It evolved, I suppose.
I have an issue that is part of my bi polar peculiarity that led me to one of the greatest coping mechanisms I have ever found. The funny thing is that in recent years I’ve talked to other people and they do the same thing. It was both a comfort and also a little confusing. I have a tendency to believe that everything about me that is, well, off, is because I am bi polar, when in reality a great many things just have to do with the fact that I am odd. Just plain odd. I’m alright with that. I wrote the book on “Fitting Out,” after all so to end up fitting in one way or another is something I’m not quite sure I could cope with at this point (Being bi polar and all.)…
It all has to do with the fact that I have a very hard time doing ordinary things. I mean once I get up, get all the animals started on their day and sit down here with my latte my body becomes as if hermetically sealed to this chair only getting up when the dogs need to go out, or, well, if I have to, you know, use the ladies room. Bad. I wait until the last possible moment and then I dash at top speed trying not to fall over things or startle the parrots so badly that they start dropping their feathers. It came to me one day as I was sprinting from one place to another that I could use this time in the way that I did some years back when I watched more t.v.
My comfort zones have always been around my books and writing paraphenalia, my animals, or even the garden. Some days when I am having a really hard time I can’t even work in the garden. I dart out with the pugs arriving back inside as if just making it by the skin of my teeth. Being agoraphobic for me generally means that going out the front of my house where I can see or be seen by the neighbors, never mind going anywhere at all, is just not doable. But when it’s really bad getting the dogs out is about as much as I can muster and staying outside makes me feel naked and exposed even with a 6′ privacy fence around the whole back yard. So, too, leaving this chair on, well, most days. It is like a life raft in choppy seas.
Anyway, back to issue at hand. When I used to watch more t.v. I would sit in the evening thinking, “Oh Lord, the kitchen is a mess, the laundry room is piled high, the…” inotherwords housework has never been my strong suit. Of course it requires moving around which is probably part of the problem.
I got up one night or other in my usual fashion, doing, as I said what many people do, using the commercials to dash to the bathroom, or get a snack, or something of that nature, and I guess at some point there was time left and as I passed the kitchen sink I organized the dishes so that they could be washed more easily. I dashed back to my chair when the show came back on but when the next commercial came on I kind of looked over at the kitchen, back at the t.v. and back at the kitchen, and then bolted out of my chair to the sink, ran hot water in it, added soap, and started washing. I got so much done in one commercial break I was amazed. The next commercial I didn’t even think about it. I jumped up out of my chair and dashed to the kitchen, back to the dishes, and using commercials this way by the time the show was over the kitchen was cleaned up. I was kind of shocked by this but pleased as punch. By the time the next show came on I was running back and forth to the laundry room sorting clothes and getting a load of laundry in, and so it went. I couldn’t spend hours doing housework but I could get an unbelievable amount done in short bursts. Fast forward to today.
As the years have gone on my bi polar symptoms have intensified. This is not unusual. With an excellent doctor and nurse practitioner that I work with regularly my medications are regulated and in addition to that I have set up a self-care system that I am vigilant about because no amount of medication in the world short of being given a moose dose and being out of it most of the time is going to keep uncomfortable symptoms at bay. Mindfulness is a very important one but there are others. I came to realize at some point that what worked during t.v commercials could work here for me now. It has been quite a revelation.
I stuck pretty close to my chair for most of the day but when I had to get up about an hour after having my latte, okay, I’ll tell the truth, probably the first two times I got up after my latte I did not one single thing except make a beeline back to my chair. But somewhere around two or three guilt set in.
I knew it was coming. My overactive brain was revving it’s engine. I was going to have to get up soon so I made a plan. This time I dashed to the bathroom and then did this sort of funny thing that I came up with — and I have no idea why it works when it works because it doesn’t always work — and I dash at the kitchen sink telling myself that I just can’t think about it as a chore, I just have to do it. And then mindfulness creeps in, and I stand there and all of a sudden I am doing the dishes, getting the dishwasher going, wiping the counters, even taking out the trash and the recycling. I am if suspended in time. Every single act is sacred. There is no chair, no writing, no rush, and the thing is I feel so good when it is done. I feel joy even. I look around the kitchen at the gleaming counters, everything neat, smelling fresh, the hum of the dishwasher comforting, and when I sit down in my chair it is with a sense of satisfaction that carries over into a more productive work time.
