I’m a list maker. I can’t live without my lists.
I think that part of why I developed a list system, where I account for all of something, whether it be bills due or household tasks or groceries to purchase, is that I don’t remember things well unless I have written them down.
While in graduate school, I had lots of friends who would question why I used the antiquated pen and paper to take notes instead of just typing them. I would respond with things like, “If it doesn’t pass through my hands, it isn’t memorable”, or “I’m a tactile learner”. And I suppose those things are somewhat true. There are things I remember without ever having written them down on paper, and I can learn about a thing without having touched the thing, but, for the most part, writing down and holding things make them connect more fully with my brain.
The lists are probably part of this need to write things down in order to remember them. But even when I forget what is on the list, the list is still important. I think it is psychologically important for me to cross things off of the list.
I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist and also a bit of a self-deprecating individual for most of my existence. And those don’t always work well together, even though they can often appear together. And somehow the part of me that judges myself harshly and the part of me that wants all the things to appear perfect at all times both work well with lists. The desire for order and perfection is found in the list itself—carefully constructed to consider and control the aspects within the list. The desire to be better and the tendency for negative self-talk is appeased by the crossing off of the things on the list—proving that I can accomplish things and be a “good” person.
So, I love to make the list and I love to cross things off the list to both control and celebrate, simultaneously. Confusing, but psychologically important.
Today I made a couple of lists.
Actually, I revised a list, created a list, kept three previously constructed lists, and crossed off an entire list.
I wrote a list of things that I need to do daily, since I keep forgetting to do my speech therapy exercises three times daily, and because my meditation habit has suffered a bit in a post-operative state. So, I created a new list to remind me of those daily tasks. I kept the list of things that I need to buy for my home and for my craft and art projects. That list hasn’t changed much. I also kept the list that says what projects I am working on regarding art and craft. That list hasn’t changed at all, because I tend to have 11 projects started at a time, and then it takes me much longer to complete one. So, I still need to make all the things that I needed to make when the list was first created. The other list that stands is my bills due/budget list. I cannot wait to cross off the bills due for the last week in August, and begin crossing off bills due in September. But I will have to wait a bit longer, until my fundraiser generates enough donations to pay those expenses. I crossed off an entire list related to the fundraiser. Some people don’t like to donate cash, so I made a list of things to search for and add to an Amazon wish list that people can purchase gifts from to donate what I need in a non-cash, tangible form. It felt good to complete that project and have the list online and not waiting to be completed.
But the list that was most affecting today was the list “To Accomplish”.
To Accomplish includes catching up and completing two classes, one craft that is taking up a ridiculous amount of space in my studio, several cleaning tasks, several organizing tasks, grooming the dog, rescheduling appointments, food preparation tasks, and instruction to make a list and finish a list.
That’s right. My list says to make and complete lists.
I may need a 12-step recovery program of some sort.
The To Accomplish list was affecting not because of this moment when I realized how many lists I actually depend on and how my control issues may be completely out of control. It was affecting because all of the tasks on it are meant to make life easier in a couple of weeks when I will have surgery on my hip. And while you make a list to control what happens before you go in for surgery, you cannot help but think of how outside of your control that surgery and its results will be. While you note the things to do before you are incapacitated by braces and crutches, you cannot help but consider what being incapacitated in that way means for your life.
The list makes me dread that for which it prepares me.
I have already acknowledged that my control issues are part of what makes me create the lists, so we can all imagine what being unable to plan and unable to do in the ways I now plan and do is a bit crazy-making for me. Not being independent is one of the things I fear most. Having others make decisions I cannot reject, being at the mercy of others, not feeling like I have agency—these are the things that make up my nightmares. Any hint of needing to have control or power or dictation or anything more than an equal vote over me, and I will fight your need to the death. Having agency, having a voice, having a say in what happens in my own life, and having the choice to walk away from anything and everything which denies me that agency/voice/say is likely the deepest need that I have. It is of utmost importance.
And I am preparing for a six-month event that will limit me in numerous ways, and include several hours of unconscious time where someone else is making all the choices about how to proceed with and within my body. Granted, he is a respected professional who is far more capable of making decisions about how to reconstruct a hip than I will ever be, but the control, the determinations and decisions, the movement and the rate of progression, and the ways I can and may regain function are all dependent upon his will.
When I sit, when I stand, how I sleep, how much time I spend doing a particular thing, the activities I may and may not participate in, and how many hours of rehabilitation I must participate in are all decided by someone else. But that is only half of the picture. My wardrobe, my bag, my shoes, and when and how I groom myself are determined by my hip recovery. And I can only take with me for the day, or return from the store with, what I can carry on my back while navigating public transit with crutches and one leg that cannot bear any weight. That is a really limiting “only”.
