Day by day, minute by minute, hour by hour. Measures of worth and progress plotted on the artificial construct of human time known as the clock, where every moment that passes in which you don’t succumb to the compulsion to self-sabotage your wise intentions is a small, significant victory for sanity.
A blue Monday, the annual turning of the January wheel with the pressure to be better than you were last year, sullied by the residue of the dirty habits you’re trying to leave behind, any given day that is a struggle…
How to survive? That's the persistent question from the implacable internal voice inside all our heads.
The answer? Start simple.
Create a microcosm of order and hope that the relief might metastasise. Generate some momentum, create some structure, make sense of the little things and the bigger things might become less monstrous a hurdle.
As I enjoyed the distinctive relief of giving the fridge a thorough clean, which I impulsively decided was the ideal way to start the New Year, as I neatly hung the washing on the line, ordered the tins in the cupboard 'Sleeping With the Enemy' style, decanted liquids into the least amount of containers and put out the empties for recycling, I was reminded of a particular passage from Jay Griffiths’ book ‘Tristimania’, her universally profound and inimitably lucid account of surviving an agonising year-long episode of manic depression.
When in the grip of a particularly heightened state of hypomania, Griffiths found herself “white-faced with intent” as she doggedly channelled her flailing reserves into doing the housework “as if [her] life depended on it”.
Who among us wouldn’t identify with this concerted absorption in a seemingly mundane task, whether to distract ourselves from a more urgent challenge, to delay an inevitably worse horror, or to simply generate a bit of momentum where we might otherwise succumb to the urge to return hopelessly to bed?
When we turn to these relatively undemanding tasks, we’re doing more than indulging in procrastination or avoidance tactics.
We’re taking control and care of our mental health “because not being able to do even the simplest of things is a measure of how low you’re scoring in the competence stakes”, as Griffiths puts it.
When dysfunction and total malfunction loom, the ability to apply some very basic methodology (tidying, ordering, cleaning) to any part of your world is a salve to cognitive chaos.
For Griffiths, to leave the dirt to fester would be an incriminating sign of non-functioning that her already fragile mind could not tolerate, whereas:
“Cleaning would hold back the signs of madness. It would wipe away the tell-tale fingerprints of insanity.”
So here’s to distracting/occupying our fragile minds with mundanity, to keeping in check that tiny sphere of the world around us that exists in our tangible orbit, to making madness visible and invisible, to finding hope in the dust.
Sometimes, distraction from ourselves is precisely what we need to save us from ourselves.