The day I wrote the previous post, I’d woken up feeling like I was coming down with a virus. I cancelled dates and asked my husband to stay home a little later and help out with the kids before he left for work. I called the sitter. I did everything I’ve learned how to do when the flu is coming on.
Only it turned out not to be the flu. It turned out that my brain had the flu, or my soul, or whatever it is that gets “depressed” during these episodes. As I understood over the course of the morning that I was sick in the head and not the body, I told myself there was only one thing I could do to get through the day:
(Reader, are you sitting down?)
Do only one thing at a time.
“Do one…thing…at a time?” you parents might be asking. “But what about the…and the…?” I know. How can you possibly make the kids lunch while not talking on the phone? How can you get them dressed without also doing a load of laundry? And what about all that time you spend going to the bathroom and eating? There are hundreds of questions from the kids that will have to go unanswered while you’re behind the closed door! And if you don’t read the newspaper over breakfast (while also checking e-mail and ferrying food and drink from kitchen to table and letting the dog in and out 14 times), then whenever will you?
Well, some days are just about survival.
I’ve tried other means of survival during mental crises, usually with a different twist, like: no chores before breakfast. No reading the newspaper or being online while the children are at the table. I thought this one simple rule, doing one thing at a time, would streamline the day.
I recruited Jonah and Audrey to help. I sat them down on the window seat in the dining room and made my intentions very clear.
“I am playing an important game today,” I explained. “Since I’m feeling sick and yucky, I’m going to only do one thing at a time. So if you ask me for something, and I’m doing something else, I’m going to ask you to wait until I’m done.”
“Why?” asked Jonah.
“Because this will keep me relaxed and help me get better sooner. And I probably won’t yell as much.”
They were down with it. Having my “game” as the reason why I didn’t cater to their whims all day was a wonderful thing for my mind to fall back on. Normally, I’d have despaired that my kids would NEVER let me get any peace, and they were spoiled, and in my grandma’s day they’d have already been wacked upside the head with a wooden hairbrush. I reminded myself that, oh right, I was trying something different today. And I reminded the kids that. And they were fine with it.
Doing one thing at a time turned out to be a meditation of sorts. It didn’t nourish me the way sitting meditation does, but it kept me from committing what my teacher calls, “unskillful behavior.” Doing one thing at a time, I was always present and I could always handle what was happening.
The downside was that I stayed up late folding laundry, cleaning the kitchen and writing. I couldn’t bear for those things to go undone. Some things took longer. But I was calm.
Is this kind of behavior really possible in modern life?
What if we tried? How different would our days be?