Despite my personal feelings about the phrase, “death by a thousand paper cuts” has a certain level of undeniable relevance to my life these days. I first heard it at my previous job, bandied about by a manager who had been promoted because they were good at the job they would then go on to manage and not because they had any special managerial skills or skill with people. They weren’t a terrible manager, but they weren’t a good manager either. They were adequate. To make up for their lackluster interpersonal and managerial skills, they did a lot of management research and introduced a lot of fun buzzword bingo terms (I made the bingo cards for my team).
Despite how much I grew to dislike it as a result of my manager saying it about everything, the idea has stuck with me. As someone who has a great capacity for coping with stress, what will frequently get me in the end is not any one particular event or trouble, but the toll they all take in accumulation. Big events can take their toll, of course, but I can handle those. I’ve dealt with worse, usually, and I have the mechanisms to handle them in the moment and the experience to resolve them before they get worse. It is the small things that always break me down in the end.
Right now, I don’t have any major issues. Work has been a struggle, but not for any one reason I can address and resolve. I have a lot of small things to work on resolving, which my boss and coworkers are helping with. My personal life is a struggle, but mostly because there’s just so much that keeps happening. Nothing major, no major blows to my health or well being, but it does add up when I have to deal with some dental or eye problems each month. Or when the things that get me excited about each week keep failing to materialize. Or when plans get canceled and I wind up staying home alone, playing video games that are more about escapism and forgetting said plans than actually enjoying what I’m doing.
It is difficult to make change when I’m constantly being metaphorically bled out by all of these things every day. Incremental progress is important, as are reasonable expectations, progress tracking, and self-care. But all of that can be set back in instant if problems you’ve already addressed just return. Like sleeping troubles coming back. Or needing to go back to the dentist again. Or back to the optometrist again. It gets exhausting and wears you down when nothing seems to stay fixed. It makes fixing things feel pointless.
I have a ream of advice and platitudes that went where these words are, but it all feels hollow when I write it up, so you can have this instead. Everyone knows things don’t get better unless you try. Any number of advice blogs will tell you about self-care and incremental progress. So what I’ll say is that it sucks. There’s an alternate/corollary/complimentary idea to the spoon theory called the fork theory. The basic idea is that everything you need to deal with, that happens to you, is a fork (size dependent on what the thing is and how it effects you) and eventually you hit your fork limit. Some forks on one-and-done things, like dropping your keys. Some are permanent issues, like dealing with depression and PTSD or a chronic physical health condition. Eventually, you hit your limit and whatever that last fork is, whatever thing that happened, is what causes the breakdown.
Since I have so many forks these days (we all do, thanks COVID), I’ve been trying to manage my smaller, non-permanent forks so that I don’t hit a breaking point. I’ve also dealt with enough breaking points by now that I can keep them pretty minor and not have a meltdown so much as quietly set aside everything else I planned to do in favor of escapism, but that’s still not a pleasant experience. And, since whatever didn’t get done still needs to get done, it becomes another fork that I’ll have to deal with eventually.
The fact that I’m still updating this blog almost every day is a sign that I’m managing. That my goal of slowly removing forks, building up my endurance, expanding my daily spoon allotment, is working. I may be working late every day because the price of this is an extra hour in bed every morning after I wake up, as I marshal my strength for the day, but I’m still getting everything done. I may not like rolling into work so late every day, and then leaving so late, but I’m still getting everything done. All my chores, all my errands, every task at work, all my writing stuff. It all gets done in time. And, maybe, my eye is finally better. And, maybe, my mouth can finally go back to being something I don’t think about every minute or two (being aware of your tongue, in the same way you’re sometimes aware of your breathing, sucks so much). Maybe I’ll finally get back my weekly social encounters and be able to look forward to every weekend as something more than laundry day and video game day.
Regardless of how I feel about things today versus four months ago, this blog is proof that I’m doing better. After all, the time and energy I spend on this had to come from somewhere and, so long as I’m at least keeping up on everything else, I’ve clearly made progress.