Sunday started off a bad day. Woke up about seven-thirty feeling like crap. Everything hurt. I didn’t sleep well, and I had a headache – both a result of too much wine the night before. “Should be brighter in here,” I thought as I made my way to the living room. Gray skies hid the morning sun, and I plopped down on the sofa.
Amy was still asleep, the blessings were with their dad, and all was quiet. It had been a tough week, and I was in a bad place mentally and emotionally. Half-sitting, half-lying down, I stared at the ceiling fan and slowly drowned in my negativity. I didn’t know what to do. When I say “I didn’t know what to do,” I literally mean I did not know what to do – in that moment, for the rest of the day, week, or for the rest of my life. I felt stuck and hopeless.
The Dump Bucket
So, I followed the advice I give others and decided to act. I asked myself, “What is something, one thing, I can do, right here and now?” I looked around the room and sitting on an end table was one of my journals. I have two of them. In one I keep all my to-do’s, meeting notes, etc.; it’s my bullet journal. The other is what I call the Dump Bucket. The Dump Bucket is my brain dump journal. In it I write anything and everything that pops into my head, and there it was sitting on the table with a pen fastened to the spine. That was something I could do; I could write.
Let’s back up for a minute for a little context. After reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, I started putting structure to my morning routine. Part of that routine is journaling. Every weekday morning at five, after getting up, making coffee, eating some form of protein, and a few other things, I go into my office and sit at my desk. Before I open my laptop or check my phone, I brain dump into the Dump Bucket. Other than my standard header at the top of the page, there is no structure to the entries. Whatever thoughts are in my head, no matter how crazy or random, into the Bucket they go. It’s completely unfiltered, uninhibited, and raw. I write until I’m done writing. Sometimes I write several pages, sometimes only a few sentences.
Gratitude and Such
Back to the story. I sat up on the sofa and reached for my journal and began to write. I started with my standard header: day, date, and time. I got about halfway down the page when I stopped and read what I wrote:
…feeling hopeless. Finding it hard to give a shit about anything. Amy went off yesterday. yelling, crying, venting. I just listened. The worst part for me was at the end when she was crying and saying over and over “I miss my mom. I just miss my mom.” Tears ran down my face. had trouble keeping my shit together hearing her and watching her say that. wanted desperately to take away her pain. fucking sucks felt helpless I feel like shit today and I just don’t care. Should not have had wine. It’s cold and gray outside. I’m stuck. Nothing to give.
Instead of continuing to write, I went back and started reading previous entries, and I was struck by the pattern I found. Yes, there we some positive notes and energy, but there was a lot of “I can’t” and “we can’t” and “this sucks” and “I hate.” I had a though, so I grabbed my pen and wrote:
So let’s try this: start with who I am and then what I’m grateful for. And then only what I CAN do… I’m going to turn the page. It will be blank. A blank page like today. It has yet to be written and I am the author.
I sat there for a minute, almost afraid to turn the page, but I did. I started with my “who I am” list (another story for another time) and then moved to gratitude. Mine wasn’t one of those self-aggrandizing gratitude lists that people post on Facebook around Thanksgiving to show everyone how humbly awesome they are. My list included things like coffee, Adderall, and my headphones. It took a lot of effort at first but once I started, the easier it became.
Now this is the point where a lot of people will tell you that once they finished their gratitude list, the sun came out, rainbows filled the sky, and their hearts were filled with joy. That’s not how it works. None of that ever happens. What does take place is a shift. Sometimes it’s big and other times it’s small, but it’s an important one. That’s what happened to me that morning – a small but definite shift that took me from misery to meh. And meh felt pretty good in that moment. Then it was on to “what I can do.”
As I read through some of my past entries, I realized I have a good idea of all the things I can’t do. It was time to capitalize on the gratitude shift and list things I can do, no matter how small. My can-do list contained things like: eat, drink coffee, get the mail, write, create content, take a walk, and others. They were small things, small actions, but ones I could take immediately. Now I was starting to feel better, not great or even good, but better. And as the day wore on and I took more action, the better I continued to feel.
Putting it Together
When I started writing that morning, I had no idea what to do. I was paralyzed by my negative thoughts and emotions. We are all human. We will all experience negative emotions in our lives and when we do, it’s important that we acknowledge them. Self-awareness allowed me to recognize and acknowledge that I was in a bad place.
It’s also important to have tools. The Dump Bucket is my tool. It contained the insights I needed that morning in order to shift. It wasn’t a quick fix and it didn’t bring instantaneous relief, but that small shift in course ultimately changed my destination. Without tools, it’s hard for us to make the changes we need to make in order to get where we want to be.
By the time I finished writing, I had two pages full of who I am, things I was grateful for, and things I could do. And even though I didn’t necessarily feel like doing any of them, I knew that it’s through our actions that we change our mindset, and I at least had a list of actions I could take. That’s critical because ultimately it’s what we do that matters.
Self-awareness, the right tools, and taking action are the things that unstick us and get us moving again. These things take time to develop and learn. There will be missteps along the way. We are all in different places in terms of our self-awareness, and some tools that work for others won’t work for us. And that’s ok. We just have to keep going, learning, and trying new things. That’s how we grow, and growth is a life-long process.