I talk about my checklists a lot. They keep me focused throughout the day and let me know if I’m forgetting something important, like taking a dose of medication. But I’m neglecting to give full credit to what some of those items on that list actually entail.
I have a row for “read.” Currently, I’m reading five separate books: The Empty Throne, by Bernard Cornwell (the latest in a series that I am exceptionally fond of); Maus, by Art Spiegelman (the only graphic novel ever to win the Pulitzer Prize); World Without End, by Ken Follett (a re-read of the sequel to my favorite novel ever); The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin (the 1979 Newbery Award winner, one of my favorite books as a child, and one I haven’t read since I was a child); and Starting and Building A Nonprofit: A Practical Guide by Peri Pakroo, J.D. (to confirm my desire to either start my own nonprofit or try and join an existing one). I’m reading each one, chapter by chapter or section by section. I’ve often read multiple books at once. I’ve never attempted five simultaneously before.
There’s another entry for “learn.” Currently this means that I’m consistently teaching myself Spanish through Duolingo and doing brain-building exercises through Elevate, both Android apps on my phone. There are also occasional self-paced classes I’m taking online to teach myself HTML, CSS, and Linux, but I don’t do those every day like I do Duolingo and Elevate. I’m also actively trying to find my way into a series of pottery classes but those are proving elusively expensive at present.
The item marked “to-do” is always a catch-all of errands and tasks that need to be done during the day that otherwise don’t fit into the checklist. I keep them written down in a separate black book and cross them off when they’re done. Once I’ve crossed everything off for the day, I check off “to-do” as being done. Depending on the day, this could be as simple as “clean the kitchen” or as complicated as a lengthy list of tasks that need to be done. It varies based on how busy I am.
Other items on the checklist have their definitions as well. “Exercise” means either going for a walk or staying in and doing one of several seated cardio workouts available on YouTube. “Stretching” either means yoga or the cooldown stretches after the cardio. The two aren’t combined because I have range-of-motion issues and becoming more limber is just as important as working my heart. “Socialize” means I reach out to at least one person a day and have a conversation with them, and that person cannot be the same person as the previous day. This is to extend my circle of friends beyond “oh, this person will give me the time of day, they must be the only person I can ever converse with ever again.” “Bed” means lights out by 2:00 am, with some attempt to close my eyes and sleep shortly thereafter.
My brain minimizes this checklist a lot of the time to be the “bare minimum” that I should be doing with any given day. To be honest, the “bare minimum” is checking my vitals in the morning, afternoon, and evening; taking medications as prescribed; and eating three meals a day. That’s ten out of nineteen items (currently). When I do everything on my checklist, it should be cause for celebration, as I’m taking my day and filling it with activity the best that I can. It’s something that I’ve achieved only twelve times since I started my checklist last October 24. During that time, I’ve changed the checklist attributes eight times to try and better reflect what I expect or need out of my day, and still getting it all done is an elusive thing.
This post I wrote mainly for myself as a reminder that I’m doing the best that I can, with each day that I have. If you’re struggling with mental illness, that’s all you can do – the best that you can, which is going to be wildly different from day to day. Own it when you do a lot, accept it when you do a little – but keep doing what you’re doing.