on getting, and keeping, my shit together

A couple months ago I had the brilliant idea that I should probably get my shit together before nurse practitioner school starts. This is, theoretically, probably wise as I’m about to be busier and more stressed than I have in perhaps my entire life. But it’s also a fairly dangerous territory to enter for someone who struggles with both perfectionism and Seasonal Affective Disorder, and who happens to be a total control freak.

I think my initial desire to get my shit together came from that overwhelming urge to control the unknown. I am so ready for school to start, so I can manage expectations of an actual thing happening in my life rather than being anxious about a nebulous terrifying adventure hanging over my head. This is the reason that I make lists. This is the reason I make lists about making lists. This is the reason that I have three different calendars, all of them color-coded. This is the reason that check boxes are so appealing to me – I have done the thing, it is under my control. And if I can just get my shit together – if I can control everything in my life down to the detailed minutiae so everything comes out wrapped in a pretty bow and I know what’s happening – then everything will be okay.

First on my quest to get my shit together was to figure out what that actually meant, and how to go about doing so. So in mid-January, I posited a question on Twitter, which is clearly the best possible platform for obtaining answers and advice. Trying to figure out the age-old question: What is the most effective way to get one’s shit together?, I tweeted into the universe. And even though Twitter is a veritable fount of knowledge (ha), I guess everyone thought it was a rhetorical question, because no one answered.

So I decided, as I often do, to figure it out myself. (Sometimes this pans out. Sometimes it definitively does not. Guess which one happened this time!) My initial thoughts on the matter initially came from some of the darker places in me, the places where all the self-loathing happens, the places where I’m never good enough. People who have their shit together do ALL OF THE THINGS in the MOST PERFECT WAY, I told myself, because that tends to be my ultimate goal in life. People who have their shit together always look clean and pressed and their hair is done and they’re smiling and calm amidst the chaos rolling around them. People who have their shit together don’t get their feathers ruffled, they don’t have fights with their husbands about whether or not cutting boards and good knives should go in the dishwasher, they juggle twenty balls in the air and never manage to drop one and never double-book themselves for anything. People who have their shit together make time to read grand and glorious novels and also five different newspapers and thus have well-rounded opinions, they cook gourmet dinners and never have to get take-out cause they don’t feel like cooking, they never run out of clean forks, they never run out of underwear and there are never five laundry baskets worth of clothing on their bedroom floor in front of their closet. People who have their shit together exist on minimal sleep and are never tired. People who have their shit together manage work and life and parenting and marriage-ing with grace and finesse, and are well-loved by everyone around them because of it.

In my crazy brain, people who have their shit together are wizards with time turners and Felix Felicis potions hung around their necks, breathing nebulized Ativan all the livelong day.

Obviously, getting my shit together with that definition in mind proved to be a little bit demoralizing, as NO ONE CAN ACTUALLY ACHIEVE IT. I had a breakdown, followed by a breakthrough, one very gray and only kind-of cold day in February. (I hate February, btw, as evidenced here.) My SAD was in full-swing, catching me off-guard after a wonderfully mild and sunny winter, and I was trying to figure out a citation program I’d downloaded that was supposed to make my life easier, but so far wasn’t doing such a good job. I could not figure out how to make it work to save my life. So I re-read my essay for admission into a program for school, decided that everything I wrote was worthless, that I was too dumb and too technologically-challenged for grad school, and that I absolutely did not have my shit together and never would because my kitchen wasn’t clean that day and I WOULD NEVER FIGURE OUT HOW TO PROPERLY FORMAT A TITLE PAGE.

And then a little voice from a more recently-developed part of my brain spoke up and said, “Just do what you can.”

And I stopped, and I listened, because that voice was new. Usually the voice in my head perpetuates the self-loathing and it takes everything I can muster to drag myself out of that dark ugly pit. But this voice was gentle and forgiving, and I said, “Huh. Okay.” I closed my computer because I was too overwhelmed for it to be productive or good for my mental state, and I curled up on my loveseat with a blanket, next to my pretty lamp, and I got out my NRP book that needed to be read anyway, and I read it, because that was a thing I could do in that moment.

I hope with everything in me that self-awareness and better habits and positive self-talk are actually changing my brain chemistry. I don’t think the SAD will ever go away completely, but I’m learning to look it in the face and call a monster a monster, and not make the dreariness that spreads into my soul my fault. I’m learning ways to manage it, to function through the gray and the fog, and sometimes when I can’t function, to be forgiving of that. That feels a lot like getting my shit together. And it feels a lot better than wrestling with every imperfect part of my life until I’m exhausted and beat down because my expectations are completely unrealistic.

Ultimately, I’m learning that it’s a balancing act. On one hand, getting my shit together has been an exercise in Adulting, in doing small things that I feel too tired to do which will actually yield pretty decent payoff in the end. (Like loading the dishwasher and then actually remembering to turn it on at night. We haven’t run out of clean forks in almost 2 months! It’s a miracle!!) I’m about to enter a period of my life where laziness isn’t much of an option, and I need to get ready to be pretty tired a lot of the time.

BUT. I’m also learning to decipher what real laziness is versus what I feel like laziness is. I tend to do things the hardest way possible, a fact that I forget a lot of times until my husband reminds me. Sometimes I feel like it’s cheating at life not to do things the hard way, the “real” way. But my perfectionist brain is going to kill me that way, eventually, and I need to get over it. It isn’t lazy to save the laundry for a day when I don’t have to work. It isn’t lazy to sit on the couch and work on my application essays instead of scrubbing the bathroom. It isn’t lazy, and definitely not cheating at life, to bring a grocery store pie for a potluck instead of baking for three hours, or to use a meal-delivery service instead of making three grocery store runs a week and slaving for hours over dinner. (And oh my god, it’s actually kind of life-changing? If Jenny and/or Mary B are reading this, I’m so sorry about the skepticism and judgy-ness, because you guys have actually saved my life. There might actually be another blog post coming entirely about that.)

By my initial definition, I definitely don’t have my shit together. My life still isn’t the beautiful, pristine, cookie cutter image I always envision. But it won’t ever be. I’m trying really, really hard to accept that there are things that will be out of my control, and that’s okay. I’m learning to ask for help, and to ask for advice – particularly from my husband, because he’s actually pretty smart, and what do you know, he loves me and actually wants to do things that make my life easier(Like cook dinner. And make me cocktails. And have them ready for me when I get home from work. WHY DID I NOT DO THIS AGES AGO???) In order to survive the next five (oh my god) years, I’m going to have to suck it up and do hard things, but I’m also going to have to accept that I can’t do this all by myself, and that I can’t be perfect at all the things I want to do. That acceptance? That is how I’m going to keep my shit together.

Luckily I have lots of people who love me to help me do that 🙂