I am in bed on a Tuesday afternoon. My body is shrouded by three layers of blankets hermetically sealed around my chin. I am wearing two shirts and a hoodie underneath. Only two inches of flesh between my upper lip and eyebrows are exposed to the air. The cruel, unspeakable, room-temperature air.
It is physically impossible for me to be this cold right now.
Yet, here I am. Shivering right down to my bones.
“Goddamn it, I’m FREEZING TO DEATH!” I hiss into the empty room.
“No, you’re not.” Comes a snarky reply.
I sigh. I should know to expect this annoying tap on my shoulder whenever I dunk my head into the toilet bowl of self-pity.
Without breaking the blanket seal, I roll my eyes as far as I can. I can’t quite see the indent where my imaginary raccoon has landed on the bed. She pads delicately toward me and finally comes into view. She touches her nose to mine and her furry face blocks my entire field of vision.
“What’s going on under there?” Critter asks; “You look like you’re about to eat the young.”
“Do you think it would warm me up?” I ask. “If so, I’d consider it.”
Critter rolls her eyes at me.
“You’re ridiculous, you know?” she says.
I don’t answer. Because I know.
Critter waits a beat and then tilts her head.
“But really, what are you doing in there? It’s daytime. You have work to do,” she says.
“I know. But I’m tired. My eyeballs just about melted out of my head when I read to the girls at naptime. And it’s soooo freaking COLD!” I complain.
Critter furrows a brow at me, then starts sniffing all around my face. Her whiskers tickle so bad that I need to pee.
“GAH! Enough!” I say, sitting up.
“You don’t smell sick,” Critter states.
“I know,” I say. I look down at the blanket.
“Are you avoiding your work?” Critter asks.
I suck a huge breath in through my nose and sigh. The spot between my chest and my belly aches.
“I guess,” I say.
Critter pats my thigh but doesn’t say anything.
I have steeled myself for her usual smartass bossypants routine, but it doesn’t come.
I look up at her.
“It’s squeezing me,” I say.
“I know,” she answers.
I look down at my hands and watch them wring each other. They are restless. Don’t know what to do with themselves.
They should be typing. But they can’t, because my mind is frozen.
My heart beats, and it feels like it’s too big for my chest. Like my fat waist strangling inside my jeans.
I start to breathe faster as an image sweeps over me. A crush of shame and dread rolls up my body like a rolling pin. Every organ gets squashed. I suffocate. And finally, my soft tissues ooze out of every facial orifice. I am mesmerized by this sad, gory, figurative mess.
Critter crawls onto my lap and puts her little black hands on my shoulders.
“Hey,” she says, “come back. We’re talking, here.”
My eyes rotate in her direction without seeing. I’m panting and starting to wheeze.
Critter hops off my legs, then leaps the gap between the bed and my dresser. The surface is slippery, and her hind paws fishtail as she slides. Her front claws scrabble and dig into the wood, then her butt knocks over a stack of paperbacks. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art falls into the crack between the dresser and the wall.
Fuck. That’s going to be a pain to retrieve.
I am thinking about the infuriating ledge at the back of the dresser, where things that fall down there get stuck. I can’t quite reach them from underneath, and the behemoth furnishing is too heavy to pull out by myself.
I am trying to count the lost items and hopeless hangers that have been sacrificed to the gods of WTF when something strikes my leg.
It is my aero chamber, a big plastic tube that slows down the spray from my inhaler. Next, Critter pounces back onto my lap, with my blue rescue inhaler between her teeth.
She drops it next to the chamber and says, “Breathe.”
Dutifully, I shake the shit out of the cannister to prepare the puff. The shaking tosses Critter about; she grips into my legs with her claws.
I shout in pain, and the inhaler sails out of my hand and whacks against the wall.
In the next room, the baby wakes up.
I start to laugh. It makes me wheeze harder.
Still chuckling, I climb out of bed and go use the inhaler. Within a few breaths, the thickness in my lungs starts to ease. There is nothing so delicious as those first easy breaths.
As I head out to raise my little one, Critter dusts her hands.
“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” she says.
