Whatever it takes
Recently, following a lunchtime trip to the nail salon around the corner for a mani, my wise, wonderful friend Kimberly shared this pearl of wisdom:
"Getting my nails done is the fastest way to trick myself into thinking I've got my shit together."
That sentence was followed by so much head-nodding, you guys.
I'm pretty sure every single human being on the planet has, at some point or another, experienced the awful, gut-wrenching, sweat-inducing sensation of trying to keep it together when you are literally hanging on by the very last thread of sanity you have left. It's one of those real-life human emotions that has the power to unify people of all backgrounds together under the rallying flag of "I am at my breaking point, and I'm going to snap any second." We've all been there, many of us several times over, and those of us who are veterans of this harrowing experience know that having several tricks in your bag for when the time comes is essential to survival.
Over the years, I've employed a variety of tactics to combat that terrible, familiar "oh, God, I'm about to lose my damn mind" feeling. I've tried sleeping it off, journaling about it, bitching to friends, crying to friends, drinking myself stupid, channeling my fury and frustration into works of theater, music and art, penning truly awful poetry, pouting, moping, marathoning the entire Anne of Green Gables miniseries, losing entire days and/or weekends to video games, sad-shopping, cleaning the house, letting the house get filthy, binge-eating at multiple fast-food restaurants back to back, and even defiantly partying like nothing at all was amiss.
As you might imagine, most of those tactics do not work, at least not in any long-term capacity.
And that's not entirely a problem. Most of the time, when things are a mess, we know that we're going to have to work our way out of the mire and back into something closer resembling the life we're trying to live. But it's best, really, if our temporary tactics don't make the problem worse, like, oh, I don't know, dumping an entire bottle of bottom-shelf liquor down your throat and then having to spend the next couple of days questioning your life choices.
We're adults, people. Seriously.
I like to think that with a few more years and wrinkles under my belt, I've developed some smarter tactics for dealing with the moments that come - and they will always come, let's just get that out of the way right now, they will always come. And this is where we circle back to my friend's comment, because she's absolutely right. In a world where nothing seems to be going your way, sometimes something as tiny as getting your nails done can honest-to-God make you feel like you've suddenly got your shit entirely, completely together. That manicure, the same one you might argue with yourself is a luxury you shouldn't afford yourself at the moment, can often be the thread that keeps you from snapping.
I've been doing a lot of thinking about self-care, and about all the multitude of emotion that goes into each aspect of taking care of oneself. Taking care of yourself, or rather, getting to the point where you realize you need to take care of yourself and have finally allowed yourself to do so, is a process, much like grieving is a process. Let's review. What are the five stages of grief? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Each of these steps is important in taking care of yourself. Let's examine how implementing a healthy tactic (like getting your nails done, for instance) can help you through the process.
Denial: No, no. Everything's cool. I totally have my shit together.
Anger: I can't believe it, shit is HITTING THE FAN. This is so completely unfair.
Bargaining: Maybe if I do this, this, this and THIS my shit won't hit the fan after all.
Depression: My shit is a mess, and it will NEVER GET BETTER.
Acceptance: My shit is a mess. It is what it is. I'm going to get a manicure.
End result: All of a sudden, I feel like I have my shit together.
And it doesn't have to be a manicure. It can be anything, as long as it's not self-destructive, that makes you feel like your world is just a little bit more organized, like the room has stopped spinning just for a few minutes, long enough for you to handle. your. shit. For my friend Kimberly, a manicure is the best plan of attack. I'll agree, it works pretty well for me too. Also organizing my calendar, or cleaning out my closet, or packing my lunches for work in advance, or sending hand-written letters...all of these things make me feel like I've got my shit together, even if I'm coming undone at the seams. This almost never happens, but on the rare occasions this non-morning person can have her workout and shower completed before noon, that's like, five hundred thousand extra Having My Shit Together bonus points.
It's probably important to note that no, none of these things actually mean you have your shit together - remember, they're tricks to make us FEEL more like we do when we decidedly do not. So it's of course important to recognize that we still have work to do. No one here is saying if you get a manicure you will magically be cured of all problems, because that's just silly. You do have to keep working - I know I do, anyway. But the real work to actually solve your shit doesn't happen overnight. It takes a lot of time, more than you want it to, so finding these little Easter eggs can be really helpful, like a puppy getting treats for remembering to pee outside. Positive reinforcement. It's a good thing.
For some reason, I think a lot of people struggle the most with feelings of sadness and disorder in the winter, when the holidays are over and it seems like the things to look forward to are a long time away. That's why it's more important than ever, in these coldest, darkest months, to take care of ourselves, to look for the little silver linings that make the long, dark days seem brighter. And if you're anything like me, hopefully you can find a way to enjoy these months, which are actually some of my very favorite. Remember, it's only dark because the light is sleeping. It's not gone forever - not even close.