To-Do List Success and the Fatigue Monster

To-Do List Success and the Fatigue Monster

Term technically ended last week, going out in its usual blaze of glory with the performance of the annual Yule Play. (I’m in possession of the footage from all three cameras — yes, three — which means it will hopefully exist on YouTube in the near future.) Although I haven’t completed as much work as I hoped or needed to do this term to really feel accomplished, I’m mostly just glad it’s over and I can finally relax a little bit.

So that’s what I did. For three days, I basically just slept continuously. It wasn’t entirely deliberate, but I think my body only has two settings: sleep and don’t sleep. Either I can barely drop off, or I hibernate, and it’s very hard to find an in-between setting.

Yesterday, activity levels increased slightly, and I “tidied” my room. Which basically means it didn’t get a lot tidier, but I reorganised all my posters and hung baubles from my fairy lights to make it Christmassy. It eventually began to look less like a disaster zone, and that’s about as good as my room gets, and I eventually headed for bed.

I found a map of Anglo-Saxon England I hadn't coloured in and had to do that. Then rearrange them into vaguely chronological order.
I found a map of Anglo-Saxon England I hadn’t coloured in and had to do that. Then rearrange them into vaguely chronological order.

And then there was today. Today witnessed more activity than I have possibly done in any one day since records began.

I wake up after around four hours’ disjointed sleep, force myself through a stunted morning routine (tick ‘shower’ off to-do list) and head out on a quest for brown sugar, which I realised just before midnight last night that I didn’t have with me. This takes me first to the local shops — a small Co-op and a local grocer’s — around the corner from Newnham. They don’t have any sugar, but at least I can go to the post office in the grocer’s and finally send off a returns parcel that has been lying around in my room for a couple of weeks. Tick ‘post parcel’ off to-do list.

Still searching for sugar, I head into town, wishing I had breakfast before setting out on my trip. Sainsbury’s isn’t a long walk, but it’s longer when I’ve already gone ten minutes in the wrong direction because I thought Co-op would have soft brown sugar. Apparently it’s more of a rarity than I expected. I make the Sainsbury’s visit worth it and pick up some vegan butter for baking, as well as some food colouring, decorations, and chocolate chips.

Back in college around midday and the sensible thing to do would be to have some lunch before embarking on any baking, but no. I have the ingredients and I’m determined. I start with flapjacks — they’re going to be vegan, and they’re the reason I needed the sugar so urgently. Once those are in the oven, I take ten minutes to lie on my bed and feel the Sainsbury’s fatigue, but I don’t have time to bake. There are cupcakes to bake.

I get up again. Wash up the bowl and utensils from the flapjacks, because I only have one set of everything. Start on the fairy cakes. I haven’t left the butter to soften for quite long enough, and the act of mixing it with the sugar has probably set my shoulder back days, because I don’t have a mixer at college. However, it isn’t long before the first tray of cakes was in the oven, the flapjacks were cooling on the side, and I’m trying to decide what flavour of chocolate chip (milk or white?) to put in the second batch.

Tick ‘bake flapjacks’ off the to-do list. Tick ‘bake fairy cakes’ off too. Retrieve the first batch. Put the second lot in. Say goodbye to Flatmate, who is leaving for the holiday. Decide that now is a good time to vacuum the floor of my room, which desperately needs it, and also the chair that Nellie likes to sit in, because it was covered in cat hair. Return vacuum cleaner to its home. Tick ‘vacuum floor’ off to-do list. Retrieve second batch of cupcakes. Turn the oven off for a while to save energy. Lie down on my bed. Consider abandoning the plan to bake biscuits. No! I told myself I would. Just ten more minutes…

Nellie demonstrates a new pose: the unleavened loaf of cat.
Nellie demonstrates a new pose: the unleavened loaf of cat.

Get up again. First things first. Put laundry away. Make bed, so at least it looks tidy. Write the Christmas cards I hastily bought on my trip into town this morning. Try to remember who RSVP’d for today so that I’ve definitely got a card for them. Tick ‘write Christmas cards’, ‘put laundry away’ and ‘make bed’ off list.

