Start somewhere. This is probably the best advice I ever have to offer, and it seems like the best place to “get back on the horse” with the blog.
I know I’m not alone as a person who gets overwhelmed by all the things that end up on my to-do list. Sometimes that’s a self-inflicted wound because I take on too much. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle against perfectionism and depression.
When things feel too big to even be possible, I just start somewhere. There’s the old saying that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, or the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Pick your favorite metaphor, and just start small.
The elephant I’m probably struggling with the most right now is decluttering, so I’ve been applying the “start somewhere” motto to it. It’s not fast work for me, but every time I walk into a mess, I just pick a spot and start working from there. If that even feels too big, I set a timer for 15 minutes and give myself permission to take a break if I work through the timer.
Whatever elephant you’re trying to eat, I have no shortcuts for the actual work. But I do know that the only way to tackle it is to start somewhere and just work through each step as it comes. I know that makes it sound very simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. Sometimes simple is ridiculously hard, and that’s okay. Most of the time the hardest part of the work is just getting started.
It’s been a while since I’ve been motivated to write or sketch, and that same slump has been creeping into my prayer and Bible study habits.
I decided to get back to using colored pencils during my prayer time this week, and doodling made for such a lovely time of meditating and listening. It’s easy to skip over being still and quiet as a part of prayer. For me, writing out a prayer helps me focus more intentionally, and then sketching quiets my thoughts while I wait and listen.
I have been planning for months to get myself together and start writing and posting here on the blog again in the New Year. I was all set to start tomorrow, but I feel like it would be tone deaf to today’s events to carry on like that mess in the Capitol didn’t happen. I also feel like I have nothing to add to the conversation at large that will be helpful and not just add to the cacophony.
I do feel like I can say no matter who you voted for, violently storming Congress is not the best way to be heard as anything but a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. I think a lot of hypocrisies have been exposed (again) in the powers that be that cannot be unseen and need to be examined. I think the true character of many politicians was on display, and I firmly believe that when people show you who they are, you should believe them. I think our country is resilient, but I know we have a lot of uncomfortable truths to stare down and hard conversations to have. I also know that no matter what happens on the national and international stages, I have the most impact in the communities I’m involved with, and I am to love my neighbor. That command is unconditional and irrevocable. Nations rise and fall, but the love of God and the word of God do not change.
When chaos comes calling, that’s the first thing I cling to: I have eternal hope, and I have a rock to build my life on that is unfazed by riots and party politics and pandemics. When the chaos feels overwhelming, I try to limit my exposure to news of the craziness, and then I try to do something productive. For the last month, that’s been baking bread.
We already tried and failed at the quarantine sourdough starter; no one at my house was eating the sourdough bread, and the same black thumb tendencies that kill most plants that come under my care eventually killed off the starter. But bread baking with yeast turns out to be far simpler than I remember it being, and we all like just plain-old-not-sour bread. (At least no one is complaining and refusing to eat it, so I’m going to carry on assuming everyone likes it as much as I do…)
Baking fresh bread is deeply satisfying on a lot of levels, so I’m not surprised it’s been a go-to comfort activity in the pandemic. Kneading dough is pretty physical, so it’s almost a “heavy work” activity that tends to calm our bodies and minds. Punching dough after the first rise turns out to be one of our favorite family activities – even my husband grinned when it was his turn to punch a bowl of dough. If you’re a tactile person, feeling good sandwich bread dough in your hands is pretty wonderful. I hate slime, and my daughter is obsessed with it, so there’s a metric ton of it gumming up my house, but bread dough feels like a therapeutic thing of beauty (it’s almost good enough to make me forget that slime exists).
There’s also something warm and boosting to your self-efficacy about making kitchen staples like bread – not to mention the heavenly smell of baking bread. When I made French toast with my bread, I was extremely proud that it was a meal made completely from scratch, down to the bread slices. I didn’t brag out loud then, so I’m doing it now.
Over the last month I have tweaked the recipes I started with until I found a reliable, not too crumbly, not too mushy loaf. I’m an okay cook (never expect me to pan fry anything without charring it and/or catching it on fire, and if it’s complicated or involves separating eggs, I’m probably going to fail), but I am a pretty darn good baker. And it turns out, I’m getting pretty darn good at baking bread.
