Every once and a while, some time management tip I read in a book or magazine actually sticks with me. And by every once and a while, I actually mean two or three tips in my entire life. So don’t worry. This isn’t going to become a time management blog. This isn’t even a time management post. Just bear with me.
Anyhow, one of those rare tips I kept was this bit of advice about incoming emails. As some organizational guru said, you should do one of three things with each email – delete it; act on it and sort it into a folder; or hold it in your inbox for later action. Mostly, I follow this plan because I enjoy feeling like a productive and responsible adult when I’m just deleting Starbucks promotions. But it’s actually not a bad thought. This way, when you look at your inbox, all you see are the items that you need to take care of.
Which is great. Except when you realize that a large portion of those emails start like this:
Hey! Haven’t talked in awhile. Hope you’re well!
Just checking in because I haven’t heard from you. Send an update when you get a chance!
Can we catch up soon? I feel like I have no idea what’s going on in your life!
Yesterday, I glanced at my “streamlined” inbox and realized that, while I had only two or three unfinished work items to address, I had a horrifyingly large number of kind “hello” emails I hadn’t touched. And, when I thought about it, the same went for texts and voicemails.
Now, most of the time, I would blow this off with some elaborate, but not terribly original, excuse, one that generally involves the word “crazy.” You know, “So sorry, I’ve been crazy busy at work!” “Oh, I’ve been caught up in my crazy family drama” or the ever-popular “Life’s just been so crazy!” But that’s got to stop.
(In large part because I really need to stop the ridiculously inappropriate and disrespectful misuse of the word “crazy.”)
In addition to my careless use of a slur launched at people experiencing mental illness, even if I used more precise language — Work’s been so stressful, family stuff has been really overwhelming — I wouldn’t be entirely honest. Because the reason I’m not reaching out is not purely busyness-related.
It’s because I’m embarrassed to admit I’m struggling.
This is not a commentary on my friends or family.They are extraordinary, kind, enormous-hearted souls that have seen me through depression, grief, transition, and any other major road bump life throws in the way.
But even after all that, I still put off the joy of connection because I’m waiting to get my life together before I call.
Yes, I am healing. Yes, I am doing the good, hard work of recovery. But recovery is messy. And I want to show people the tidy, cleaned-up, organized version of myself. I’d like to show people my nifty email sorting system, for instance. Look how much I have it all together! I’d rather not show them my scribbled, tear-stained journals, my decidedly un-tidy breakdown in my car yesterday.
It’s the reason I haven’t shared this blog with anyone I know in real life yet.
Even in the midst of my healing, parts of me are still trapped within the four white walls of my shame. Shame that I haven’t just shaken this stupid depression thing yet. Shame that I still have to wrestle daily, sometimes hourly, with the demons of self-doubt. Shame that, while my friends are making big professional steps and getting married moving forward, I’ve moved backwards, back to my hometown to immerse myself in old family dramas and fight the same battles I fought years ago.
And I’m afraid that, if I call or email, my friends and family know me well enough that they will see straight through the cracks in my armor. So I’m waiting for those cracks to go away. It’s easier to wait until I’ve got it all together.
The little voice of clarity is speaking up, fighting her way out from under the piles of shame and doubt I’ve thrown on her, to say You’re never going to have it all together.
Especially if you keep closing off those life-sustaining connections. Those connections are what saves you. These writings and these connections in this space — i.e. you — are saving me. And I’m willing to bet each of those people on the other end of the phone, computer, or blog post has a few cracks in their armor they’re afraid of showing too.
Anne Lamott says, “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools — friendships, prayer, conscience, and honesty — and said, Do the best you can with these. They will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”
I am waiting for that shiny toolbox to make me a “real” person – acceptable enough, put-together enough, whole enough for my friends and family to love me. In reality, my friends, family, and connections in this space are my tools. I do not have to wait for my “real” life to start before I reach out to them. They are my real life.
If you’ll excuse me, I have some emails to attend to.