Monday, July 11, 2005

Hyper-organized or just hyper?

I find myself returning to daily routines that soothe, a pattern that—paradoxically—is the first hint that I need soothing. Somehow I am not good at being in touch with the center of myself, and so technique is critical for me. It’s that summer depression thing, all the more difficult because it makes no sense that it should exist. In chilly, dark, life-threatening (at least here in Vermont), depression makes a kind of sense. But when the sun shines and life moves fast, my personal tapes play my father’s growl, “So what do you have to be depressed about?” Lest I allow my personal universe to follow up with my father’s oft repeated threat, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” it is time to re-establish the routines that help to keep my personal demons at bay.

Routine for me is a sometime thing. I am easily distracted and entertained by all the world has to offer, and I indulge my runaway brain. I crave books and ideas and conversation. My mind and my spirit are expansive in their tastes; they love the dance. When the dance grows frantic and the fun spills over into brittle motion for the sake of motion alone, it’s time to become my own best parent, to call for a time out for rest and rejuvenation. With parent and child warring for attention, how do I sort out who’s in charge?

One of my best strategies is a daily mood tracker, a little worksheet that is designed just for me with the goal of trying to tell when I need to do something different. Before a meltdown lets me know I needed one some time back. It does not ask “How do you feel?” I mean, honestly, that’s the whole point. I don’t know how I feel. But I know the markers that show that I need a little self-care. Here are a few of my best indicators:

Do you feel you are talking too fast?
Do you feel you are talking too much or interrupting?
Do you feel responsible for other people?
Are you forgetting things? Losing things?
Do you feel the need for some quiet time?
Are little things getting to you?
Was someone really a jerk to you today?
Did you talk to someone you love today?
How was your diet? Choose OK, BAD or FORGOT to eat.
Did you get your workout in?

Over time—and this is still interesting to me after years of tracking this—it has turned out that the most predictive indicators are the more objective ones on the above list. If I am locking my keys in the car or leaving my wallet behind, it is less an indicator of stress in my life than of my reaction to it. If the number of people in the world who are real jerks goes up, it generally means that I need to get re-centered and re-think my responses. It is not any one indicator on its own that sounds the alarm, but when I see clusters, it is time to pay attention.

The tone, you will note, is objective but caring. No nagging parent here, this is the gentle query of someone (me!) who wants to know how I am doing. Corrective action is also built into the checklist: have some quiet time, eat right, exercise, and make sure to talk to people you love. Pay attention to body and spirit.

I track these indicators over time, just as I track daily blood pressure and pulse readings and calculate track averages over time. This structured approach is how learning occurs, at least for me. It is how I have learned to embrace what is good for my whole self and how I keep learning the same lessons over again.

I don’t mind the structure, you know, since I set it up for myself, to foster my own contentment. I know that I will follow certain routines for awhile, then they will get lost as some new enthusiasm or worldly pressure comes to the forefront. But my little worksheet is always there, a way of giving myself back to myself.


Anonymous said...

I've lately been focusing on doing the same, in the more generalized form of journal writing. It has been invaluable.

Karen said...

I like journal writing, too, as all who visit here can see, and it is probably no surprise that there are entries that don't see the light of blog-day, but are just for me.

But what I really, really like about this little tool is that I have it set up as an Excel spreadsheet in which positive signals are coded with green cells, negative signals with red cells, and neutral left unshaded. Excel lets you do this with conditional formatting, so I can see at a glance when the red flags bunch up on me....or when my attempts to create a healthy lifestyle show long green paths across the page.

Robert said...

Interesting, I've been thinking about doing something similar, mostly in relation to the migraines. There are certain food triggers, but there may be others, and I suspect there is a weather connection, as well. I need to start tracking those. But I find it difficult to maintain a routine, and if I start tracking it (so my thinking goes) I'll be more likely to follow it.

But the days seem to be flying by fast (when I try to make time to make this list) while at the same time crawling along at an achingly slow speed (waiting for the baby).