Once upon a time I was a productive junkie. Just the thought of creating a to do list revved me up, charged my batteries, got me going. And the satisfaction of checking things off? Oh my goodness, nothing felt near as sweet as reviewing the day’s list at bedtime and seeing all the items marked through. Each tick mark translated into “job well done.” With enough tick marks, I could be sure I’d left my mark, made the day count, earned my existence.
That was then.
Now, I have to drag myself to the paper to create a to do list. Digital task management software proves too easy to procrastinate, too easy to slide things over to the next day, the next month, the next year. Plus the satisfaction level just isn’t there without the sound of pencil scratching across the words on the paper. Besides trying every journal known to woman, I’ve come up with all sorts of carrots to lure myself back into such a simple, definable, provable existence. One item per index card, color coded by category. Moveable sticky notes lined up by category inside a colorful file folder for each day. And the rewards? Oh my goodness at the reward systems I’ve created and laid out before myself.
But no go. Despite it all, I cannot recapture that sense of being a woman-with-a-daily-mission. It’s not the system. Checking tasks off a list no longer satisfies me . . . probably in large part because the tasks on the list no longer satisfy me.
I seem to be living in a state of generalized grief. Where I once prided myself on cleaning the house every single Friday so it’s be spic and span for the weekend, I have to force myself to give it a quick going-over twice a month. I set the roomba out in a different part of the house every morning, make up the bed (because there’s something quite nice about pulling back the covers, even if I do rather detest moving the decorative pillows back and forth), do the laundry, and call that enough. I don’t really grieve the to-do list driven existence. Not specifically, anyway, because I do miss that feeling of structure the to do list provided. I miss that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling of satisfaction.
I grieve things I haven’t even begun to articulate – I’m living the vegetable soup of grief and mourning. I grieve who I once was, who I could have been, who I am today, and who I might be One Day. I grieve for time squandered. I grieve things said, but mostly things not said. I grieve for my son and, in a different way, for my daughter. I grieve for the loss of my personal space. I grieve people I’ve lost due to death or miscommunications, misunderstandings, differing interests, or something else. And despite the fact that I’m an adult woman with adult children and though he died in 2000, I miss my Daddy like you wouldn’t believe.
And here’s the thing: I am fine with that.
I write about living in this state of generalized grief with great dread of the emails and phone calls that might come. Offers to pray for me, witness to me. Obviously I’m not a good Christian if I’m feeling like this. Others will want to cheer me up, urge me to talk to a therapist, tell me about what pills they are taking to feel better.
Here’s what I want to know: when did happiness become the ultimate desired state of being? Want to know the truth? I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt blissfully joyful . . . and that sorry showing has always been something that made me feel decidedly less than. Something I’m ashamed of. Something I ought to be ashamed of, given my circumstance in life. How dare me not be happy, know it, and clap my manicured hands.
Even with the to do lists and the structure they provided for me, I’ve had spells like this before. I’ve used every euphemism I could think of: I’ve been in funks and fallows. Had stomachaches, headaches, needed quiet time, all that. I’ve been known to run like hell, too. Escapism, I call it. Going out in search of distractions, leaving would-be reminders and wagging fingers behind, at least for a little while. I’ve tried. Lord knows, I’ve tried. Even when I didn’t put on makeup, I’ve put on my best, most cheerful happy face and did my best to make somebody else happy, happy, happy since I couldn’t always seem to do it for and by myself. I’ve run and I’ve hidden and I’ve denied in every way you can think of (though I’ve never even veered near the S-word) – not so much from the melancholy, sadness, depression, grief and mourning, acedia, or whatever, mind you, but from the shame, from the feeling of shirking My Responsibility, from the dread of hurting family, from the fear of being left alone because I’m no fun any more.
This time, though, I’m just sitting with It, sitting in It, this murkiness, this darkness as some might call It. And though it feels good to write this, I don’t mind telling you that I’m scared. I don’t just dread the folks rushing in to help, to fix me, to make me feel better. I dread the ripple effects this public display of negativity might have on my family. There’s still a stigma attached to not being happy, you know. At least around here there is. Will I need to sew every member of my family a special shirt emblazoned with a special version of The Scarlet Letter?
In days gone by, I feared parents wouldn’t let their children play with my children if they knew I was more sadful than joyful. I didn’t – and still don’t – want people examining my mother and blaming her for things done or not done in my upbringing. I didn’t – and still don’t – want to take a pill that will mask this, turn me into somebody else who, while the-new-she might feel foreign to me, will be found acceptable by others. I’ve lived most of my life that way without pharmaceuticals, thank you very much. I didn’t and still don’t want to talk to a therapist for a whole bunch of reasons we might or might talk about later.
So what if I’m grieving? So what if I’m sad? So what if I’m melancholy? So what if I’m living with acedia? Maybe grief is another lens to look through. Maybe melancholy is contemplation. Maybe sadness is a filter. Maybe acedia is a call to authenticity. Maybe mourning is another way to love.
I can still authentically be the life of the party – this is not the sum total of who I am. But it is very much me, too. And it’s not just the rainy weather talking here.