The In-Betweens

As many of you know, I do a fair bit of freelance writing work, as well as putting together some audio/video content of my own in my spare time. Last week, I had the rare experience of having all of the various projects I’d been working on come to a conclusion at about roughly the same time (among them my first paid, feature article for a major site).

I should feel proud, and I suppose for a very brief glimmer of a moment, I did. But the feeling of accomplishment was quickly replaced by an all-too-familiar sense of dread: the feeling of “…what now?”

And I mean… it kinda sucks, right? The conventional wisdom is supposed to be that if you put everything of yourself into a project, push through and have it come to fruition, one of the benefits you’re supposed to be able to reap is the feeling that you brought something into the world that otherwise might not have been, that you expressed yourself in a way true to you, etc. I almost feel kind of pissed, like I’ve robbed myself of something I should be feeling but aren’t.

I suppose that’s kind of the point. Like… for a while now I’ve found there’s a lot of merit in the idea of being a process oriented person. Of practicing mindfulness. Of making conscious effort to “be where you are” rather than worrying about where you’re going next. And I guess to an extent I’ve made progress along those lines. I’ve lost a little weight (only like 5-6lbs, but it’s not water weight and it’s STAYING OFF DAMMIT), and the exercise that led to that wouldn’t have been possible without me being able to center myself when I began to overthink myself into paralysis regarding what I was going to do at the gym, if I had enough time or energy, if that workout would impede my ability to accomplish OTHER stuff that day… you name it.

So I guess, like most things, it’s a process. I’ve made some headway in the practical application of being present, but I’ve yet to integrate it to where I can enjoy that moment, but let it go without worrying about whether another one is in my future. Even if I’m trying to stop predicting my future, maybe the perspective of where I’ve been will help me remain rooted to where I am. I hope so.
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Middling

This probably won’t be the best thing I’ve ever written. And that’s okay.

I mean, it probably won’t be the worst either, but something about comign to terms with that is extremely freeing. A friend of mine, a PhD student and super duper smart lady, retweeted something that said along the lines of “Your next job probably won’t be your last job. In fact, it probably won’t. And that’s okay”, as mostly a message towards academics not to worry about being locked down into a singular research/teaching oriented job their whole lives.

Now, as the eleventy-hundred other posts about the topic might have alerted you, I struggle a lot with anxiety and procrastination. It makes me dread doing the things that give me joy as well as the typical drudgery stuff (in fact, in a lot of cases, the drudgery stuff ends up feeling EASIER to do). I’ve wracked my brain to figure out why I have so much trouble, and I think a piece of the puzzle lies in the above frame of thinking.

Thinking of the next thing I create (the next video, the next blog article, the next test) as the thing I’ll be defined by, it turns into this BEHEMOTH of a thing that will make or break me, and, like someone avoiding the final quest in a game because they don’t want it to end, I find some way to put it off or force myself to momentarily forget that it exists.

But the reality is that, for better or worse, I’m not going to know whether or not this is The One, or just another of the thousands of iterations on my way to it, until well after the fact. Hindsight is 20/20, but I would add the addendum that forecasting is fantasy. No one knows the impact or irrelevancy of anything that they do until after they do it (beyond a certain point anyways), least of all with art.

So basically, my fellow lovelies, my passionate artists and headcases of every stripe, I would say: Make mediocre shit until you make something that isn’t. There’s a good chance you won’t know the difference until you’re finished anyways.

Getting There

When I leave for work or class, I tend to leave pretty early ahead of time. Some might say earlier than I really have to. We’re talking early enough that I arrive 20-30 minutes early. Now, it might sound reasonable to do this to avoid the possibility of being late and experiencing the consequences thereof… but that’s not why I do it.

I mean… maybe it SHOULD be, but that’s besides the point.

The reason I leave so early is that being on my way somewhere but not in a hurry is one of my FAVORITE things in the world. Just being able to take everything in, enjoy the however many minutes I spend walking somewhere, maybe while reading a book or even just being alone and able to process my thoughts in absence of video games, TV, internet, or what have you. On top of that, the lack of stress over “oh my gawd did I leave early enough, am I gonna be there on time, oh what happens if the traffic is slightly heavier than usual aaaaaaah” is absolutely fantastic. It gets to the point where I actually fear the stress of being late over the ACTUAL consequences of being late (which is interesting in and of itself).

As I was heading to campus to do some work tonight, I was thinking about this whole thing, and how it might be useful to apply it in a more abstract way to my writing, creative projects, or whatever it is I happen to be working on at the moment. It’s kind of a more complicated version of the whole maxim of “it’s the journey, not the destination”, but I think that going at least one layer deeper helps grant a deeper understanding of why thinking in such a way is so valuable. For instance, with respect to procrastinating.

In the “leaving for class/wotk” example, if I leave earlier, it alleviates that worry that I won’t get some place when I’m expected or “supposed” to be there. When I procrastinate, it’s like the existential dread version of the same fear. The later I leave something, the more I get anxious that I won’t be where I’m supposed to be (a certain skill level, a career goal, whatever yardstick you want to use for successful adulthood) when I’m supposed to be. By the same token, if I “leave earlier” (get started working right away), it’s valuable not simply because I’ll arrive to my adulting destination “on time” (whatever that means), but because when I decide to leave early, it frees me up to not be thinking about that whole endgame in the first place. Instead, I can take my time, free up my mind to process and appreciate the whole progression of whatever it is I’m doing. Therefore, it’s almost as an accidental side effect that I end up enjoying the consequences of starting early and often.

So, by ceasing to care about the outcome enough to just start whenever, you actually end up getting the outcome you want HAD you cared about it in the first place.

Brains are weird, you guys. Well. At least mine is.

