In praise of lists

This morning I woke to find that I was suffering from a severe episode of clinical depression. It started out as a mild feeling of discontent. By mid-morning I was experiencing classic symptoms of lethargy, melancholy and paranoia. By noon I had Googled the relative half-lives of Venlafaxine, Citalopram and Lithium and was wondering if it might not be simpler to opt directly for ECT.

As I cycled from the Regional Secure Unit, envying the inpatients – who, as they merrily set light to ligature points, were clearly enjoying a state of mental health infinitely superior to my own – it occurred to me that my diagnosis might have been hasty. Regular readers may already have recognised the tendency of D For Dalrymple to exaggerate slightly when under stress. While primarily endearing, this habit has also been known to lead to confusion and unhappiness when emotions become involved; hence the importance of sitting down and really thinking about things.

Reaching the gym, I borrowed a piece of paper and sat down on the floor of the changing rooms to work out why I felt so terrible. In the morning I had lazily ascribed my mood to a single isolated factor (severe and degenerative mental illness), but I knew from experience and my shiny Do-It-Yourself CBT workbook that there would probably be other reasons. Once identified, these factors could be addressed and dismissed in turn. It was time to make a list.

I love lists. I really love them. With an accountant father and a mother who, until fairly recently, would twitch uncontrollably when discovered to be without a pad of A4 quadrille, list-making constitutes a significant part of my a) nature, and b) nurture. Nothing can beat the heady rush of conceiving lists, planning them; writing them down on clean white sheets of paper in a bold, decisive hand and a variety of child-friendly colours.

Why do I love lists? Let me count the ways.

1. Lists have the power to transform the enormous, threatening jumble of thoughts jostling for space and attention in the lister’s bonce into an
a) neat,
b) organised, and
c) entirely controllable set of (i) problems, (ii) solutions, and, if appropriate, (iii) actions.

2. Lists possess the dual function of allowing the lister to safely and happily jettison knowledge from the short-term memory. Once safely ensconced in the papery security of the list, each entry can be erased from the ‘to do’ section of the lister’s fevered hippocampus, allowing them – unhindered by thoughts of jobs undone or deadlines missed – to concentrate on more important things, like blogging or eyeliner.

3. I would love the almost limitless capacity of the process to delay actual action, were it not for the latter’s tendency to prevent the absolute best part of list-making: Crossing Things Off. I have yet to try methadrone (or whatever it is the kids are taking these days), yet defy any synthetic rivals to the throne of Getting Kicks From Taking A Pen And Putting A Bold, Unashamed Line Through Something You’ve Done. Yeah.

The wall above my desk at home is dominated by a six-point list on A3, ambitiously titled ‘Things To ACHIEVE In The Next 6 Months To One Year’. Closely modelled on my New Year’s Resolutions, each point on the list is embellished with a small tick whenever I do something to hasten its conclusion. Crossing things off the list entirely may be a long time coming, but all the sweeter for the wait. Several subsidiary lists adorn the desk itself, including ‘People To Call’, ‘Things To Purchase’, and ‘Unpacking’; a list I’ve been working on since late 2008 and am considering renaming ‘Packing’ in accordance with point three of ‘Things To Achieve’.

The lists go on. Little does my esteemed manager suspect, but his entire non-clinical workload is suspended within the steely cell margins of a spreadsheet. All hail the list that can be made between two axes! Other, mental, lists (‘Reasons Why I Am A Good PA’; ‘Reasons Why Dr Dick Is Unreasonable’; ‘Days Until I Can Leave’) will remain unwritten for now. Dr Dick has clocked the photo of Judi Dench on my desk, and his occasional glances in my direction now betray all the signs of a consultant psychiatrist who has just found a potentially fruitful case study.

Not content with splattering my mental processes across domestic and industrial spheres, I’m forever spreading list love among friends and family. My parents, whose crowning achievement remains the epic Holiday Checklist (I hereby challenge readers to name an item that doesn’t appear on this list – you will fail) need no such assistance, but Tommy and Anita have been lucky enough to receive lists of their failings on the increasingly rare occasions when text has been submitted to me for proofreading. More recently I was honoured to be asked to help a friend sort out her untidy spare room. Double joy – not only was I allowed to make lists on her behalf, but to throw her possessions into binbags with gay abandon.

I’m not OCD – far from it. A quick look at my own home and diary will dispel that particular myth. It’s just that lists are my thing (also footnotes. But I digress). Sitting on the floor of the changing rooms, I felt a sense of calm wash over me as pen touched paper. A few minutes of scribbling later, several things became clear.

Likely reasons for feeling like crap

1. Sleep:
a) quality and
b) lack thereof. The previous evening, after 3 pints of cider in the late afternoon sun, I came home and consumed a protein-rich meal with a large glass of wine at 9.30, before watching Glee online until the early hours. I then got up at the usual time and went straight to work.