After watching the news today, baking bread tonight was good for my soul. It was a little (literal) slice of normal in the midst of chaos. I got to knead and punch, and I’m currently smelling the wonder of fresh baking bread.
When the headlines and life feel overwhelming and terrible, find something good and simple and true to remind you that the chaos isn’t forever, that nothing is too big for God to handle, and that butter on hot bread is one of the greatest treasures in the world. If you’re in need of some bread and butter therapy, come on over, and I’ll bake a you fresh loaf. You can even punch the dough.
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19 NLT
Friends, this week has been a constant mess, from breaking an entire carton of eggs to fighting with the tiny human about school work and getting chili oil in my eyes. Normally at this point in a week like this, I’d be done – so over it that I would just cruise through with the minimum effort needed to get to the weekend so at least the schoolwork arguments would end for a few days.
I only cried when I got chili oil in my eyes. I didn’t even lose my crap when the dog took a nap in actual crap and tried to come inside with crap all over her shoulder. And all those eggs I broke Monday? We had delightful quiches for breakfast this morning. (Yes, I just said “delightful” about quiche, and I feel just as weird about it as you do now.) I feel okay in spite of all the mess, and that’s a new thing for me.
I finally feel like there is a very real pathway through the desert for me, and there is a river flowing through the dry wasteland that is depression brain (besides the chili oil tears from my eyes). So here are the three things you should know this Thursday:
1. There is always hope.
I know from my own experience that it doesn’t always feel like it. I haven’t ever really been suicidal, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought the world would be better off without me. But that was a lie from the pit of Hell that is never something God would say to you or want you to say to yourself. We are each specially designed by God and valuable as his work of art and destined to fulfill his purpose in our lives. Never stop believing that.
2. I had to make changes for the better in every aspect of my life and be consistent with those daily actions to see this giant improvement.
I started with a few things and built on it, but God isn’t just interested in our spiritual health. He wants us to be healthy and strong in our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our work, and our faith. You may have to address the biggest fire first, but it takes a whole being approach to reap the biggest change rewards.
3. At some point, I will relapse and have depression symptoms again.
I’ve dealt with it long enough to recognize that I will not be one of those people who has an episode or two and then gets over it. I will need to treat depression like a chronic disease for the rest of my life. It sounds a tiny bit depressing just saying that like a fact, but it is a fact, and acknowledging the fact means I can manage it like any other chronic illness can be managed. I can expect good times, and I can expect relapses. It’s just a fact of life, so when it happens I can remember that it won’t last forever and it’s just part of the illness (not a mental or moral defect).
So, when life cracks all your eggs, make a delightful quiche. And when life cross contaminates your paper towel with chili oil that you then wipe your eyes with, may your tears form rivers in the dry wastelands and may your milk be cold and close at hand.
I try to show an art or writing related WIP when I share these, but this week, my biggest WIP is me. I try to be transparent about my mental health struggles so that other people may feel safer to share their own problems or at least know they aren’t alone, so this week the WIP is me.
Right now, after months of social distancing, it’s hard not to feel alone. The constant changes in our work and school environments, the stress of dealing with the threat of a mysterious illness, the ever growing cacophony of political posts and angry people on social media… It’s all taking a toll on me, and I know I’m not the only one. The tragic loss of someone I’ve counted as a friend several weeks ago reminded me that I need to take my mental health seriously as the potential life-threatening disease depression can be.
This summer I already made myself a list of things I knew my counselor would tell me to do, and I’ve been trying to do them daily. Last week, I added a diet element to it that’s shown a lot of potential in the few limited clinical trials that have been done. This week, I sat down and wrote out care plans for daily preventive care, acute symptom care (when I start feeling mental and physical symptoms of stress, depression, or anxiety), and rescue care (when it’s all a bit too much, and I need immediate relief).
After several months of intentionally doing my “preventive protocol,” I can definitely say it’s helping me stay on more equal mental footing. The addition of the diet angle and the mental safety net of having plans written out with behavioral triggers to put them into action has been a huge and quick improvement, enough so that I’m committing to sticking with the diet plan for the foreseeable future.
Sometimes, the WIP is me.
And that’s a good thing. I am a valuable creation of God, and I am worthy of taking care of myself. Depression brain wants to tell us that we have no value, no worth, nothing to offer. That’s just not true.
