I’m a wife, mother, daughter, Gamma—and no, as Ringo once famously sang, it ain’t easy.  Toss in juggling a full time job, my writing projects, being the full-time caregiver for my mother, a once busy, active, independent woman now a mere shell of her former self due to dementia/Alzheimer’s, plus all the mundane, boring day- to-day stuff that makes up modern life—and it’s no wonder that stress and anxiety turns my tummy into a Gordian Knot.

I’m not perfect; far from it, and I’ve been through many trials and tribulations and everything else in between. But something gets me through it (and no, not Jack Daniels or Xanax), and I learned through trial and error (mostly error). But here are some fundamental truths that I’ve come to rely on with age, wisdom and experience that helps me (mostly) when my head’s about to explode.

Step Back.  When I first started writing this article, I vacillated back and forth between several topics, and then got waylaid on how it should start. Soon enough, I found myself repeatedly hitting the delete key in fits and starts, and then wrote around in circles.  At that point, I realized I needed to step away from the computer and have an OM moment.  I went outside, flopped myself down on a lawn chair—and within minutes, my subconscious filled in the blanks. By the time I returned to the computer a few hours later, I knew exactly what I wanted to write, and more importantly, how to write it.  I was refreshed and reinvigorated, and it didn’t include Hagen Daaz Vanilla Ice Cream. Honestly, I’ve gotten my best ideas and/or how to resolve problems by doing something else entirely:  a bike ride, baking, cooking, gardening, taking a stroll.  “Sleeping on it” is a cliché, but even the hoariest of clichés has a nugget of truth or it wouldn’t be a cliché.

Do Nothing.  Yep, you heard me.  I’m a workaholic, multi-tasking Capricorn, but even we hard-working goats can find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma. I was going through a really tough time personally and I wasn’t sure how things were going to work out. It didn’t seem that there was anything I could do to resolve the problems I faced.  I belatedly realized that “doing nothing” was my best option; what worried me more than the actual problem was the uncertainty of how it would work out.  Once I gave myself permission to stop worrying and let the situation play out, my horrible worst case scenarios never materialized.  Yes, the world may end tomorrow—but today looks pretty damn good.

Swing High. I’m a big dreamer. Always have been.  When I was young I would conquer the world. Now, I’m older, perhaps more cynical, so there are realities I’ve had to face.  I’m not going to have another baby. I’m not going to climb the Matterhorn. The chances of me selling a spec for ten million dollars? Uhm, not likely. But I still have my dreams, and no one can take them away from me except my own lack of confidence and self-doubt.  When I’m up at bat, I’m still going for a home run, not a bunt. Age is only a number.

The Toxic Avenger. Come on, you know who I’m talking about.  We all have them in our lives, the people who knock us down at every opportunity, just mean and nasty, who suck all the good energy out of a room like a vacuum cleaner from Hades. My father was a walking toxic cloud that ran hot and cold. I wasted years trying to get his approval and be the daughter I thought he wanted me to be.  My brother gave up and killed himself and while my father wasn’t the direct cause, his emotional negligence was a contributing factor. After my brother’s death, I had enough, and I finally told my father off. It was a huge emotional relief off my shoulders. My father couldn’t hurt me anymore; he had no power over me; and it was his loss, not mine.

Procrastination.   Before TMZ, Facebook and Twitter, there wasn’t all that much to do on a PC. The World Wide Web was in its infancy and an iPhone was a twinkle in Steve Jobs eye. Back then, I’d happily spend hours and hours writing on my PC. Now, we have a procrastination highway full of pit stops. For example, I loved to play (yes, I was an addict) Mafia Wars (if you don’t know what that is, consider yourself lucky. It’s insidious).  Yes, I would still write, but it was way too easy to slide into Facebook and play another level and before I knew it hours would pass.  At some point I got tired of it (thank you, Zynga, for running the game into the ground) and I stopped cold turkey.  I joined a couple of more online screenwriting groups and networked with some success.  Yes, I still check Blind Gossip and Gawker (everyone needs a vice) but when I catch myself dilly dallying I put the brakes on.

Patience. This too shall pass. My mother drives me to the point of distraction. Her short term memory is shot, but she has ears like an elephant.  My husband and I can’t have a conversation without her creeping up behind us. Many mornings she wanders downstairs with three robes on and in her winter pajamas (and its 90 degrees out). Today it was too “cold” to go outside (it was 95 in the shade). Often I bite my tongue so hard that it draws blood.  My mother is getting steadily worse; I am the “woman in the office” and my husband is the “gentleman who makes her lunch”. It’s unbelievably difficult. I can’t do anything about her condition; the only thing I have power over is my reaction to it.

And when all else fails: Red Mango. Brownies. Works every time.


PJ McIlvaine is a produced screenwriter and a published journalist/author. Her original Showtime family film MY HORRIBLE YEAR was nominated for a Daytime Emmy. Her indie holiday movie went straight to DVD (no loss there). More recently, she completed a paid co-writing assignment on a biopic about the tumultuous relationship of the brutal “Don” Vito Genovese and his tempestuous wife Anna.   PJ is always working on something and is a fountain of ideas, most of them lousy. PJ makes a mean batch of pecan brownies and chocolate chip cookies that are better than sex.  PJ’s e-mail address is pjmac56@yahoo.com


Share This