Minding & Maintenance

I think I have this idea in my mind that I’m a very laid back person . It’s dawning on me (at an admittedly snail’s pace ) that that’s simply untrue. I mean, there’s a lot that I don’t mind but there’s plenty that I do. And thats the secret: minding is OK!

I’m not type A by any stretch, but I sure do enjoy leading (in my own way) a hell of a lot for someone with such a fraught and complicated relationship with the entire concept of Leadership. There’s a moment during my work day where I’m almost crippled with how much I need to do. Not necessarily because of the volume but because of how well I want to execute each task and how there simply isn’t enough time in the world to do that in addition to the concomitant paperwork. It was a source of an almost mind-numbing distress for me when I was an intern. The part I hate most about being a doctor, outside of the toxicity and trauma (and lately, COVID), is the fact that after I make about 17 snap decisions in a very short time period (arguably the bulk of my job ie. what’s wrong, how bad is it, what could it be caused by and what are we going to do about it/to prove it?) which I thoroughly enjoy, it’s that I’m going then spend the lion’s share of my time actual time writing about it. Filling the forms, negotiating the bureaucracy, finding a bed etc and that drives me crazy. This also makes everything look and feel anticlimactic: the initial action (face time with patient) lasts seconds maybe minutes and then… Admin. It probably makes our patients feel like all we do is sit and write after spending short bursts with them. But it has to happen because if I don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Personally, I’d rather stand through 7 grand ward rounds a week (which I ironically often had to skip/cut short as an intern because the lovely quick instructions that fell off the back of those amounted to a veritable tidal wave of paperwork). I’m not saying admin and paperwork is unnecessary I just hate it. I literally side-stepped corporate as a career option because the vision of a suit, tie, meetings and paperwork (I know there’s more to corporate, but still) made me want to scream. I get it and I’m sure it’s an inescapable reality of ANY job. But I mind admin. I mind it Very Much.

What I’m getting at is : It’s OK to mind things. Even if you’d like, or even prefer, not “mind”. Even if you feel like you shouldn’t mind. Mind that shit! It might might not change much but at least you’re being honest with yourself and that’s almost always freeing. And maybe it can change everything: inform your choices, your next steps and what is negotiable to you. I’m 90% sure that that lady in Gone Girl (and anyone who’s tried to be a COOL GIRL TM) snapped because of all the things she was pretending not to mind. Be high maintenance if you’re high maintenance because otherwise you’ll be, uhm, under-maintained. And in accepting subpar upkeep, you’re fully liable when your shit starts falling apart. I mean look at our roads and infrastructure? All a pothole needs is to be nipped in the bud early. All our energy grid needed was for the necessary power stations (I’m looking at you Medupi) to have been built almost 10 years ago. You know, before supply outstripped demand. All the QwaQwa water crisis needed to be averted was for appropriate upgrading and maintenance of the water lines before they catastrophically failed leaving a community without access to reliable clean water for YEARS leading to a problem that will require millions to fix because the water delivery system requires a complete overhaul. Its tedious work maintenance. But necessary and pays massive unseen dividends in averted crises. Regular flossing vs root canal. Social clout vs being happy (these aren’t mutually exclusive, I know).

I read a piece written by a woman on her startlingly peaceful experience of being a divorced single mother. Obviously the peace was strictly on a social level because she was still raising a whole entire human by herself following a devastating heartbreak. She writes about being beholden only to her family and her child. She was free from any societal expectations because she had fulfilled her social contract as a woman: Wife. Mother. Done. The fact that both of those contracts failed her was irrelevant and largely unexamined. No one was asking why the institutions we hold socially sacred hadn’t kept her safe or made her happier. No one was examining why she was happier outside of them or how the process of extricating herself from said contracts nearly ruined her life. If it were anything else, the decision to avoid the conventional path of marriage and romance-borne children, given the potential consequences, would be considered a fair and rational choice. People choosing love on their own terms and children in their own way (be it in/formal adoption, community raising, friendship children, diligent aunty-hood, blended families or even mentorship) wouldn’t be convicted due the decisions they’ve taken to maintain their peace of mind.

Because nothing is for everyone.
I personally don’t mind getting lost while driving but I DO mind driving in the fast lane behind someone hogging it or who insists on obeying the speed limit (there are other lanes and I have a constitutional right to deal with the consequences a la a speeding ticket). I used to think I was a manic pixie dream girl (lol). I used to think I wanted straight hair or, alternatively, less soft hair that could hold onto a majestic full-bodied afro. I used to think I wanted to be a married mother by 24 (yoh!) and that external things alone could make me happy. I used to hate my thighs, my lips, and thought that I’d have to be as good as my favourite writers right from the start before I could earn the privelige to pick up a pen and call myself one. I thought writers wrote Novels (only). I used to think only positive emotions were worthwhile and that anything good had to last forever or else I had failed. I used to think becoming a doctor was the only way I could make a difference. I used to think I couldn’t be both cute and sexy, that I didn’t need affection or to be taken care of. I changed my mind. I spent a lot of time severely undermaintained because I didn’t feel like I needed service.

