Last night I was so sure how to write this post. I could picture it all in my head. I saw the headings, the different structures… But now that I’m actually sitting down to write it I’m feeling paralysed again. Where do I start? What if it sounds stupid or sounds like I’m trying to suck up to avoid responsibility for my actions?
But no. No, I can’t let this feeling have power. I need to start my post or else this cycle might just continue until I never actually do it.
This is a topic that I need to talk about for no other reason than its good for me. If I hide away what it’s sometimes like inside my head any longer then the problem is likely to just keep occurring. Here are all of my cards, on the table.
When I have too many things to do, remember and stress about, it is like I become paralysed. There are just too many choices to make and I can’t make them.
I would like to give you a short run-down of what that feels like.
“I just finished a book. What should I read next?”Brain: What about that new book? The green and black one? No, wait, you need to finish that red one for the review blog post. No, wait, you also have that other one that’s been sitting on your shelf for ages and if you don’t read it now it will be like you wasted that money.“Well, I suppose I could just reread Harry Potter.”Brain: You’ve read it at least ten times and you can still never recapture the moment of reading it for the first time, so why bother? You need to do something productive and stop wallowing around.
Aren’t we all our own harshest critics?
A conversation like this with myself could continue indefinitely, until I’ve talked myself completely into paralysis. I can’t decide what movie to watch or what book to read. I would remember that it’s almost Wednesday and therefore blog post day but then feel so guilty that I missed a post that I miss another post… and so it continues.
Obviously, this feeling has a name.
I know different people have different experiences with anxiety and no-one’s experience will look quite like mine. I am lucky enough to be fairly stable and I always make a point of reminding myself that so many others have it so much worse that me. While it does for some others, my anxiety does not much affect my view of the world, but it definitely affects my view of myself. I begin to feel like a failure as soon as I don’t quite get to all of the things that I feel I should be doing. The worst part is the paralysis, which usually hits as soon as I do not complete one of the things on my list.
All of this started when I was not sure how to write the Books read in April post. I had the time to write it, I just was not sure how to start because all of my reading that month was rereading, and I had planned to write something about giving myself permission to reread after so many years of senselessly feeling guilty if I reread a book. Then I started to wonder if it was necessary to include reviews as well, if it’s rereading, or if I should talk if my views of a book had changed after rereading. The next thing — BAM! Paralysis. Too many choices that I simply could not make in my overloaded state.
Every week since then I’ve been experiencing a lot of stress because I was getting further and further beyond my “deadline”. Even though it was not a deadline and just a blog post, try telling that to my anxious brain.
Add to that all the stuff that I had to remember to do at work, a random incomplete shopping list, and guilt because I’ve not been writing, it’s no wonder my brain is so overloaded that there’s no room left for making choices.
So many lists
All of this stuff had come out. It was the only way, I started to feel, that I would find peace again and stop all the little voices that constantly remind me of some tiny thing that I have to remember.
I used to have one disorganised to-do list, and it wasn’t ever complete. There were always some things that I felt were just too silly/trivial to write down and so I would just keep them “in the back of my mind”. Well, you know that back of the mind gets filled up and overloaded.
Eventually I made four to-do lists. I split the things up into categories and made the lists next to each other but still separate. Once I started to get all of the things down on a physical piece of paper, an unexpected thing happened. I could remember more things. It was like processing power was freed up in my brain. All the time I would remember more things to add to the lists and they got more extensive. It was like having my entire memory system written down in front of me. Nothing was too trivial or small to write down any more.
Soon I noticed that four lists weren’t really enough, so I added a fifth one. The five of them seem to do the job. My mind is quiet now and that feeling that I’ve forgotten something but I don’t know what is gone. I even started writing down my video game stuff. At first I felt really silly, but it’s still something in my life that I enjoy and it also has tasks that need doing. Tasks that still circle in my head until I pin them down on paper.
I’ve always been an overthinker. That I knew but what I now had to learn is that it can be controlled with the power of the list.
Shall I play video games? Shall I check social media? Shall I write? But what shall I write? How do you even rewrite a novel? Where would I start?
Smaller steps and lists – that is the key.
I’ve always been ruled by fear. Now I have learned that paper beats fear. The paralysing fear that I will forget something important is gone. I have room left over to think about other things.
Of course, my pinterest feed picked up on my once-off Google search for to-do list organising tips, and started sending me tons of examples of different people’s bullet journals.
When I first saw these images, I wondered what a bullet journal was. More Google searches happened. It wasn’t hard to find tons more examples of people using the bullet journal format to organise their lives.
I must say, all of these people appear to be more arty than me (everyone knows I can’t draw) and 100% of them have better handwriting than me. Still, I decided to give this organisation system a go. I have been using an adapted version for a week or so while keeping my five to-do lists and seeing if they can transition over into this new system. I’ll see if it works, or if my own unattractive system is better for me.
A lot of my work stuff can’t really be planned ahead because it happens in the moment and probably has to be sorted out fairly quickly too, but I can still write down the things that I must remember. Mondays tend to be crazy and get a lot of bullets while Fridays are super chill.
I’ll see and report back on my findings.
To a quiet mind and a rest from anxiety,
PS. I just love the photo I used for the background of my cover pic. I just keep looking at it. It’s so soothing and restful, for some reason.