Oh, February, you’ve been a weird month. I’ve gone from high to low and high again incredibly fast. There have been moments when I felt that nothing I’m doing is right and others when I felt that what I’m doing is exactly what I should be doing. I walked around London in sleet and sat down in the balcony wearing shorts. I loved spending time with people while also claiming that my favourite person to be with is myself. I promised I wouldn’t travel anywhere for a while and the next day I found myself thinking of Easter holidays destinations. I ate so much cereal that I probably have diabetes now. I got a new diagnosis after I basically self-diagnosed months ago and found out I had been taking the wrong medicine, which I am still angry about. I have been furious at many things and many people this month, myself included. It hasn’t been an easy one, but I feel like I have made a lot of progress towards getting my life back. Here are the things that have kept me sane in this whirlwind.
January ended with me finally getting a kitchen and shelves to replace the ones I left behind in my last move. Everything has been moving really fast since I came back to Spain, but somehow it felt like my life had been on stand-by for ages. I hadn’t had an organised living space since I started packing boxes for Munich back in June, so I’ve basically been moving for over half a year. Having boxes around became a huge trigger because it sparked memories of feeling miserable, lonely and sure that I had made a huge mistake, so I had to get them out of the way as soon as possible. I spent the first weekend of the month organising every single thing I own, which is a lot. It was both physically and psychologically exhausting, but I had to get it out of the way as soon as possible if I wanted to remain sane and go back to relative normalcy. I always feel like the way my place looks reflects the way my brain feels, and I had been living in chaos for too long. Now my living space makes me happy on a daily basis. I feel like I am home again, I love the way it looks and I love the way it feels. There are still a few things that need to be done, but my books and records are in perfect order, so everything else is secondary.
Besides homemaking, I started using a planner again, which makes a huge difference in my life. I have been having massive difficulties to focus, so I was forgetting stuff all the time and then panicking about it, keeping a million to-do lists scattered all over my desk and not knowing what the hell was going on. Now I have my planner in front of me all the time to remind me that I have to empty the washing machine (yep, I have to write down everything these days) and I no longer panic.
I’ve mentioned before that when I am very depressed I stop listening to music or just obsess with a couple of songs and play them on repeat. The fact that I can enjoy music again, listen to entire albums and be receptive to new stuff actually makes me feel more like myself again. This month I’ve been mostly listening to this:
- Juniper Moon – El Resto de mi Vida
- Martha – Blisters in the Pit of my Heart
- J Mascis – Several Shades of Why
- Radioactivity – Radioactivity
- Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
- Night Birds – The Other Side of Darkness
- Steve Adamyk Band – Dial Tone
- American Football – American Football
- John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
That’s more albums than I consistently listened to in the past couple of years, and February is the shortest month! This is a really big deal.
Although I only left my previous job in September, I didn’t have to teach at all during my last semester, which means that I spent ten months without being in a classroom. I know I have a very complicated love/hate relationship with teaching, but I missed it. It had come to the point when I regularly dreamt I was going back to every single job I’ve ever had — and I loved them all, even the worst ones. If that’s not a sign that I had to get back to work, I don’t know what is. Thankfully I was offered my old job back a couple of days after coming back to Spain, and as soon as I started teaching again, I realised that I had really missed working with kids. Some organisational issues (and Christmas) made the process of getting really into my classes a bit slower than usual, but this month I have finally started being creative at work again, and it’s paying off. Sometimes I wake up in a terrible mood, and that totally changes when I get to work and realise that I am making a lot of people happy. Kids regularly tell me that I look good, that the stuff I plan is fun and that they wish I came to their class every day. For a few hours, I am forced to stop ruminating and focus on somebody else. Yeah, sometimes it’s frustrating, they cry, they fight, and they all want to go to the toilet at the same time. Sometimes I plan lessons that fail, and then I get frustrated and feel like crying, but the look on their faces when they finish something they’re proud of is worth it. Really.
I’ll probably regret this in August when it’s 40ºC outside, but one of my favourite things about my new apartment is having a balcony with afternoon sun. Now that the days are getting longer I get more sun, and sitting outside with a book and a cup of coffee has become my new favourite activity. I’ve also finally started riding my bike again, and it really boosts my mood.
After such unstructured months, building new habits is my #1 priority at the moment. I really can’t live in chaos anymore, but I also have to keep myself away from huge habit lists that do nothing but make me feel frustrated at all the things I feel I should be doing but don’t do. I think in the past year I’ve tried every single habits app available, and I also read a couple of books about it last year back when I started realising that I was on a downward spiral. This is a work in progress, so I’m not going to claim that I’ve successfully conquered anything yet. Last year I identified the three habits that make the biggest difference to my mental state: keeping a regular sleeping schedule, exercising and working on my PhD. Following my therapist’s advice, I’m taking things step by step (something that I’m terrible at doing) and focusing on my sleeping schedule. Together, we made a list of everything that I could do to disconnect and keep racing thoughts away from my mind at night. Every single thing that we talked about was common sense, but common sense is sometimes hard to find when you’re struggling with mental illness. Eventually, we decided on three habits that would be easy to follow and wouldn’t make me feel overwhelmed: being in bed by 1 AM, staying away from books that might make me anxious and doing yoga to unwind before bed. I added getting everything ready for the following day, but didn’t choose it as one of the three because I was already doing it before that session.
I have a 1 AM alarm that reminds me I need to get into bed. Most days I don’t fall asleep until two because reading in bed is my favourite thing in the world, but at least I’m not sitting at my desk worrying about everything I have to do. This has made me start waking up early and getting things done in the morning, which leads to me getting to work in a better mood and doing a better job, which makes me happy and motivates me to get more stuff done, etc. You get the deal.
If I’m having a good day I read whatever I want to, but I have several books going at the same time, fiction and non-fiction and both in Spanish and English. If I’m sad or overexcited, I read fiction in Spanish. If I’m feeling okay, I read whatever the fuck I want to. It works.
I’m way too lazy to do yoga before bed, though. When I’ve done it, it’s felt great, but most days I’d just rather read for longer.