The NOT To-Do List
I feel like I’m always jotting down “to-do” lists, yet more often than not I’m unable to cross off all of my list items. Two or three things get done, maybe more if I’m lucky, and then I’m not sure what happens. I get busy, distracted, tired, or I lose the list. Or a dog eats it. Something gets in the way. Well, I actually have a good hunch about what that “thing” might be: my RA. Or, perhaps more accurately, my poor-ish health in general (which is usually caused by RA).
Lists: Make me feel inadequate
RA also has a sneaky way of making me feel the need to make these doomed-to-fail lists in the first place. Why? Most of the time I feel like I’m never getting enough done and that I’m always struggling to catch up with everything and everyone. RA is the great interrupter, causing plans to cancel, work to be missed, friendships neglected. So, maybe as some small way to try to regain control and a semblance of order in my life, I make lists. However, the repeated inability to successfully complete those lists also makes me feel like a lazy failure.
The other day I came across a meme from a chronic illness page on Instagram, @sufferingthesilence, that made me stop and think about this to-do list business more. Instead of a to-do list, the meme is a NOT to-do list. The cleverness of it made me chuckle a little bit but it also made me realize that in our productivity-driven world, it just might be better to not do certain things–especially if you have a chronic illness. Sometimes less is more, right?
Things NOT to-do with RA
The following are the six NOT to-do items:
1. Say yes to stuff that drains me.
I often have a tough time with this one, and I think ignorance (inattention?) and guilt could be to blame. Saying “no” to invitations and events and canceling plans usually makes me feel guilty that I’m letting people down. Because of this, I think I don’t even stop to discern if the things I’m doing drain me or not. I know that being more conscious of this when making decisions about how to spend my precious time and energy could help me a lot–physically and emotionally. I’m working on it! Living with chronic pain and illness affords me only so many “spoons,” per day. Is it worth it to use them up on things that don’t energize, motivate, inspire, or support me? I don’t think so.
2. Feel guilt for saying no.
Guilt is a difficult, demoralizing emotion to bear and I think we all try to avoid it at all costs. Who likes feeling guilty? I don’t. But it’s OK to say “no” if that’s what your body and instincts are telling you. It’s better for you and others rather than forcing yourself into a situation where you might end up feeling miserable and jeopardizing your health. It’s not easy though, because I think a lot of us are “people pleasers.” We don’t want to disappoint others or feel badly about ourselves for not being able to do it all in life. But if you have to, JUST SAY NO! I’m also working on this. On saying “no” more and not feeling guilty for saying it.
3. Feel responsible for other people’s responsibilities.
This relates to the other two list items, I think, and highlights the importance of not putting pressure or expectations upon yourself–especially when you’re not feeling well. As I already mentioned, I think it’s important to really think through the decisions we make regarding committing to things. Are they emotionally and/or physically draining? Are they our responsibility in the first place? Are they worth it?
4. Feel guilty for giving my body rest.
Oh, here’s the guilt again. And I’m certainly guilty of this one! I almost always feel guilty and ashamed whenever my pain and body need rest. I don’t want to rest! When I do, I stress and worry about all of the time I’m wasting not getting things done. I’m falling behind, I can’t keep up with other people, I’m a weak, lazy person–and the negative self-talk loops on and on. Despite the emotional beatings I give myself about this, I do know that rest is a good thing. My body and mind and soul need it. So does my pain and RA–desperately.
5. Worry or stress about things that are out of my control.
Did the person on Instagram write this meme especially for me?! I am the Queen of Worrying and I have been for a long time–even before I got RA. Living with RA has made my worrying and stressing and general freaking-out worse though, I admit. And, I will also admit, that most of the time all of my worrying is for nothing. There’s a quote I really like that I saw somewhere on social media that says, “Think of all the times you worried about something and it didn’t happen.” I try to remember this whenever I start feeling the old familiar pangs of panic starting up again.
6. Bully myself.
In addition to being the Queen of Worrying, I think I also might be the Queen of Beating Myself Up. These are not two crowns or titles that I want to have, but they seem to be a deeply ingrained part of my personality. Recognizing this trait or habit or whatever you want to call it is a step in the right direction though, I hope. Often we are our worst critics and abusers when we should be our biggest fans and supporters. Bullying myself is a crucial thing NOT to do while loving myself is a crucial thing TO do. As much as possible.
At the very bottom of the list are three additional items under the heading, “Important Stuff To-Do.” What is this stuff? 1. Self-love, 2. Self-care, 3. Be Kind to Me! I’d like to be able to cross these three things off every day if I can.