19 November 2010

Do something you love today

Something my VA social worker said to me this week is really resonating in my head:
Every day, take fifteen minutes or so to do something you really love; no matter how busy you are doing other things.
Ideally, you're in a situation where you get to do what you love fairly often, but I know that doesn't always happen.  The thing that gets "missed" in talking about PTSD is its real life effects.  You feel angry, jittery, can't concentrate-- those are some of the symptoms-- but the effects of those symptoms are that you fight with your spouse, you can't keep your hands from shaking, have trouble absorbing material in classes, and don't do a good job at work and can't explain why.  You lose a relationship, you get fired, you fail a class, you end up delivering pizza in a bad neighborhood instead of writing software in a suburban office.

It can be truly hard to find those fifteen minutes.  Things you really love can be out of reach-- if you love sitting in a coffee shop with a book and a latte, but you've been working double minimum wage shifts to pay the rent and living on ramen noodles because you got fired from your last job for being late too many times... yeah.  The latte isn't gonna happen.  I call it "survival mode" when you're spending all of your resources (time, energy, and money) on food, clothing, and shelter.   You may not have fifteen minutes out of each twenty four hours to spend doing something just for the love of doing it.

I once had a job working for a courier company; it was a crappy job.  I had to use my own car, and money for both gas and maintenance came out of the commission I got on every delivery.  If business was good, I made money, but there were a lot of days when I lost money on average because it went to fix the car so I could keep working.  Still, I managed to keep the job going for a while.  This was back in the days when not everyone had a cellphone, and most buildings had a payphone or two (or three).  So, I started collecting payphone numbers.  Whenever I made a pickup or delivery, if there was a payphone in or outside the building, I recorded the number and location and added it to my list when I got home.

Eventually, I had accumulated several hundred payphone numbers.  Collecting them gave me something interesting to look forward to during the day, especially if I was going somewhere I hadn't been before.  When there were payphones, they often appeared in interesting places.  The list of numbers by itself wasn't worth anything, but the few minutes a day I spent looking for payphones was a break from the hopeless situation I was in.   Those numbers didn't do anything for my bank balance; they didn't pay the bills, didn't make my job better, didn't actually cure any of my problems-- but building the list gave me something, and it cost me nothing.

Finding something that you can love to do for a few minutes each day is important-- as my social worker pointed out, the positive feeling you can get from doing something you enjoy carries over into the rest of the day.  That can sound out of reach when you've got so many things going on, but it's true.

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