You are valuable, you are loved, and you are worthy of being your own WIP, too. What do you need to start doing today to grow and feel better?
#1. I haven’t been very active here on the blog for several months, but I was getting the final editing and design touches completed on “A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief.” So I may not have been very productive at writing much else, but I’m ALL DONE WITH THE BOOOOOOOOOOOK!!!!!
#2. I think the most constant childhood dream job I ever had, whether I admitted it to anyone or not, was that I wanted to be an author. I feel like I’ve been able to call myself a writer for quite some time because I write a lot even though most of what I write will never see the light of day. But the title of “author” felt reserved for special people who actually publish books. Well, today is a special day for me because the print edition is now live on Amazon. (A few days early!)
I am officially an author, which is such an incredible feeling, though I’m arguably no more or less special than I was before. (Some of you who know me well can attest to the fact that I often act like a special kind of goober, and that is unchanged – now I’m just a goober author.) As an official author, I have an official author page now on Amazon, too, which you are welcome to check out here. “A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief” should be linked on that page, or you can click through the title, too. Right now it’s only on Amazon’s platform, but I will be looking further out now that the heavy lifting is done.
#3. I have one giant favor to ask. If you do read the book, I would be extremely grateful if you would leave a review. It will help the book’s rank in searches. To be completely transparent, it would hopefully help sales, but the bigger picture is it would widen the field of people who might actually see it on Amazon (and eventually beyond) who might need to hear the same things I needed to hear from God. I honestly don’t care much about the sales, but I do hope to help as many people as possible walk through grief with better coping tools than I had.
There’s still a lot of work to do to keep promoting and finding good local places to sell and all those things that go along with actually selling a book once it’s written, but today is a day to CELEBRATE! Since real parties are not exactly happening right now, let’s party virtually – share your favorite happy dance/party/anything fun GIF in the comments.
Thank you, friends, for all your support to get to this point! These extra exclamation points are for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Everything can’t happen at once; it’s all a process, a one-step-at-a-time journey.
My brain is terrible at processing and accepting the fact that I can really only do one thing at a time. At any moment, if you peeked into my brain and asked what it was thinking about, the answer is probably, “Everything.” What do I want to write about? Everything. What do I want to paint? All the things. What task should I start to declutter and organize the house? Everything again. What project should I finish next for work? So. Many. Things. When do I want to do all these things? Right now. All of it. Now.
Did I say do it all right now yet? Because that what my brain thinks is possible if you ask it.
I have finally gotten proof copies of my book and read through it on paper one last time for a final edit, and it’s all ready to go for an official launch date of August 1. The hardest part of writing the book and getting it ready for publication was making myself sit down and work methodically. I spent probably a year outlining and researching, another two years after that writing the first half, one more year just getting the rough draft done already, and then it took me over a year to edit and format. It sounds like a labor of love that took time to come together, and there’s some small truth to that.
Mostly, though, my brain has the attention span of a fruit fly when it comes to finishing big things. I’ll get excited and dive into the deep end of learning everything I can about the new thing, and then, BOOM: shiny spot on the wall.
Time to learn all about that new shiny spot. But I still want to publish that first shiny thing and paint the shiny squirrel, and don’t forget about learning to play that instrument and organizing the sock drawer.
I understand that the shiny squirrel problem is common to writers/creatives, and I understand why if their brains are wired like mine. I love to tell stories in my writing and art, and everything around me has a story begging to be told. It’s hard to focus on just one at a time when I can hear so many whispering to me.
I also know plenty of non-writers who suffer from the shiny chicken affliction, and I understand them, too, if their brains are anything like mine. You see the possibilities of what could be done, and maybe you see most of the steps to make it happen. None of them are too hard for you to handle, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t tackle that project.
Unless you also have to operate in the real world, as most of us do…
We have multiple claims to our time even when we’re not running on a tight schedule. If you have family, friends, pets, a home, a job, a church, a hobby or two (or ten…), an illness to manage, or any other aspect of operating as a grownup, then you have competing demands on your time and energy.
And you have limits to your time and energy. It’s the ugly truth of humanity that we are limited creatures. Maybe in heaven we can do everything at once, but this side of the pearly gates, we have to manage with a linear time structure and limited energy resources. We have to prioritize and choose what gets those limited resources.