Inspire Through Struggle

I had a bad day today.

Not because anything in particular happened, but rather because it didn’t. I’ve done just about nothing all day, despite having the whole thing to myself. Doing basic stuff like shaving, brushing my teeth, and getting some milk from the store constituted the most productive things I’ve done today.

Essentially, I’m dealing with a lot of negative self-talk in my head. In particular, the re-appearance of one of my longest running mental “scripts”; that being the “you’re not working hard enough, doing enough, trying hard enough, you’re lazy/you could be successful if only you’d try harder” script. It’s a voice I’ve been hearing going back all the way to elementary school, and any day where I don’t completely clear off my to-do list (and some days when I do) it comes roaring back. I’m working through some exercises in the book Superbetter by Jane McGonigal, and they’re helping, but this is such a deeply rooted script that it’s going to take a long time and a lot of work to dislodge.

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Stimulus/Response

One of the things I’ve noticed on one of my walks is how often I’m running from things. Not literal things. God no. If that was true, I’d be in way better shape than I currently am. For me, it’s sensations.

Feel tired? Immediately respond with caffeine.
Feel anxious? Immediately react by vegging out to video games for hours.
Feel depressed? Go out and get some form of carby, sugary junk food.

These responses have become so ingrained that I barely even think about them anymore. It’s like a little “click-whirr” motor in my head that goes off like a Rube-Goldberg machine and sets it in motion. Half the time, I’m three quarters of the way to the corner store before I even ask myself whether or not I’m actually hungry, or whether I can actually afford to eat out again for a while (spoiler: the answer to both is mostly no).

But I continue to do it, and so I had to ask myself why exactly that is. The conclusion I’ve drawn is that I’ve developed such a strong… aversion to any kind of internal unpleasantness that the MOMENT one of the aforementioned feelings arises, the subconscious first response system kicks in and I go into one of my coping mechanisms.

I’ve tried to replace them with more healthy coping mechanisms, with little success. What I think now is that I’ve skipped a step; namely, addressing that frantic, almost animal-like need I have to flee, run, hide from whatever I’m feeling in that moment by whatever chemical means necessary. Whatever I’m doing (or wanting to do in that moment) immediately gets pushed to the back of the list when this emotional fight-or-flight mechanism takes precedent.

As you can imagine, it makes it very difficult to do any work when I feel at the whims of my sympathetic nervous system. Medications help, but they’re only part of the solution. I think another component, the one I’m trying to address now, is the ability to not only be present and mindful (something I’ve been trying to do for a very long time), but also to… endure when being in that present moment forces you to have to share space with something unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even scary. It’s like being stuck with a smelly, hairy, oversized commuter on a bus who is constantly twitching and murmuring abusive things at you. Add the fact that there’s not even any guarantee that being willing to sit next to your very own Hobo of Self-Destruction will make him go away, and it doesn’t sound like a very appealing sentiment.

However, what I’m just starting to understand is that while those feelings may not abate entirely, being willing to endure them in that moment at the very least provides me (I don’t want to speak for anyone else) with the powerful knowledge that you can weather the storm. That if you decide to not hit that oh-so-tempting eject button and go hurtling towards your coping mechanism of choice, you won’t fall to pieces. And once you withstand the hurricane and find you’re still standing, it can take a lot of the wind out of its sails the next time it tries to pay you a visit.

Unclogging

Well, one good thing will come from me not being able to sleep at anything resembling a reasonable time: I’m writing again.

That’s not to say I HAVEN’T written, but incredibly inconsistently, and almost never when I’m not being paid. At least not for the past… 6-8 months or so? A big part of that are the changes that have been going on in my life otherwise. For instance, I’ve been struggling HARD with depression the past while. Less so the cognitive factors (though those are, as always, a bitch), but the constant fatigue. It feels like walking through a thick, black ichor… a deep, oily mire that pulls and drags on my body and mind to the point where no amount of sleep or recovery seems to make it lift for long.

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Insomnia and Grad Anxiety

So in what I’m considering the king of ironies, after spending all day feeling exhausted for no apparent reason, I can’t sleep. Started trying to think about what could be the cause, and figured, hey: might be a good opportunity to write a little.

All things going well, I’m graduating from the University of Guelph in June. I was absolutely terrified of not graduating and having to take yet ANOTHER semester here, already being in my sixth year. Now I realize the only thing that scares me more than not graduating is ACTUALLY graduating. I know this is something a lot of soon-to-be grads go through, but it doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking. I feel like I’m JUST starting to get a handle on my mental health issues this semester, and taking positive steps toward being able to live healthily day to day. I’m afraid it’s too soon. I’m afraid I’m not ready to enter the real world. I wish I had another four months to just focus on re-wiring my brain using CBT, talk therapy, and support groups.

But I guess that’s kind of a wake-up call to what life is. Many, many people balance their day-to-day responsibilities with the need to seek out and maintain practices that help them deal with their demons. I guess it’s just this feeling of being taken out of the oven before I’m fully cooked… or something. I kind of lost the metaphor there. You probably know what I mean.

I’ve contacted someone at The United Way about working as a social worker once I graduate, but haven’t heard back. I also procrastinated in following up with a CV as well. I’m worried that by doing so I’ve torpedoed the only “In” I’ve come across so far insofar as doing social work, and thus making it even hard to remedy the situation and send one in. The nice thing about doing CBT (and I’ll probably be filling out a thought record when I’m done this post) though, is that I have a little bit more awareness of the circular and unrealistic thinking around that. I may have screwed up, sure. It may have cost me the opportunity, sure, but I don’t know that. And sending in a CV late and following up is better than not doing it at all.

Here’s hoping I can catch some ZZZ’s before my alarm goes off at 6. Thanks again for reading, everyone. 🙂