Volume 1, Issue 6: Running Low on Spell Slots

This is a public issue of Enthusiastic Encouragement & Dubious Advice. Feel free to share it!

Hi Friends! I’m on day 37 of sheltering in place. How about you?

Is anyone else tired from the constant performance of calmness and contentment? Tired of answering, “How are you holding up?” with “Doing the best I can!” + smile + thumbs up?

I’ve seen the following said by a number of people:

You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.

I want to add on to that. We’re also trying to live during a crisis. We’re trying to function during a crisis. And it’s okay to not be “okay” right now.

So what do we do? I’d love to say “this isn’t sustainable” but it sure as hell looks like it’s going to keep going and we’re going to have to sustain whether we like it or not; therefore, every day we triage.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term triage, it’s when a medical professional (such as a triage nurse) assigns urgency based on the severity of injuries. Say that something terrible happens and a dozen people get hurt. The triage nurse will decide who to take care of first based on things like how severe are the injuries, are some people going to be possible fatalities, can they be saved at all, etc. We’re trying to maximize the number of survivors.

Also, this is a very, very quick & dirty explanation of triage. I am by no means a medical professional. Here is a more extensive definition of triage, if you’re interested.

I’m going to introduce another term I’ll be using here, this time from Dungeons & Dragons: spell slots. If you’re a certain type of character in the game, you can cast spells. Usually, casting a spell costs you spell slots. As I’ve seen mentioned, think of them like arrows in a quiver. Again, this is an oversimplified explanation. I am neither a dungeon nor a dragon. Here is a more extensive definition of spell slots, if you’re interested.

I use the term spell slots in my everyday life to signify what I have the bandwidth (physically, mentally, emotionally) to deal with. I use it similar to spoons in spoon theory.

So let’s say I start each day with 10 spell slots. Back in January, I’d be able to handle a lot with those 10 spell slots. I could use one to get up, get ready, and go to work. I’d use a couple for my day job. I could use the rest of chores, errands, administrative home duties like maintaining our calendar and making lists and making sure bills are paid. I’d use slots to do things I enjoy like cook and bake and write multiple pieces of snail mail in a single evening. I’d use the slots to read, write, record a podcast.

But then the pandemic hit, I began sheltering in place before we were officially “ordered” to, and now I’m trying to work/live/exist at home during a crisis.

So I begin to triage. I have to be careful about how I use my spell slots because I don’t really have 10 spell slots per day anymore. I may start with 10, but the moment I am awake my brain reminds me we are in a pandemic and I have to work so automatically 5 of those spell slots are allotted to keep my shit together and keep me from melting down during a Zoom meeting.

Did I not sleep well? Take away another spell slot.

I now have 4 spell slots to get me through the day. And I have to decide what is most important that day to use them for. Do I brush my teeth, wash my face, and put on actual clothes? Do I actually get some work done? Do I read? Record a podcast? Write this newsletter? Am I cooking dinner tonight? Is this the day I brave going to the grocery store? Do I have sex? Do I exercise? Do I take an actual shower where I wash my body and my hair which is a whole thing in itself? Do I reach out to a loved one and hold space for them? Do I clean literally anything around here?

Almost all of us are doing this sort of triage every day right now, whether we realize it or not. And I just want to say, in case you need to hear it, there’s not really a right way or a wrong way to do it (aside from extremes involving injury, of course). Maybe you don’t have the spell slots to unexpectedly home-school your child because you aren’t actually a teacher. That’s okay! Maybe you don’t have the spell slots to show up to every online happy hour you’re invited to. That’s totally acceptable. Maybe you’ve only been wearing leggings the past 30 days. Whatever! No one cares! It doesn’t actually matter!

Some people are making sourdough, organizing fundraisers, having singalongs over Zoom, and finishing knitting projects. Please don’t feel like you have to do any of that. It’s enough to get through each day.

We are all doing the best we can with the resources we have. Our best right now doesn’t necessarily look like our past best or other people’s best and that’s okay. This is not a competition. I’m going to repeat that: THIS. IS. NOT. A. COMPETITION. Not with yourself, not with your partner, not with your coworkers, not with randos on the internet.

Before I go, I want to leave you with two things that are helping me lately. The first is this gif:

The second is my friend’s cat. JUST LOOK AT HER:

That’s it for this week! If you enjoy this newsletter, feel free to forward it to a friend and/or give me a tip!

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