The imperfect power of lists

It feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest and I can’t breathe.

No. It feels like a fist clenched around my heart, witch-claws digging into meat that struggles to beat.

No. It feels like an itch – a million separate itches in every cell inside my skin, too deep to scratch, although grinding my teeth helps.

No. It feels like no. It feels like urgent – hurry – too late. It feels like loss. It feels like quickquickrunaway! It feels like weep, bite, refuse, fail. It feels like hide, disappear, do not be.

Distressed woman

I am a maker of lists. On my phone, with a linked copy on my laptop, I have Evernote, and it is full of lists. There are several shopping lists, and a list of organic ways to deal with pests, and a list of natural cleaning products. Most important, though, are the to do lists. They are like gears – I engage them, and my day, and thus my life, moves forward.

  • There is my list of things to do every morning, and
  • another list of things to do every evening, and next to each item on both these lists are seven boxes so that during the week I can check things off as I do them, and see that they have been done. That gives me pleasure.
  • There is a list of chores I’m supposed to do every Monday/ Tuesday/ Wednesday/ Thursday/ Friday/ Saturday/ Sunday, and another for JFMAMJJASOND. They have check boxes as well.
  • I also have a list of things I want to do as soon as possible
  • condensed into a list of things I want to do this week (which I check off as I do them, to delete at the end of the week)
  • and backed up by a list of things that aren’t urgent but I want to do them someday, so I write them down in order not to forget them
  • and then there’s a list of improvements and projects I want to get done around our home and our farmlet
  • and a list of topics I want to blog about
  • and a list of characters in the book series I started writing just before I got stuck.

The lists stopped working about last November. First, I signed up for NaNo, and instead of starting something new I decided to have another whack at the novel I started writing the last time I tried to do NaNo, and for a while it was kind of like magic because suddenly the characters and the story line coalesced. Then it went from magical to miraculous, because I realized I didn’t have only one book; I had an entire series, something that would be fun to write, easy to sell – not great literature, but fuck that. I used to think I had a Great Novel inside of me, but now I just want to finish writing something that people will pay to read. So for a few joyous days I wrote and wrote, and it was wonderful and glorious and happy and enough.

But the gears locked up and I got stuck. Sometimes, looking back, it feels as though I’ve been halfway stuck for years. Scrolling back through this blog there are so many posts about new beginnings and fresh starts and shined-up resolutions – years of take a step, drag a leg, take another step, drag the damn leg again. And at some point around about November, I stopped. I began to sleep nine, ten, even twelve hours a night. It was never enough; I was always tired. I told myself to eat better, but I was too tired to cook. I told myself to take Argos for walks, to stretch in the crisp crunch of snow and oxygenate my blood with clean, cold air, but it was just too damn hard to get out of bed.


Every morning I peer at my phone (scrunching my left eye shut and holding the phone a few inches from my stronger right eye, because to put in contact lenses I must get out of bed, and I don’t want to get out of bed, not ever – it always feels impossible to push the dogs and duvet aside until impelled to do so by the pressure in my bladder) and I look at my to-do-every-morning list, which I have pared down to the bare bones of home functionality. I pick three things to do. I tell myself that if I do those three things I can stop for a while, reward myself before deciding what to do next. I think about what I might use as a reward, to motivate myself to get out of bed and begin. And then I click on Cortana and read the news.

Sometimes it takes three or four hours just to get up, clenching against leakage as I hobblescurry to the toilet for the lovely relief of the first pee of the day.


How soon dishes pile up on kitchen counters and dirt coats floors and tables. Vegetables compost in the refrigerator, sheets turn gray, blankets smell of dog, piles of laundry consume all the socks and underwear. Some days a to do list yields a joule or two’s worth of energy, but it’s like pushing ectoplasm or blowing away a miasma. You can burn it off and, briefly, catch a glimmer of clarity and order, but the miasmic ectoplasm always oozes back. The only escape is via the secret garden of another book, and another, and just one more.

