When Life Gets in the Way

I’ve had a really nasty cold since last Friday.

Technically, I’ve only had the nasty part of the cold since Tuesday; the first few days were what I usually expect from a cold, i.e. a steadily dripping nose and a general malaise, but instead of getting better the whole thing got worse, and at this point I’ve coughed so much I’ve lost my voice. It’s a throat cough (there are boogers) and not a chest cough so it’s not bronchitis, and if it isn’t better by Monday I’ll see a doctor.

I already work from home, so that hasn’t been a problem, and I took “half days” on Tuesday and Wednesday to get some rest in the afternoons — and by “half days” I mean “just Billfold stuff and I’ll take care of my other freelance work over the weekend when I assume I’ll be feeling better.”

Which, yeah, working on the weekend will be a drag, and the constant laundry I’ve been doing over the past few days has been a drag, and the fact that I’ve been eating my way through my freezer’s supply of homemade soup that I stashed in there for just this type of occasion but will have to remake and restash after this is all done will be a drag, in the sense that the work never ends.

Or, more specifically: taking a break doesn’t make the work disappear. It just lets it pile up.

But it’s no big deal, right? This week I have a grody-odie cold, and when it’s done I’ll spend a few days cooking and cleaning and catching up on freelance stuff and then everything will be back to normal.

Except the week before the cold, my sister and her family were in town, and I was spending most nights over at my folks’ place visiting with them, and that wasn’t “normal.”

And the week before that was Christmas, and that wasn’t “normal.”

And the month before that, a few people I care about got ill back-to-back-to-back, so I spent time hanging out in emergency rooms and helping them recover, and that wasn’t “normal.”

And right before that was the five weeks I spent on that exhausting project, and that wasn’t “normal.”

I think you see where I’m going with this.

(I’m also starting to wonder if that isn’t part of why I got this cold right now, and such a bad one.)

So, yeah. Things get in the way.

What do we do?

See what you choose when your choices are limited

Right now I have to (or am choosing to) devote several hours of my day to “lying on the couch and coughing boogers into tissues.” (I’m counting this as a choice because I could also choose to power through it! I’m hoping this choice will get me well faster, even though it means having to devote future hours to all of the work I’m currently leaving undone.)

Last week I chose to spend most of my free time with the fam.

But last week I also chose to continue going to my Les Mills classes at the YMCA, even though I could have given those hours to FAM TIME.

And this week, even though I could have given this hour to BOOGERVILLE, I am sucking down cough suppressants to write this post.

What did I give up instead? Playing my piano. Cooking meals (well, I technically cooked the food I am pulling out of my freezer and reheating, but you get the point). Reading, beyond the reading I needed to get done for a book club. The leisure stuff.*

This week, I also gave up outlining/planning/thinking about the novel I hope to start drafting in February, simply because I don’t have any extra brain to put there. (One of the things that happens, when life gets in the way, is that all the extra background thought that might go into solving a creative problem goes towards solving the life problem. I’m going to do a whole post on that idea later, because it’s so important — and it’s a creative struggle I don’t know how to solve.)

When your life stops being “normal,” what do you choose to maintain and what do you give up?

Remember the Sheelzebub Principle

I’ll quote Sheelzebub again:

Can I live with this for another month? Another year? Another five years? Ten years? The rest of my life?

Excerpted from Sheelzebub’s comment on Captain Awkward #353 & #354: Bathrooms, Butts, and Boundaries.

If the way that life is getting in the way isn’t working, figure out what you need to do to change it. This is incredibly difficult work, because it often involves saying no to people you care about, ending relationships, changing jobs, etc. etc. etc.

It can be even harder if you don’t have resources to help you make the change: money, a network of contacts, a couch you can crash on, an affordable babysitter or day care service, an elderly parent willing to work with a home care aide who isn’t you, etc. etc. etc.

I have done the hard work of ending things I can no longer live with (and the equally hard work of postponing that ending because maybe things will get better and I won’t have had to say no?), but every time I realize I’m going to have to set a boundary or make a change it is still just as hard.**

Look for people who are going through what you’re going through, and see how they do it

If I were to type some yip yip about how of course you can find the time to do THE WORK you want to do while also having small children/eldercare responsibilities/a day job/a chronic illness/etc. you could rightfully say shut up Nicole, you have none of those things so you don’t know what you’re talking about.

(I would argue that I do have a day job and family responsibilities, but I understand all too well how freelance work is different from employee work, and how being a daughter who lives near her parents is different from, say, actively parenting a toddler.)

However, there are plenty of people who are both making incredible creative work and writing about the process of making that work while balancing their day jobs or health issues or parenting/caretaking responsibilities.

Go see what they have to say about it.

I don’t want to make a list of recommendations because that feels like using people as INSPIRATION PRAWNS, which, gross, they’re people.

But I will share this video from Mikey Neumann of Movies With Mikey. Although he did not create it so it would fit exactly in this blog post, he did create it to share “how life-threatening challenges have shaped him and his work,” so I’m hoping he won’t mind my sharing it with you.

That video’s almost a half-hour long, so I’ll end here.

There’s always going to be life getting in the way of our ideal (or even our “normal”) life. It is our challenge and our joy to keep making choices that bring us closer to THE LIFE we want, and to prioritize THE WORK we want to do. ❤️

*But I’m also watching the new Vanity Fair miniseries during BOOGERTIME, so maybe that counts as leisure? Painful, have-to-sanitize-my-laptop-afterwards leisure, but still.

**Sometimes I wonder if my ability to successfully set boundaries and change certain aspects of my life just means I haven’t really faced anything truly hard yet.