It is a really limiting experience. The list of things to accomplish before surgery is long and rather comprehensive. The list of things to accomplish after surgery holds one entry: Recovery.
For the next six months, I just recover. What that means, I don’t even fully know. They sent me home from my appointment with the surgeon with a big folder full of papers that explain what the next six months will look like. I haven’t read all the way through. Just reading about the first week had me feeling exhausted and frustrated and completely defeated.
In a sense, my doctor has given me a list to work on for six months. Each day will look a little different than the last, but that list is the way back to moving, so it needs to be my only priority. That list now supersedes all other lists. It is the Alpha list. It is the penultimate. It is the uber-list. It is my life, handed to me in a big folder by a physician’s assistant.
And I know that this surgery is a good thing. I know that it has a good chance of offering me pain relief, and it will likely protect from further damage and pain in the future. Hopefully, it will keep me from needing a joint replacement later in life. It is a great thing, with lots of great outcomes to anticipate. But I also know myself, and I know how difficult it will be for me to need help and have restrictions and be dependent and be told what to do and how to do it. It isn’t that I am difficult. I’m usually very kind and accommodating. It is just that feeling dependent brings back all sorts of other feelings that are not good. So, there is a double challenge here.
I must give up control, and I must figure out a way to cope with the feelings that arise when I give up control, and I must also carry all the things on my back and navigate public transit with crutches. Gah!
So, my To Accomplish list should include what? Stop having PTSD? Not lose sight of my strengths? Get over my hang-ups? Double my anti-depressant medication? Cope with years of feelings in three weeks’ time? Move my psychotherapist into the spare bedroom? Let go of the need to control? Learn how to stop needing lists to function? Let my surgeon dictate my life without question or care?
Or maybe the list needs to simply say, “BE”. Because that is what it boils down to, when all the stress has burned off. I need to accomplish being without controlling. And that will not be a task that I master and cross of the list before surgery, or in the next six months, or maybe even in the next six years. But it is a task that I want to master.
It is a strange thing that I know how I am and I want it to be different for me, not for someone telling me how I “should” be. That isn’t an experience I have known for very long. Perfectionist tendencies often mean fitting into another’s view of what constitutes “perfect’. But wanting to BE, that is a desire all my own. Wanting to let go of control and let others in and open my heart and trust—those are all things that you cannot tell me to do, and cannot make me do, and that a couple of years ago I would not have chosen to focus on or work toward. Those things didn’t make sense with my idea of “perfect”.
My list of perfect includes things like strong, independent, sufficient, capable, talented, skillful, leader, and more descriptions of one who takes charge of situations. Or it did, until very recently.
Today, as I am letting my lists teach me about myself, I see that my list of what perfect might be has wanted to shift for a long time, but it was afraid to become something else—something more. It has changed in small ways—more love, less defining, more contemplative, less anxious. But it hasn’t made it to the big changes. It hasn’t made it to letting go of control. It hasn’t made it to being unabashedly wrong and not caring. It hasn’t made it to not needing approval.
It has a lot of work to do, my list. It needs to take some time to morph into something more beautiful and less controlled. I suppose that there are a lot of people out there with lists that don’t really point to accomplishing what is important on the deepest levels. Few of us make lists of who to be and how to be that are created by our spirit, our soul, or our deepest desires.
My “To Accomplish” list before surgery is full of controlled and metered and managed living. And it will probably stay that way, in part. The tasks upon that paper seem necessary right now. I am not sure that those tasks will seem less necessary in the next three weeks. I am sure that I want to take “Recovery” into my life in more ways than one. While my surgeon’s list and plan for the coming months is looking toward only physical recovery and rehabilitation, my own list will also look to the recovery and rehabilitation of my spirit, my soul, and my deepest desires. And at the end of this long process, I hope to be more aligned with a list that rests in being, and one that has less focus on perfecting and performing.
Eventually, I hope that the list becomes closer and closer to one word—one defining statement of who I am and how I live. For the next six months it will be Recovery, but I hope that by the end of that six months there will be a clarity about what I choose to accomplish. I suspect that it might be some derivative of Love, because that seems to me the opposite of control.
Today, I will work on the tasks on the list. In a few weeks the list will change. And maybe, someday, there won’t even be a list to write, because what I do and who I am and how I interact with the world might be so deeply felt and understood that I don’t need to create a list of tasks.
I hope that someday my being is more important than my doing, that I can let go of perfection and overly high standards for myself, and that I can stop doing too much. I hope that soon I can let go of the lists that demonstrate my progress because I have progressed beyond a need for control and keeping up appearances. I think that writing this post might actually demonstrate that I am already on my way to that someday. Because I already desire the change.
Now, let’s do what we desire. Let’s get it done.
Put it on the list.