Purpose on Paper

One of the least useful pieces of advice I ever received following diagnosis with depression was this: ‘Stay in your pyjamas for as long as you like. Take it easy in the mornings’.

This is not bad advice per se. It was just unhelpful for me. I do not feel relaxed in my pyjamas during the day. I don’t feel ready to tackle anything, to participate in anything, until I am showered and dressed. The advice was meant as a ‘be kind to yourself’ encouragement. But my addled mind heard it as this: ‘You have now achieved special status. You no longer need to participate in life. You may now slob about in your pyjamas and enter into the full misery of your situation. You are hopeless’. Of course this is not what the counsel meant. At all. But the advice was not well-tailored to my personality.

I have never been a stunning morning person. Nor am I a night-owl. I was fairly good at getting going in the mornings, and at going to bed at a normal time. But years of broken nights (parenting) and sleep-disturbance (depression) have broken my nocturnal/diurnal rhythms somewhat. Now I don’t really know what I am. I sometimes joke that I am anti-crepuscular, because I avoid dawn and dusk.

Before depression, mornings were the beginning of a new day. Sometimes they were crappy, sometimes exciting. You know, just the normal mixture of life-days. Now, mornings vary just as much, but are threaded with an ever-present feeling of un-namable dread. The day’s start has an aggressive nature, whitewashed with bright gloom.

One thing that makes grasping the day by the horns a little easier is a small piece of paper with a list on it.

A few months ago I read some blog-posts about time management (a genre I’m usually wary of!). One suggested writing a to-do list with five tasks for each day. I have tried it, and found it surprisingly effective. I tend to write two larger tasks and three smaller ones. I let myself write very small tasks on my list. Things like watering my plants or doing some knitting. Larger tasks are not really very large. They might consist of tidying one room of the house, or cooking dinner. Almost anything counts, actually. Sometimes I write things on my list like ‘read a book with the Toddly Boy’. It’s not about getting things done. It’s about having my purpose written down.

One of the lessons of parenthood I’ve had to learn is time-stretching. Having three kids is joyous, but busy. Even though I’m not doing paid work at the moment – and can therefore focus on the house and the people in it – I still have limited energy. What I once achieved in a day may now take a week. And that’s ok. Because a full life is no longer about productivity, and ticking jobs off a list. Rather, I do some tasks, and spend the rest of my time connecting with people and places.

This is where the 5-item-list comes in handy. It allows a task-oriented person like me to feel a sense of achievement. It allows me also to put items on my to-do list that I enjoy – not just jobs that need doing. That means I can make the link between my work and my enjoyment of it. That’s an important link to make in my book. Part of seizing the fun.

And fun, purpose, makes getting out of bed easier.


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