything in the world also.

It feels good to just live life. Without expectations of ACHIEVING EVERYTHING.

So the other day, I started coming to terms with it. I’m not failing by not writing consistently right now. It occurred to me that burnout doesn’t just happen after a marathon of doing stuff then you need a day to recupe… That is called a DAY OFF. Not the same thing. Burnout can mean doing too much forever and then just stopping.

I stopped.

And I tried to force myself to write, and it burned me to have to try so hard. It gave me so many FEELINGS that I wasn’t ready to handle. I don’t know if I’ll ever handle the feelings well, but hey, that’s what makes a good writer. I learned that the world wouldn’t end if I took not just a day to never look at my planner, but if I took MONTHS and disappeared. The amount of work to build everything back up is pretty monumental, but hey. Any months-long vacation will produce that. Doesn’t make the vacation not worth it.

Now that I started to feel better, to feel ready, I’ve been saying, “Yeah, I’ve stopped being lazy.”

I HAVE NEVER BEEN LAZY. Taking a break for as long as I need is not laziness.

Also? And I hadn’t intended on exploring this here, but hey, that’s how a story goes, my entire EVERYTHING doesn’t work the way the rest of the world works. I have absolute panic over keeping a schedule. The idea of having to work at a certain time for a certain amount of time, of fitting into that slot literally gives me continual nightmares. My stomach is clenched right now thinking of that lack of flexibility. It terrifies me. Debilitatingly so. I regularly talk with my therapist about the absolute terror I feel at the prospect of ever working a job where I have to check in and be there when the rest of my life is happening around me. Christ, I’m choking up. THIS PART OF THE POST IS NOW OVER.

But laziness is not taking a break. Laziness is saying it’s easier not to. 

I looked at my planner going back a year, and I swear, it made me dizzy. That’s not living, that’s overcompensating for a fear of being lazy. I never want to not contribute, and the thought of sitting on my ass while my husband busts his kills me. But laziness is not the same as taking a break. Resting is not the same as screwing off. Enjoying life and not just being determined to live it are not the same things. Achievement and surviving are different.

And so, I dive back in. I do it without constant goals and without setting myself up to fail and without letting what everyone else thinks define my success. That new kitchen? Success. Writing books that make me dozens of dollars instead of thousands right away but that MATTER to people? Success. Being here for my family when they need it in every way, when need it? Success.

What I haven’t needed was writing books. Not right now.

That doesn’t make me not a writer.

And it sure as hell doesn’t make me lazy.

One thing that isn’t easier to not do, is live. Be spontaneous, stop and smell the roses, say no, say yes, do all the stuff that I like, that enriches me. Which is what writing once was for me, and will be again. Does that make me a hobbyist? Maybe. For now. But I don’t have to be only one thing. And I sure as hell don’t have to be everything at once.