Solution: self-evident. Don’t do it again.

2. Diminished sense of self-worth. For various illogical and ill-thought-out reasons, I haven’t been feeling as universally adored as I would generally like.

Solution: reclaim power and be fabulous.

3. Exercise (lack thereof). I dodged the gym on Sunday with the implausible excuse of having lost an iPod earphone.

Solution: Daftpunk. While the gym is, indubitably, totally lame, it does get the old endorphins pumping. Best just to go with crappy replacement earphones.

4. Gym fear. I’ve been offered a free personal training session that, despite my best instincts, I was obliged to accept. The forthcoming appointment has cast a shadow over my life. I literally cannot express the fear and trepidation that overwhelms me whenever I think about it.

Solution: don’t think about it.

5. Hormones (perhaps). Anita and Grace observed that I seemed ‘in a funny mood’. When pressed further, Anita reported that she was only pointing out a contrast between now and last week, when apparently I was ‘bouncing around like a hyperactive sex kitten’. I don’t know what she means by that. It wasn’t like I was rubbing myself on the furniture or anything.

Solution (if indeed one is required): unclear. Blood tests pending.

6. General uncertainty and ignorance about routes into desired work.

Solution(s): continue research. Obtain correct e-mail address for old copywriting boss and set up meeting. Continue reading. Continue writing. Continue e-mailing the agencies. Leave current job.

7. Current job. Though the last item on the list, the day had been pretty dreadful and rightfully belonged at number one for a variety of reasons.

a) Dr Dick and I had a contretemps during our 9 a.m. one-to-one (a painful interview during which I impart information and printing and attempt to obtain details of his diary by means of extreme flattery and guile). I noticed a heightened froideur on Dr Dick’s part, and it became apparent during the course of our consultation that he had gained an inkling of his unpopularity within the Secretariat. I was quizzed as to my enjoyment of my role and was forced to concede my reluctance to remain in his employ much longer. While our conversation was actually fairly constructive and certainly cleared the air somewhat (Dr Dick confessed to having been ‘psychologically traumatised’ by his last temporary PA, and I to finding his attitude ‘at best hostile, at worst offensive’), it cast a somewhat stressful shadow over the morning.

b) I minuted an excessively long and complex committee meeting on Friday which inevitably overran, compelling me to resort to the tried-and-tested ‘put-everything-in-a-big-box-under-the-desk-and-then-go-dancing’ method of desk clearing. I couldn’t face sifting through it this morning and spent the day performing less important tasks while my shins smouldered before its subdeskal, cancerous presence. This job has yet to make it onto any list.

c) Work today was interrupted by yet another fire alarm. Fire alarms at my work are stressful at the best of times. Before you are allowed to evacuate the building, you must queue up for ten minutes, flames licking your ankles, to sign your keys back in. This particular alarm went off at the busiest time of the day and turned out to be caused by a patient having a crafty fag, thus depriving me of the satisfaction of watching my workplace burn to the ground while the e-mails mounted up unchecked.

Solution(s): leave job. Find better.

As I finished the list, I felt my soul retreat from the precipice. The depression wasn’t back, and its ‘symptoms’ were clearly less hard-wired into my neural pathways than I’d assumed. I’d just let myself get into a tizz over some very real, very non-neural details of my life.

I looked up. As if to drive the point home, the one thing that could have restored me to full buoyancy, did. A red-faced, betowelled woman in an adjoining part of the changing room began to swear as she struggled with the padlock of her locker. The changing room attendant was summoned and remonstrated with. Just as the bolt cutters were brought out, the woman realised that the key did work… on her actual padlock, two lockers along. I felt:

a) joy,
b) amusement,
c) relief that it wasn’t me, and
d) restored to my usual (sex kitten) self.

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About Christina Kenny

Christina Kenny is a music journalist based in London.
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4 Responses to In praise of lists

  1. kate s-b says:

    This was:
    1) Funny
    2) True
    3) Motivating

    Thanks!

  2. Nic Dempsey says:

    As I sit on my sofa trying to summon the effort to move due to very sore muscles, all I’m gonna say is:
    1) Don’t fear the personal training. You manage to do far more that could by yourself and do have a huge sense of achievement after.
    2) PMT is helped by knowing when you’re going to have it so monitor (make another list) then cut out/down on booze and sugar and do extra exercise and sleep in the 2 weeks before (I know but it helps)
    3) A good multi-vitamin well woman or something helps too.
    4) I saw photos of you the other day and thought you looked great and on really good form.
    5) I’ve just realised how much like my mother and possibly yours I sound…going to go boil my head or something

  3. jo says:

    1. Nigella’s
    2. Quadruple
    3. Chocolate
    4. Cake

    What further evidence could anyone need of your sex kitten status?

  4. Pingback: On boredom | D for Dalrymple

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