So here’s my PRACTICAL recommendation for self maintenance (that’s not as lonely as it sounds): Restore your factory settings; or at the very least, find out what they are!

Pay attention to how you feel during and after certain tasks, people and spaces. Let go of how you should feel and even let go of how you want to feel. That’s the essence of all reflective exercises (see: diaries, journaling, meditation, Come As You Are prayer, therapy, decluttering, Marie Kondo-ing etc).
From this you’ll discover what really makes you happy, what nourishes you, what and who you reach for. Which dress makes you feel unstoppable, which experiences and items you’re happy to spend your time money and energy on. Which people are your friends in real life and not just on paper and it’s not just as simple as asking “what serves me? ” because that’s inherently biased and short-sighted and not everything that serves you well will feel good in the moment. Sometimes if you’re currently pulling the lion’s share of a relationships weight, you might remember that you’re happy to do it because this person is valuable to you, has carried you through your weaker moments and is likely to do so in the future. Sometimes you’ll discover that what’s being served at the table is not enough and that going home hungry is not worth a seat at the table when (also, there’s food at home). Maybe loving and being loved back by halves is worse than not being loved at all. Maybe it’s not worth the excitement if that love is bleeding you dry.

Next, Let go of what you hate. Unsubscrube, unfollow, take a break, disinvest. The first step is admitting it. Everyone talks about setting boundaries, taking up space and asking for more but You can’t ask for what you don’t know you need. That’s it. But like all great practical advice: it’s not a straight line, it’s not always easy and it takes a lot of practice. But there is grace in the attempt. Trust me.

Trust me.

I’ve accidentally fallen in love twice this year. Once, it was euphoric and heartbreaking: I convinced myself that no matter what form it took. I still wish that could be true someday, that I could be someone capable of that kind of platonic intimacy. I loved him and couldn’t forget how he’d made me feel. Made. And, ladies and gentlemen I couldn’t get over how lucky I felt that this lovely human loved me too . It didn’t matter that he was unavailable and that he gave me only enough intimacy to keep me from starving. I’d smile a big stupidl goofy smile after our looong languid chats. So much so that I convinced myself that the hollow dread I’d feel in the pit of my stomach following these interactions was butterflies. I offered friendship in a desperate attempt to draw a moral line in the sand and keep the love around. Me, Ms Love Isn’t Always Enough, Chief Advocate of “Waste His Time”. I found myself languishing in love (in English: I was eating scraps). The conventional advice (“leave him”, “love yourself”) wasn’t doing the trick. It didn’t help that the women in my bloodline have languished in love before . It was this realisation that that snapped me out of it (though, admittedly, at a snail’s pace).

The second time is surprising me (I’m surprised I’m even admitting it). It’s an almost boring slow burn. I roll my eyes about him and the space he should occupy in my life. I’m realising that he always has time. That I never have to ask twice. My friend asked “did he agree to go to x with you” and I replied, quite flippantly, “of course!” Because if he’s available, I know he’ll be there. It took me ages to realise I wasn’t just commenting on his time availability. If I ask, he makes a literal plan. He’ll say: “is Saturday good for you?”, “I can’t stay long but of course I’ll drive to the airport to see you before your flight”. To me, it’s not just that he has time (which he technically doesn’t because we’re all super busy surviving a pandemic and capitalism) it’s that he has time for me. I spend the days after speaking to him quietly glowing. It takes me ages to realise the correlation. It’s not butterflies, it’s not a huge goofy grin, it’s something more measured abs sweet. I enjoy that no matter what happens this will unfold clearly and quietly, as it should. It’s unfamiliar but Lord knows I need unfamiliar. I like it a lot. I don’t mind this at all.

The other day I looked up and realised that my closet and jewelry and makeup looked like my Pinterest boards. That, while I don’t have every single shoe I want (I’m looking at you LV & Chanel), every single one I own could be Pinned. I realised that I adore every bag I own and technically don’t need to buy another one until I die (this bag collection includes includes a watermelon bag of course).
This year I calculated the cost of my peace (for the curious, it’s a 32. 8% pay decrease and pumping the breaks on a career trajectory I’ve been on since I was 17). I asked myself if who I was with the money and the path I felt I SHOULD continue on was worth who I could be without it. I’m aware that I’m incredibly priveliged to be able to make these kinds of decisions at all.

You know what contentment feels like, you just need to train your mind to remember what that that feels like for you.

Ask yourself “do I mind that?”. And more importantly, get comfortable with knowing (and hopefully answering) : yes, I do mind.

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