About two weeks ago I was fingerchatting with my bestie, Twiglet, on Skype, and I started to cry. I wasn’t especially sad – in fact, chatting with her always lifts my spirits – so I wasn’t sobbing or even feeling a need to blow my nose, but after a while it occurred to me that the steady flow of tears down my face wasn’t entirely normal. And then I remembered times in my life that this had happened before, and what I had done that helped. So while I was waiting for Twiglet’s response to something or other I had said, I called my doctor’s office and made an appointment. “What is this for?” the appointment-making person asked. “I don’t think Prozac is working for me any more,” I said, as my voice wobbled unexpectedly like a finger-clutching toddler walking along a wall.

I saw the doctor on Friday, and now I’m weaning off Prozac and have started taking Wellbutrin, and the pharmacist said I should expect to feel worse before I feel better. Specifically, she asked: “Do you have someone to talk to if you have suicidal thoughts?” so I passed that along to the Hubbit. He’s not much of one to be talked to, being more a fix-it kinda guy and also deaf, but he knows which of my friends to phone.

And, you know, I guess it must be working, because I’m dressed, and instead of obsessively clicking round and round between Facebook, Lumosity and the latest piece of insanity spewed from the White House, I’ve written this blog post. It’s not about a topic from my list, but I wanted to write something, and then I did it.

It feels good.




Author: Belladonna Took

Well into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, perpetually at risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic.

26 thoughts on “The imperfect power of lists”

  1. Goodness our Val! Praying for you…more than usual! And I’m thanking Heaven that you recognized that all was not normal. Be careful of your precious self! XOXOXO My Brandon has been on Wellbutrin since 1995 and gets along very well with it. I hope it is as effective for you!


    1. Thank you, my dear. I’m trusting that it will – and if it doesn’t, well, we’ll just find something that does. I may take a while to figure things out but I do get there in the end… 🙂


  2. That was so powerful. Itching, scratching, fretting, being overwhelmed, retreating, releasing, balancing, starting.

    I wish you all the very best in this difficult world made smaller by the recent events outside your or my control.


    1. Thank you, David. And … yeah, these “recent events” certainly don’t help build a sense of whatever it is that makes one want to get up in the morning, do they? But the sun keeps rising. It’s all context.


  3. I am very sorry to hear how rough it’s been. Good on you for having identified first steps to take back! I’m glad you wrote (many, MANY victories in that chain, from having a want to full follow-through) and I’m glad to be reading your voice again today — a good thing for us both!


    1. Thank you so much! I’ve missed your voice too, while I’ve been avoiding the blogoverse. Just read your Valentine’s Day post and … wow. You know what’s scary? I can sort of somewhat imagine my daughter feeling that way about me. She doesn’t so I have to assume (hope) that I hurt her less than your mother hurt you, but intense mother/daughter relationships can be bruising.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Bruising.” Yes, indeed! So many ways that the impossible, contradictory expectations placed on women can become magnified in the context of mother-daughter dynamics…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of those blog post thingies where the reader can’t help but respond – your cry of pain was audible even through the electronica. Good that somewhere in the miasma of that darkness in your head there was a light waving.

    “here! here! There’s something to ask for to make it lighter!”

    Do you need those special ‘glasses-wearing’ kohlrabi again?


    1. Hello, Peg! Yes! I have only an imperfect memory of something that made me laugh; would like a refresher.
      I went scrolling through your blog in search of bespectacled kohlrabi and couldn’t find ’em, and anyway others who pass this way may want to see. Please share the link!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, my friend. The new meds are kicking in and I’m really feeling the difference. Still have a way to go, but I’m voluntarily – even eagerly – taking Argos for walks. That is a huge improvement – and each walk leaves me feeling better!


  5. I think you were right to go to the doctor. Crying in the middle of a conversation like that doesn’t seem quite as it should be. I’m glad to read from your comments that the new meds are beginning to make a difference.


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