Set about mixing the dough for the biscuits. As always, question the recipe. Really? Only 50g of butter? Is that why it won’t stick together? Add more water to try and make it sticky. Turn the oven on again. Realise that I have no surface on which to roll it out. Move the washing up. Find roll-out mat designed for this exact purpose. Clean it. Roll out the dough. Realise I don’t have any cookie cutters. Find a glass and use that instead. Put the first tray’s worth in the oven. Try to remember how to make icing. Put too much food colouring in and end up with very, very red food colouring.

Retrieve first batch. Put second batch in, and wait impatiently for the first lot to cool down enough to ice. Roll out third batch just to be ready. Glance at clock. Is there time for a nap before everyone arrives? Probably not. Did I ever have lunch? Nope. Whoops. Eat a packet of crisps and some haribo. Are the first biscuits cool yet? Just about. Ice them. Notice it looks like tomato passata, it’s so red. They’re like tiny, sweet pizzas. Sprinkle decorations on the icing. It’s messy but it’ll do.

Christmassy biscuits!
Christmassy biscuits!

Retrieve second batch. Put third batch in. Try not to collapse on the floor. Retrieve third batch. Ice second batch. Run out of icing. Decide that third batch will have to be plain, no matter how dry they are. Oh well. Probably for the best. Try and stack them neatly on a plate. Stack cakes on another plate. Reflect that I totally spoil my friends. Tick off ‘make biscuits’ and ‘ice biscuits’. That’s everything on the list! Collapse into bed until…

Doorbell rings. Friends arrive. I’ve organised an end-of-term “Cake & Cards Against Humanity” session with some other ASNaCs and college friends. I wasn’t sure if it would work out, because social events I organise are inevitably flops, but after rescuing a couple of non-Newnhamites from being lost, there are six of us. I’ve possibly over-catered. Everybody’s been given the tea (or other drink) of their choice, from my ridiculously vast selection of fruit and herbal teas (and other drinks). We unpack Cards Against Humanity, which I was given for my last birthday and haven’t had the chance to play yet due to taking time out of uni and not being near my friends.

And then, we play.

Honestly, it’s probably the most successful social gathering I’ve had in forever. It was in my room, and I organised it, so it was considerably less anxiety-inducing than anything taking place in an unfamiliar venue, with food I didn’t make, or with people I didn’t know. Everybody there has the same sense of humour as me and the same niche cultural refs, which made Cards Against Humanity a success. And although I was exhausted, it was the kind of gathering where I could sit propped up in bed to play and not feel like an invalid, since everyone was kind of draped around my room.

For the first time in ages, despite fatigue and pain and generally wanting to be horizontal, I actually enjoyed socialising. And I didn’t feel like other people were doing me a favour by spending time with me, because I’d provided something to make it worth their while — I’d baked, and there was food, and we were enjoying it and the game. I think I probably laughed more today than I have done at anything except cat videos in a good few weeks. Maybe I didn’t need to spend four hours baking to convince people to hang out with me, but I did, and it worked.

Sure, I'm not always great company, but I have food.
Sure, I’m not always great company, but I have food.

The only trouble is the aftermath: pain in my wrists, arms and shoulder from baking (stirring everything by hand is really hard work); a ton of washing up; and a sense of total exhaustion. But in this case, it’s a good exhaustion. It’s not my usual fatigue that occurs whether or not I’ve got out of bed. It’s the kind that says, “Hey, look, you did a thing and used your energy.” And that’s enough to make it feel less like the Fatigue Monster and more just like tiredness.

Though no doubt I’ll feel differently tomorrow. I’ve already scheduled myself a day to stay in bed, just in case that’s necessary. I used a lot more than my allocated number of spoons today, both metaphorically and literally. (So much washing up. Just so much.)

Ah well. Worth it.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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