"To do lists," are my friends. I love a good list, and can chart my way though all sorts of experiences by looking at my lists.
This makes me sound like a mad hoarder of bits of paper - but I’m not - now life is electronic I find myself presented with those well intentioned plans of future betterment by electronic calenders set to kick me up the arse should I subside into complacency.
The thing about a good list is its achievable - you might write a few things on there you’ve already done (or is that just me?) - so that’s going to be a bit of a positive buzz as you get to tick them off straight away.
Also it lets you break tasks down into smaller chunks and think backwards and forwards through them, spot planning flaws, save time.
It might even allow for a bit of delegation if its done well.
ooooh it might have sub-lists too, and if it doesn’t, when you get to something tricky - they can be added in.
Ticking things off is very satisfying - and the joy of coming across a list and realising its complete - well that’s a little pleasure all on its own, but when everything is a bit grey and overwhelming - an incomplete list is an evil taskmaster and just another thing screaming inadequacy at you.
How odd then to find a list made in a state of anxious despair - full of future plans and focussed on my own happiness and finding it all but complete.
(ah yes you impossible "little worm" item - you always sneak in there to foil the symmetry )
Over the past few years the focus of my lists has moved from what seems like magic thinking to very real tasks, and the difference has come about because I have "learned myself."
I ought to explain that - as it sounds a little odd even to me.
When I put something down (In a world where I don’t share my space with children, pets, husband, and apparently invisible stuff eaters) then even if I didn't remember where I put it I find that - if I trust myself to be consistent - I will only have put it in a very limited number of places. My logic of where it should be stored is absolutely consistent.
Not just occasionally, but all the time.
I was quite surprised to find just how consistent I am. No matter how much I might like to think of myself as creative, it doesn’t stop me being organised and systematic, and knowing this about myself means I can not just find stuff I don’t remember putting down, but I can apply this to other areas of my life, because its accurate, not totally foolproof but really quite reliably consistent.
There are two main things my recent lists have been about,
1. What makes me happy?
2. What is the truth?
What makes me happy and how to achieve that has been an odd way to move my life forward but startlingly more effective than the search for truth.
There was a point where my lists were things like,"decorate the kitchen."
Something huge and overwhelming that gave me no traction on the task and would be very hard to tick off as complete. There would always be some level of ongoing damage and missed spot needing attention so it would never be done, never be perfect. It would be impossible to complete.
Sometimes, on a smaller scale and when I was full of good intentions, my house occasionally sprouted clouds of post-its - "do this" - "fix this" - little yellow screams of inadequacy bringing me a little misery every day they continued to flutter - silent reminders of things that could be better.
Now I more often think, "Maybe I'll do that- or maybe not"
I will think about the work involved, and if that balances out for me with the happiness I will gain from the job being done. I will also consider if I could make the process more pleasurable by any means, for instance: does it really need decorating or can I just refresh my feelings for it by moving a few things around and buying a couple of lush plants or a painting to add some life ?
Don’t get me wrong, I'm not lazy, I'm definitely not afraid of the work,
but the critical voice in my head is no longer there, demanding unreasonable precision and excellence in everything.
My lists are to move me towards my happiness, and if its painting a wall that will achieve that then I will plan for that. But I check whose needs I am for-filling before I throw effort at something.
Making lists has been a very useful tool for getting to know myself in other ways too:
When, for instance, I was finally estranged from my Family of Origin - It was difficult to judge what had happened, and as distance grew the questions became more about how and why their treatment of me had happened.
Also that kicker of all abused children, was it my fault?
Was I the person in the wrong and would someone suddenly come along and shed a new light on things?
Or worse still, show me things from a new perspective and it would turn out that I was in the wrong all along.
Perhaps I had in fact been abusing them?
So I wrote lists to try to find my way to the truth.
I would try to list as accurately as I could what had happened, Then I would reverse the premise and write the whole thing again from their point of view.
Reversing my thinking as best I could. Considering the impact of events actions or decisions from their point of view. I tried to do it as dispassionately as possible, tried to cut emotion from both viewpoints.
I expected it to be harrowing
I was in fear that it would throw my whole self into a new light. I was very fearful of the process, of what it might reveal. I could not have been more critical of myself, and yet - as I tortured myself on every point I could remember,
I looked at myself as a child, a young adult, a grown woman, I couldnt find the thing - the thing that had caused me to be treated as a void.
As someone to be filled and emptied with someone else’s needs and ambitions
I couldnt find justification for the big stuff, or even the small stuff.
The word "WHY" which had bobbed and floated through my life like a signal buoy in a shipping lane evaded me.
There were so many lists.
There was the, "Words used to describe me" - list.
"The difference between me and my sibling," list.(This was before I quite got the concept of scapegoat)
"The happy things I remember from my childhood." list -
"Shit I remember from my childhood." list.
Even when I put my thumb on the scales and pressed really hard, just in-case I was biased, it just wouldn't balance out.
I don't recommend this process. Any of it. I think it was something I felt I had to do because I couldnt join up the intellectual knowledge that things had not been right, with actually emotionally owning that. I had to really see what the balance sheet looked like, full on, in bright lights.
What it showed me, very much in the manner of a forensic accountant looking through the books of a company to see why the books weren’t balancing - was that someone was cheating.
It unequivocally showed me that my well-being was never being considered to be as important as anybody else’s in the family. Also that the expectations of what I could do were unreasonable and and would often involve me having to harm myself in some way for the benefit of others and that the disapprobation I faced my entire life was unwarranted.
Those are some pretty big things to be able to put a tick next to, and whilst they haven’t entirely erased self doubt, just having faced each act and measured it means there are so very few dark corners left for things to hide in.
Facing my doubts and killing a few demons who seem a lot smaller when dragged out into the light - Tick
Wallpaper the downstairs toilet ? maybe not