I shake my head and take care of baby business. Once she and her sister are settled onto the couch with their afternoon snack and tv, I mosey into the kitchen. Heartburn starts to rise in my throat. I know what’s waiting for me.
I grab my laptop and lay it on the kitchen table. I pause to think about how much I love the feel of this writing tool. It is small, light as a feather, and has a delightful aluminum cover with a diamond-patterned texture. I stroke my lovely machine a few times, but cannot open it.
“Do it,” Critter whispers, as she peeks around the doorway. “Just start now.”
“I can’t,” I say. “My words are stuck.”
“Just begin,” she says again.
“But it’s going to be bad!” I say, my voice rising. “My last series of posts was a mess!”
“What was wrong with them?” Critter asks, her eyes boring into me like a laser.
I run my hand through my hair.
“Everything!” I say. “Typos, missing words, muddled thoughts, and pointless points.”
“Then edit your work,” she says.
“I did!” I whine, getting frantic now. “At least, I thought I did. I re-read and re-wrote until my eyes were about to bleed. I swear! I literally couldn’t see the words anymore, so I just published. It wasn’t until the post came back to me by email that I saw all the errors.”
Critter rolled her eyes.
“Then get an editor,” she said. “That’s what they’re for.”
“I can’t afford an editor for blog posts!” I say.
But Critter won’t let it go.
“Then ask a friend. You know someone has offered,” she says.
I pause. My lovely friend Dakota has offered to give my posts that essential second set of eyes. And my equally lovely, and relied-upon friends, Sue and Marielle, have also offered their corneas to help polish my writing.
“You’re right, Critter,” I admit, “but it was too much of a burden. I was always behind on those posts and didn’t finish most of them until after midnight. I couldn’t bother anyone at that hour, and I didn’t want to delay the posts any later. So I tried to do it all myself. Bloggers do that all the time. It should have been easy.”
“But was it?” Critter asks, walking toward me.
“No,” I answer, and like a potato sack over my head, the shame comes back and traps me.
Critter hops up onto the table and pretends to peek under the edge of my imagined shame sack.
“It’s okay to need help,” she says.
I let that sink in.
At first, it feels awful, like a bin of leftover spaghetti dumped over my head. I hate that I can’t get my shit together on my own.
But then, those imaginary cold noodles start to melt, and a weird sense of comfort drips down my chest and back.
It’s okay to need help.
Something clears in my head.
“Holy fuck,” I mutter. “There’s an app for that.”
“What?” Critter laughs.
“Editing!” I shout and flip my laptop open. I open two tabs and show Critter what I’m talking about.
“They are online editing apps,” I explain. “One does a really basic proofread – typos, punctuation, and word usage – and the other highlights sentences that lack clarity.”
“Holy scat,” says Critter. “That is handy.”
“Totally,” I say, and I smile. “They don’t replace a real human editor, but they can help a writer with ADHD filter out the garbage that her brain can’t catch.”
“That sounds like a decent solution for blog posts,” Critter says.
“You’re running out of excuses,” she adds.
“Get to work,” she says. My imaginary talking raccoon ruffles my hair, then hops off the table and leaves me to it.
I open up a doc and stare at the cursor for a minute.
Critter’s words echo back inside my head.
Just start now.
It’s okay to need help.
Get to work.
I decide to dedicate today’s post to those three Critterisms, and my snarky, pushy, always-there-for-me friend.
And I smile as I unzip my hoodie. Because I’m not cold anymore.
Critter’s Message for You:
Critter wants you to think about what is holding you back from the stuff you need to do.
You know those jobs that are so important to you, they make you want to puke? What would it take to get them done?
Do you need to let go of perfectionism and just start now?
Do you need to get help to complete tasks you can’t do on your own?
What would release the pressure so you can get to work?
It doesn’t matter whether your help comes from friends and family, paid assistants, coaching, counseling, assistive technology, or medication. Just do what it takes and get it done.
And if it takes a dozen tries to get it right, so be it. Keep going.
Just start now.
It’s okay to need help.
Get to work.
Critter gives you her word as the world’s wisest creature (good lord, Critter!), you can do this.
PS – If you are looking for “words” for 2017, you could do worse than take these ones from an imaginary garbage-eating rodent.