The frustrating part of that is whatever we don’t choose will suffer, or at the very least remain on hold until we have the time to focus on it. What do you do when you feel like the choice comes down to career or purpose or family? How do you choose when they’re all valuable?
This part is the silver lining to me. In making decisions about my priorities, I have to choose so carefully that I must limit my field of vision to just the most important things for that span of time. If I made the decision that those things were the most important tasks, it gives my shiny spot/squirrel/chicken finder permission to put on some blinders for a while so I can see just what’s in front of me. Prioritizing gets me over the hurdle of feeling like everything has to happen all at once.
Prioritizing makes me think harder about what my real values are and whether what I’m planning to work on or spend time doing reflects those values. I can say I value my daughter, but if I never spent time with her, my actions would demonstrate otherwise. (Sounds a lot like James 2:14-18…) Choosing my tasks with this big picture view ensures that I am intentionally living within my faith and moral code. It also limits my focus to a few big tasks each day so that I work with all my effort rather than in random spurts.
One step at a time isn’t all bad.
I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to completely ignore shiny spots on the wall, and it’s certainly inevitable that a shiny squirrel or two will run past the blinders. It’s not chicken-proof, but my mental tool to get back on task is to allow the thought to pop in my head for a second. Even if it’s ridiculous, I write it in an idea journal (or make a note on my phone if the journal isn’t handy) to save it for later. When I have time to take the blinders off, I can always go back and look at the shiny chicken later. The idea journal gives my brain permission to see a shiny spot, record it, and then get back on task quickly. I can let the new idea go for a while because I know it’s safe in the journal.
What mental tricks or tools do you use to stay on task?
Today’s profile is a woman who started out as a coworker, became a friend, and is always a force of nature. I admire Emily Johnson for her drive, her commitment to faith, and her brilliant smile that can light up a room.
Most recently, Emily launched WordPaint Cosmetics where she blends (See what I did there?) a fabulous line of cosmetics with her faith in one of the most creative concepts I’ve ever seen. I am very much in love with her web site, and you will be, too. While you’re there, definitely shop the Armory, and be sure to read the other pages. It’s so good and so fun and so smart. (There’s your three things, in case you were wondering.)
I’m always amazed by the creative works of people when I can see they are doing exactly what God designed them to do. Knowing Emily and working with her for years, I love seeing her shine with purpose. It’s beautiful.
Salaam Green, maybe more than anyone I know, recognizes that we are all works in progress, and she uses her gifts to help others heal and grow. I first found Salaam’s writing work in a Facebook group for writers, the See Jane Write Network. I instantly fell in love with her storytelling and the images her words spun up in my head.
As a writer who loves to encourage people to be creative and use that creativity to grow, I dearly love Salaam’s work of using journaling to heal. She founded the Literary Healing Arts Foundation as a way to help people write their healing into reality. Please check out her web site for the Literary Healing Arts Foundation. You’ll find her blog and a page with prompts as well as a way to submit writing for healing feedback.
I stumbled upon a celebrity social media post about doing the #AmplifyMelanatedVoicesChallenge this week. (I saw it on Glennon Doyle’s Facebook page, and it was created by @blackandembodied and @jessicawilson.msrd) The idea is that you mute your own voice and amplify the voices of black women. I can think of no better way to process what’s happening in the nation right now. Writers write to understand the world, and I will journal like crazy, but what I should share publicly is something that could actually make a difference rather than add more words to the cacophony of the moment.
I think the best place for me to start is to amplify the women in my life who have helped me, who nurture me with their talents or acceptance or friendship on a daily basis. Monday is usually when I write about a mental health mindset tool, so today is all about a friend whose life work is the mental health of others.
Danna Perdue-Melton is one of the kindest, funniest, and smartest women I know. I love every minute we get to spend together. She’s also a licensed counselor who works with children, adolescents, and adults with issues related to anxiety, depression, toxic stress, trauma and PTSD.
You can find information about Danna’s counseling services here:
You can also follow her on Instagram @dannamp or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/danna.perduemelton) for daily encouragement. I love her posts, and she encourages me every day through them. Her friendship is a gift I treasure, and her counseling work and encouragement is a treasure for everyone.