About five years ago I descended into the lowest emotional abyss of my life. I was overwhelmingly sad most of the time. When I wasn't sad, I was terrifyingly numb. I was very much afraid that I would never feel any better than numb and that the sadness would continue to grow. Sometimes, on particularly bad days, when I felt consumed by feelings of worthlessness (because I would never get into a Ph.D. program, would never be funded for my studies, would never get a job, would never be qualified for a job, would become just like my mother, would never be loved, never be in a healthy, loving relationship, would be alone and lonely and incompetent and unskilled for the rest of the rest of the rest of my life), I would write Lists of True Things. On these lists I would write things like:
I am not hideously ugly
I am not stupid
I am not incompetent
I am capable of washing dishes
It is September
I am twenty-four
I have a master's degree
There are still leaves on the trees
It wasn't important to write things that were very deep. It was enough for them to be true.
I haven't written a List of True Things in a while - not since that year I think. My lists contain other things and are written for other purposes: to remind me of what it was I was meant to be doing, to organize a future I hope to have, to plan a menu for the week or the reading for a month.
It would be untrue to say that it was writing these lists that pulled me up and over the edge of that precipice. It was that and a whole lot of other things: that was the year I stopped using hormonal contraception, the year I began working toward my master's degree in philosophy, the year my father died. Perhaps not taking contraceptive pills acted as a placebo that helped me to focus on feeling healthy again. Perhaps being accepted into a philosophy program (not Ph.D at that time. not funded) both occasioned and quieted different kinds of professional/academic doubt. Perhaps the fact of my father's death (sudden, alone, friendless) jolted me into ordering my life to avoid ever becoming anything like him.
List writing is a near meditative practice for me. When I write lists, I think only of the list. Sometimes I write lists of recurring words in my writing. Sometimes I evaluate the positive/negative connotations of those words. Sometimes I make lists of furniture to buy, clothes to find, colors to combine. Sometimes lists of picnics to have, or books to read or things to learn to do. I make lists of what I have done, what I will do, what I must do and what I won't do.
Most of these lists have not been saved. Perhaps I will begin saving them more frequently. I'll put that on a list right now...