Busy. Busy. The next task tailgates me wherever I am. The weeks whip by like the trusses on the old train bridge. Here we are. March already. I strain at the gear that loads the spring that will catapult me into next year.

Oddly, only my days remain as long as ones in my past. I’m grateful.

Still, the stress seeps in from the scarcity of time: fewer days left in the rest of my life.

Being an inveterate problem-solver, I decide to do something. Since I live in my head, my solutions are often head-based, sometimes making things worse. Still, it’s my way and I give it a try.

I reframe my understanding. I change my relationship with each of my days: rather than attend to how I spend my time, I focus on how I spend myself. I have a limited amount of physical and mental energy. There are only so many emotions I can feel before I feel enervated and ready for bed. I can’t see and hear and feel everything around me. I must choose more wisely.

I start by paying more attention to how events, people, places, and things in my day affect me. I notice that the more news I read, the less happy I feel; the more time I spend on social media the less motivated I get. There are certain people that make me glad to be alive, people whose spirit shines like a halo. There are certain things I read that open up something inside me. Certain activities – because I must be in motion – trigger the sense of awe I miss when I haven’t felt it in a long enough time.

How has this changed my behaviors? I signed up to receive a poem-a-day. Reading a poem, chosen by someone else and random to me, is the first thing I do when I’m ready to do the first thing that day. About one in three poems are keepers. They take me to a place of possibility and wonder. I linger with them as I brush my teeth and shower.

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Also, I’m more accepting of myself, of my rhythms and ways of doing things. There is a concept I learned a lot time ago I’m taking more seriously. It’s called conation and classically was considered one of three faculties of mind, along with cognition and affect. Conation is the mental faculty that takes thoughts and emotions and casts them into purposeful action. It provides the impetus and motivation to act and answers the “why” of behaviors. In addition, it channels action to “where to” and “how to get there.” The last point most directly relates to my topic today. We each have our modus operandi or MO. For example, you may make decisions by drawing a vertical line on a sheet of paper and listing the pros on one side and cons on the other. I may make decisions by taking long walks in the woods. We’re both acting and both making decisions but differently, and both are to be respected.

Also, the thought of spending myself led me to consider ways of replenishing myself. We each have constraints within which we live through the day, constraints imposed by work, family, and self. But there remains a wide degree of choice. For example, when I visit university psychiatry departments or county clinics I’m reminded of the crappy physical state of the offices in which many psychiatrists and others see patients – blank walls and metal desks from the 1950s. I say “reminded” because I spent over a decade in just such offices. If the office you’ve been assigned looks like this and the clinic guidelines stipulate you cannot change it in any way, then forgive my bluntness. If, however, you are not constrained by such rules, then change something about the office, something that will replenish you – and your patients at the same time. You can get nice posters for less than $50. See art.com. Or a couple of cacti for $20. Or, one of my favorite ideas I learned from an API faculty member is to have a table-top water fountain gurgling in a corner. Another colleague told me she has a candle burning in her office and nearly every new patient remarks how soothing that is.

Every day is special and I need to rise to the challenge of making it so. No matter what I do each day I will be spent at the end of that day. So I might as well spend myself with love.

Until next time,

Dr. Jack


Today’s Quotes

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
– Susan Sontag
“To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend.”
– Jacques Derrida