The Next Right Thing

I saw a post on tumblr (I know, I know) that consisted of a few pages from Kelly Sue DeConnick‘s Captain Marvel run. There’s a character who is struggling with death and doesn’t want to let go – they’ve come out to spread someone’s ashes but she doesn’t want to spread them. She says: “I don’t want to imagine my life without her.” Carol tells her:

“You don’t have to think about your whole life right now. All you have to focus on is… the next… right… thing… and let go.”

I’ve been having a lot of Brain Problems(tm) lately and one of the biggest things I struggle with is executive dysfunction. Executive dysfunction, as it has been explained to me, is when you know you have to do something, you want to do the thing, you tell yourself to DO THE THING, but you don’t do it. The debilitating factor, for me, vacillates between severe anxiety and severe depression, but both give me the same result – I know I have to do a thing (for example, eat breakfast), I want to do the thing, I have everything I need to do the thing… but I don’t do the thing. I know there will be a negative effect because I’m not doing the thing, but I’m still not doing the thing.

Yesterday (Friday) I was having trouble getting things done. All I felt up to doing was sitting on the couch or laying in bed, despite the fact that I needed to get ready for work, I had laundry to put away, etc. While I was avoiding the rest of the world and browsing tumblr, as is my wont, I came across the post. I read it, I liked it, I kept browsing. A few minutes later, I was trying to convince myself to Do The Thing, and I thought of the post.

I didn’t have to think about whatever I needed to do later. I didn’t have to turn it into a long sequence of events in my mind that I would inevitably become distressed by. I didn’t even need to look at the big picture that my brain finds so frightening and impossible. All I had to do was ask myself: What is the Next Right Thing?

Maybe it seems silly. But it helped me narrow my focus. It made things do-able. I continued to use this frame of mind throughout the rest of my day, while I was at work, whenever I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, or felt like an imposter, or felt like I wasn’t Doing Enough, I would ask myself the same question. It got me through the day. Step by step. Maybe it put blinders on me, but those blinders allowed me to function. Hopefully, as I continue to be able to function, I’ll regain the ability to look at the bigger picture without being afraid and avoidant. For now, this question keeps me moving, task by task, and I’m grateful for it.

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