A couple of months ago, as I found myself getting more “functional”, a habit I abandoned following my suicide attempt started to creep into my life. List-making. My days, slowly, filled with more task-oriented behaviour. Complete this, do that, get that done. Cross it off the list. Crumple that one up. Make a new list. Make a sublist of the list, with just the essential list. And the cycle repeateth.
My therapist was able to help me cut through the noise in my brain. A lifetime of conditioning to be productive (in the way that we are all, for the most part, trained to be tiny capitalists by virtue of existing in the modern world), and a decade in a profession where my worth was quite literally measured by how productive (ie, profitable) I was, left me feeling confused about how to even understand productivity in any other way. She challenged me to think about things differently and I chose to accept that challenge.
Doing so gave me the critical skills to get through what could have been a really destabilizing transition. It would have been easy for me to fall into an identity crisis following my recent decision to stop practicing law. I am a mother to an almost 2 year old and almost 4 year old. My husband has his own career. I make $0 for the first time in my adult life. Most people, upon finding out that I stopped being a lawyer, assume that I am planning on staying home and raising the kids. It’s a natural assumption to make.
There is nothing in this world that brings me more unadulterated joy than playing with those little girls, but beyond the tremendously strong vocational pull I feel towards mental health, I know deep inside that I am not a person who does not work. Not because I don’t love my kids, not because I don’t want to spend time with them, but specifically because of those things. I know that to be a a good parent to my girls, to keep the plane in the air, I need to put my oxygen mask on first. For me, that involves pursuing my passions authentically, service borne of empathy, and unapologetically carving time out for myself whenever I can squeeze it in.
Wait, and see where it leads.
So, at my therapist’s urging, when I now have a stretch of time alone, I don’t start my day by making a list or checking my email. Once I am alone, I sit quietly with a cup of tea and think about what I’d like to do with that time. My time. That’s most often a bike ride of some kind, and lately quite a bit of art. It depends on how well I do ignoring the taskmaster inside, the part of me that tells me that I “have to” clean the house or fold the laundry or do the dishes or prepare a nightly home cooked meal even though my husband has never even remotely (implicitly or explicitly) suggested any of those things. On the days I can’t tune her out and I spend my alone time folding an actual laundry mountain because I can’t unsee it or walk past it again, I don’t feel energized or fulfilled or even accomplished when I go get the girls. I feel tense and regretful.
Now I start with the oxygen, whatever that may be. Sometimes I end up folding laundry after I’ve had a ride in the woods. Some days, like today, I don’t go near a bike or a chore. I paint. Listen to music. Meditate. Write. And a full heart and full lungs will carry me towards those little loves.