When I told Dan that I only got a cumulative ten minutes of sleep last Wednesday night, he ran it through his Bethany Hyperbole Filter and concluded that I meant seven and a half hours instead of my usual nine. (I need more sleep than any creature I know, newborn sloths included.) The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but the point is that I spent Thursday tired, and even a luxury nap after breakfast didn’t jump-start the kind of energy or inspiration one would hope for on her birthday.
My perceptions of cold, hunger, tiredness, and sadness have always confused themselves with each other, and so I never was quite sure throughout the day if I needed a snack or a blanket or maybe some stand-up comedy. In reality, I probably needed some double espressos with an extra spoonful of grace, but clear thinking is not my forte when I’m running on a sneeze-worth of sleep. Instead, my instinctive drive to do more! accomplish more! amps up in direct proportion to my rising exhaustion—all the more so on “special” days—and I basically turn into my own personal Dementor.
Sucking out my own soul is a habit I’d love to kick in this coming year, so my first instinct was to put that at the top of an extra special birthday edition to-do list:
- Stop sucking out own soul.
- (But really, accomplish more please.)
Self help clearly isn’t my forte either.
It’s just that I want to feel in every synapse and pore of my being that I’m doing life well—living it deeply, thoughtfully, openly, and significantly. I crave purpose the way our palm trees crave water; that’s my internal design, and it could be a force for good if I could simply ditch the accompanying stress. Search for purpose – guilt-ridden paranoia + a chill pill. (Optional: more wine and/or Rumi.) Sounds pretty perfect, right? To that end, I’m writing a different kind of list for myself this birthday. Instead of lining up the things I hope to do this year (see 2008, 2009, 2010, and a dizzy buzzing noise from 2011), I’m giving myself permission this year to not do. (Feel free to adopt this list for yourself or anyone else in your life who could use a break from self-flagellation.)
- You have permission not to catch up with friends’ online worlds before getting in touch. It’s okay to call or write a loved one without knowing exactly what she’s been up to the last few weeks (or, ahem, months). If anything, it will give you more to talk about one-on-one, so ditch the guilt, mark all as read, and spend your valuable time enjoying the relational part of your relationships.
- You have permission not to take other people’s success as indication of your failure. Personal amazingness is not the last piece of pie; there is more than enough to go around in this wide, ever-possible world of ours, and it has no expiration date. You can’t be late to a game that doesn’t exist, so stop worrying that your friend’s book deal was meant to be yours (it wasn’t) or that the scholarship accidentally fell out of destiny’s hands into the wrong person’s (it didn’t) or that each new name worked into a Ben & Jerry’s flavor pun knocks you even further out of the running (Fruit Bassett for 2015, anyone? anyone?).
- You have permission not to wait until ideas are fully formed and Beowulf-epic before acting on them. Your husband is right in warning you that incubating a project until it’s reached theoretical perfection means never starting that project at all. Wrinkles are best smoothed out with forward motion anyway, so put more energy into your doing than into your thinking, start small, and at least try to befriend imperfection along the way. (He’s so much more interesting to hang out with than perfection; just think of the stories you’ll accrue!)
- You have permission not to wear all your hats at once. Just one at a time is enough, I think, but not the everything hat. It’s not really a hat at all—just a piece of tinfoil hot-glued with delusions of grandeur—and the only thing you manage to do while wearing it is bump into walls; please, for the love of all that is holy, throw the everything hat away. Also, you know the housecleaning hat is too tight, so limit your time with that one; the mama and friend and writer and teacher hats fit you much better. As long as you don’t wear them all at once.
- You have permission not to protect the worry. I know you think that someone has to be responsible for worrying, and not just for worrying but for keeping the worry comfortable, well-fed, and safe from harm, and if you don’t do it, who will? I also know that sometimes worry feels like the only constant you can grasp when life is surging around you. But oh honey—the worry doesn’t need a protector. It’s an animal of prey, and you know all too well how it bites the hand that feeds it. You already have plenty to do without this job on top of all; you have my express and hearty permission to resign.
Bonus: You have permission to slip away to the park for an hour or two and fill yourself to capacity with fresh air. Recommended especially for those with a Dementor habit to break.