There is a small dry erase board that hangs on the back of my front door. It has a five word phrase on it that my old therapist used to say to me when things got hard. “Do The Next Right Thing.” When I got overwhelmed and anxious and scared she would encourage me to focus on that. Do the next right thing, whatever that thing might be. Take your meds. Brush your teeth. Eat a healthy snack. Drink a glass of water. Nothing huge, nothing earthshattering on its own, but one good thing to build on the next and that was how I got through the minutes and hours and days where I just wanted to quit. Where the mental illness threatened to take my life. I never questioned its efficacy and I have certainly passed it on to others I care about when they are in similar circumstances.
What struck me for the first time a few days ago was that I’d taken it to heart in a different way. Do The Next Right Thing has become Do The Next Expected Thing. Put your head down, get through the work day, cram that run in, meet every obligation. Ignore the unhappiness, the stress, the burnout, the doubt. Just keep moving forward and believe that something will change without actually taking steps to make a change. I’ve been slogging through life, operating at a baseline of unhappiness for months now. Months. And I’ve been telling myself that it is just temporary, that I need to be patient, that things will get better. Wait it out. I don’t need to quit my job. I don’t need to change my meds. I don’t need to take a break from running. I don’t need to end that relationship. Somehow I’ve convinced myself that things will better if they stay exactly the same. Huh?
What kind of crap logic is that? I don’t know when I internalized this, but I did. I still rely on this mantra of sorts to get me through individual days, hours, minutes, as needed. But it should not have warped and wormed its way into my brain as an acceptable way to cope with situations, relationships, or circumstances that do not serve my health. I can’t concentrate. I don’t read anymore. I can’t focus on tv shows or movies. Minor tasks require major energy. I mindlessly scroll through apps on my phone looking for God knows what. All I want to do is sleep and I spend my evenings waiting for it to be an acceptable time to crawl into the refuge of my bed and just hope tomorrow will be better.
You would think that in processing this that I would have a major announcement to make. Nope. I’m not quitting my job. I’m not signing up for a big race. I’m not walking away from unsatisfactory relationships. I’m not moving. I’m not Kondo-ing my closet. I’m just sitting here frustrated and confused and tired. I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know what to change. I don’t know what I want so how can I move towards that right space/place/person? The only thing I can think of to do is to ask for help. To go back to counseling. Sigh.
All this unhappiness and dissatisfaction in every aspect of my life has got to stop. Honestly, I think the fact that my life is ruining running for me is what is making me put my foot down. You’d think it would be the grief that would drive me back to counseling, but it isn’t. That, in comparison to everything else, is manageable. Running has been my main coping mechanism for years but it only worked when i was coping with one challenge. Not a fire on every front. Even running has a limit and I’ve reached it. Doing the work doesn’t bring me joy. Getting out the door is a battle. Seeing the miles on my plan spikes my anxiety. Sometimes the thought of tackling a long run brings me to the brink of tears. I just can’t. I’m so tired. My legs can’t carry me anymore and I shouldn’t have expected them to for so long. I’m angry with myself for letting it get this far out of control.
What I do need to brace myself for is that things will not get better overnight. I might not connect with this hew person. That does not mean that counseling won’t help or that I won’t connect with anyone. I do despise the irony of the situation, that I need to be patient and persistent at a time when my resources for doing so are at their lowest. I’m not excited about this development. I’m not. I’m resigned to the fact that it is the best thing I can do for myself in the circumstances that I am in with the resources I have available. I’m not fucking Wonder Woman. Sometimes being strong isn’t bearing it all for eternity. I don’t have that kind of time and I don’t want to waste any more of it feeling this miserable. So I’m taking this step, like I’ve taken thousands of others before it. One foot in front of the other, hoping for actual progress.