Falling Off the To-Do List

This is a post about mental health. But first, a Burning Man story.

The first year I went to Burning Man I started packing in January for an event that happens at the end of August. It’s such a massively different experience than anything else that months of planning for your first trip is not unusual. Plus I was just that excited! From the moment I bought my ticket I obsessed over the extraordinary event in my future.

As I packed and planned, I kept an ever-growing to-do list. This included things to buy, things to prepare, art projects to make, outfits to put together, research to do, etc. You can read my packing list advice if you’re planning a trip to Black Rock City yourself.

It seemed like every time I crossed something off my to-do list, three more things got added.

In the weeks right before the event, I started crossing things off that I knew I was never going to get done. I had to prioritize. Things of less importance or things that would take excessive effort started falling off the bottom of the list.

As a person prone to serious depressions, my brain works like this to-do list all the time.

My mind is regularly filled with a massive list of things that I’d like to do. There are day-to-day things like playing with Dylan, doing laundry, and cleaning the house. There are medium sized activities like keeping LoveLiveGrow going and keeping up with my garden. There are large projects like planning my art project for the next burn, new websites that I dream up, and making handmade cards.

But as a mentally ill person, my attention, motivation, and energy is limited and constantly in flux. Some days it’s all I can do to get out of bed and take minimal care of myself and Dylan. Some days I can stay on top of things and even start new projects.

I am continually knocking things off the bottom of my to-do list. There just isn’t going to be enough room to get everything done. Sometimes there isn’t room in my brain to get hardly anything done.

I have to prioritize. Brutally.

It would be easy for me to get down about all these things I’m not getting done. I have so many ideas and dreams and desires. Sometimes it hurts to realize that something from the list just has to go. I have to give it up.

But if I think of my life like I think of Burning Man preparation, something different arises.

The to-do list for Burning Man grows and grows because the passionate excitement causes a swirl of ideas and possibilities and imaginings. Eventually it’s time to go and you’re ready or you’re not, but either way this thing is happening. And it’s going to be awesome.

My life is the same way. The ideas I have about what I could be doing are built out of a passion for my life, however dim that light may seem sometimes. Eventually, it’s time to live. I’m ready or I’m not – things on the list are happening or they’re not.

Either way, life is happening.

And the things that do make it into my days are pretty damn good.

My Burning Man tattoo, traced from the satellite image of the city in 2006.

My Burning Man tattoo, traced from the satellite image of the city in 2006.