The next time I had to get up I went into the laundry room, sorted the laundry into piles (I’m not telling how many, it’s embarrassing.), and got a load of wash going. The job was begun and even though there was a lot of laundry still to do the fact that it was all sorted, and looked neater, and a load was going made me feel really good. Again when I got into the task, when it was just the laundry and me, I enjoyed it. I have since put the first load in the dryer and started another load. Impressive, huh?
I decided to share this because it came to me some time during the day. I go through my days now wondering what I might write in these posts, little ideas will come and I jot them down in my notebook, and it came to me that there is really something about doing tasks in short bursts rather than dragging them out over a long period of time. I get more done in these little blips during the day, just like I did during commercials, than when I tried to spend a couple of hours cleaning the house and at the end it didn’t look a whole lot different than when I started. I think the thing is when we are not focused on a specific task but see the whole thing as a big amorphous blob of stuff to be done the mind wanders and we kind of lose our way. When I dashed into the kitchen during commercials I had one task. Get to the kitchen and get as much done as I possibly could in the two or three minutes that the commercial was on. One job, a set period of time. GO!
It’s what I do today in my forays out of my chair. Yesterday in a bold move when I went out with the dogs I turned on the hose, watered all of the pots on the deck, there are a lot of them, it is a whole garden in pots out there, and while some things have been frost killed there are a lot of things that will winter through. I hosed and cleaned the deck off and then dashed through the house and crept out the front door onto the porch and watered the 4 very large planters with lots of lovely flowers that will bloom all winter. I dashed back through the house, out the back door, across the flamingo pink deck, down the stairs, and through the garden to turn off the hose. I must say, a little embarrassed, that I kind of strutted in the house like a peacock, and was more than a little smug, but it was just the sense of accomplishment, a rather big one, that happened during an extended foray out of my life raft of a chair here at my very old, very long farmer’s table that serves as my desk. I gripped the edge of my table and lay my head down on the smooth worn pine planks to catch my breath and center myself after this huge burst of energy (Huge for me.) and then sat here breathing slowly, in and out, coming back into the stillness and peace of awareness that I had lost dashing all about.
Sometimes mindfulness is in the task at hand, it happens during the doing of the thing, and at other times, like coming in from the garden, the practice is the thing that supports the activity. My brain chemistry goes from iffy to unruly and back again, sometimes like wild horses let out into the pasture who take off like shot across the field. I need to be reined in for my own good. I get a job done and I might come back to the chair a little flibbity-jibbity. I stop. I might light a candle. Maybe pick up prayer beads. Slow down. Breathe…
In through my nose… slowly… out through my mouth…. ahhh… Again, and again, and again. My eyes gaze fixedly on the flickering candle flame, my fingers gently caress the prayer beads, moving from one to the next with each breath, each prayer, in each moment. My whole body begins to relax, to soften, to slow down. I come back into myself and I rest here.
This is how my days go. This is why when I write that mindfulness is the centerpiece of my life I mean it. It steadies me, grounds me, helps me focus on a task or recover from doing one if I have moved too quickly and overdone it. With mindfulness and the practice of doing things in small chunks of concentrated time I am able to run my life pretty well, and that’s all that matters. If I can’t get something done one day it will get done the next. And it all started with those t.v. commercials. If you watch 2 hour long shows back to back Lordy Moses you could clean your whole house and get your workout dashing about in those few minutes off and on through the show. It’s a miracle really, or it has been for me.
Oh boy, I feel it coming on. I am going to have to get up. I feel my engine revving. It’s going happen… On your mark, get ready, get set, GO! C’mon dogs, let’s get ready to rumble…
See you tomorrow. Away we go!