When I'm extremely stressed out, I sleep. It's a blessing and a curse, as far as coping mechanisms go. I'd love to be one of those people who ramps into overdrive, demolishing To Do lists in a dervish, toppling lamps and vases and the occasional small child as she goes. I am not. I am the sort of person who looks at a very long list, frowns at the impossibility of it all, and yawns. "Wouldn't it," I think, "be much easier to achieve on proper amounts of sleep? Wouldn't a little rest be called for just about now?" I suppose this is better than an all-out, howling breakdown, but only by inches. Either way you end up slumped in a corner, drooling and exhausted.
Several years ago, I was living in a tiny house in a large west coast city. There was a second bedroom that I attempted to use as an office, but it really just became a space in which odds, ends, books, dog toys, files, bills, bills bills piled up. I eventually just closed the door and called it The Bad Room. The only time the door to The Bad Room was opened was when I needed to chuck something else inside, head turned away so I couldn't see where it landed or what was waiting in there. In reality, this is not at all like me. I like to know where all of my stuff belongs so that I can put it there in occasional tidying sessions. I don't have a lot of space and I try to use it well. I like things to be generally clean, though I'm not obsessive about it.
Metaphorically, The Bad Room was me all over. Is it big, scary, messy? I need a nap. I'll deal with it later. If it's that scary and messy, like The Bad Room, it probably requires an entire organizational system be devised and enacted, and that takes time and potentially professional assistance. It definitely requires money. The worse a problem is, the more of a perfectionist I become about its solution. Eventually, that solution will become clear, and then I'll act on it. But sometimes that requires time.
So imagine how proud I was when today, just a week or two after I discovered it had been decimated by a squirrel's nest (a literal one), I took on the project of cleaning out the shed in my back yard. Out came every box full of paint and hardware, every bag full of camping equipment, every rake and shovel and dog toy. It all had to be swept and cleaned and repaired. Things were thrown out. Things were put back in. It's clean out there now. I didn't need to avoid the shed. I just went and took care of it. Because The Bad Room was years ago, and I'm a grown-up now.
This, then, is the point at which you should ask me what I was supposed to be doing today. "Today?" I'd reply, confused. "Whatever do you mean about 'supposed to do?'" I might whistle.
Oh, right. Today's Bad Room was not The Bad Shed, at all. It was the finals-related tasks on a towering To Do pile that drove me to sweep out nasty-smelling squirrels' nests. There was a study guide and a timeline to create for my students. There was a conference paper to revise. There were a lot of things, and not one of them lived in that shed. The end of the semester is, for me, characterized by all the tasks I'm willing to take on to avoid doing the real work at hand. It's characterized, not by sleep deprivation, but by sleepily sitting in chairs with books in my lap. This is the time of year when I look around and yawn and then become incredibly willing to take on items on the To Do list I would have, long ago, ignored for weeks and years. Not now. I'm a grad student now.
Have an unfortunate task that needs doing? Send it on over. I'll happily take it on. Just as soon as I take a little nap.