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.

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Creativity and Mental Illness

I think a lot about the number of people I’ve heard, whether on podcasts or in real life how they’re afraid to get medication to help with their anxiety, depression, etc, because they’re afraid without it, they’ll lose the “true” emotional core of who they are that allows them to express themselves creatively. But what if it’s the other way around? What if it’s the capacity, the mind set for creativity that predisposes people to be vulnerable to certain emotional struggles?

A number of different studies have drawn links between the two, but I always wondered that the nature of the relationship was. In particular, when I took a couple of Theatre courses in the past year, I had an interesting talk with one of my professors that led me to think it’s something like this:

If I had to define creativity, I would think of it in basic terms as an ability to take two previously disparate topics, two things you wouldn’t normally connect with one another (be they material things or abstract concepts), and associating/combining them in a way that most people wouldn’t consider. Now, apply that notion to a chronically anxious individual, say someone who’s nervous for their next job interview. They feel like if they can’t get this job, then it’s their last hope, then no one will hire them, then they’ll lose their apartment, end up on the street and live a lonely, forgotten existence. Sounds excessive, but that’s the kind of catastrophizing myself and many people I know do in their heads.

When you then talk to someone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety, there’s a good chance they’ll respond with something like, “Isn’t that a bit of a leap? Just because X happens doesn’t mean that it’s going to lead RIGHT to catastrophic conclusion Y!”

Exactly. That’s exactly it. That capacity, that propensity to link two or more only tangentially related things into a cohesive whole is analogous to the kind of thinking that leads us to think that “shitty but manageable thing A will inevitably lead to B, C, D… all the way to life-ruining outcome Z.”

One way of thinking of it is the old “it’s a blessing and a curse” addage, but I think maybe a better way of considering it is like a really awesome, but really specialized piece of software. You have this awesome program for making breathtaking art, revolutionary inventions, and solving dastardly problems, and it does a fantastic job at that. But you feed this machine a question about the true nature of, say, Existential Ethics, and it might just fizz out and explode, setting things ablaze and taking out the printer two rooms over.

That doesn’t necessarily make it defective (though you should probably call someone to see if you can fix the whole exploding thing). It just means that you need to be aware when you’re using a certain tool to try and solve a problem that it simply doesn’t have the capacity to solve. I’m not a big fan of the whole right-brained/left-brained thing (largely because it’s been shown to be vastly oversimplified), but there IS value in thinking of your mental skills as modules in some way.

So next time you find yourself enveloping mentally into “my life is DOOMED” or something like it, maybe consider the possibility that you’ve got the wrong disc in. Take a moment, take a breath, and do your best to engage the linear, procedural reasoning part of your brain, or at least be aware of the possibility that some of the catastrophic thoughts you’re thinking are NOT, in fact, products of the situation, but of your own fears. That way, you can attempt to switch the focus from your perceived “DOOOOOOOOOOM!! (yes, I’m going to keep capitalizing it) and onto the reasoning that fuels that fear. There’s a good chance that digging at that root of the problem will get you a lot further than thinking up new and complex ways of torturing yourself emotionally.

And as always, don’t worry, I know. I should follow my own advice.

Vince Smith is a writer, podcast host, and dyed-in-the-wool geek of all trades. You can check out other articles and videos by him over at The Rogues’ Gallery, or drop by his Facebook Page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman for other musings from the catacombs of the Internet.

Getting My Life Back in Order

So I got through three days straight worth of exams. So the hardest part is over. I’ve still got an essay that I need to get done ASAP (it’s already late and late marks are being deducted from it as we speak), and one more exam next Friday, so I’m not quite out of the woods yet. However, I do have a little extra energy to parse off and start putting into getting my life back in order. Just about everything has gone into disarray aside from my anxiety (which the Zoloft IS helping). Well, and I suppose my gym schedule. The latter has been alright, but not amazing. I usually get to the gym 4-5 days a week, which is good, but I’m not feeling beat down afterwards so I feel like I could go for more days per week. And I’d LIKE to do just that, because there are days that I don’t get to do everything I’d like to. I’m going to try my best over the next month to go flat-out 7 days per week, with some days just being lighter than others. Thinking of a distribution something like this:

Day 1: Upper Body

Day 2:  Lower Body + Arms

Day 3:  Cardio (Heavy Bag)

Day 4: Core

Day 5: Upper Body

Day 6: Lower Body + Arms

Day 7: Cardio (Body weight circuit)

I have it spread out so that I cycle through areas so that, so long as I do the appropriate thorough warm-up and deep fascia stretching afterwards, I shouldn’t get beaten up too badly. It’ll still be taxing, but I know I can do it. I have a pretty awesome housemate for inspiration. It’s rare she actually DOESN’T go to the gym or do some form of exercise every day. Granted, she has a much lighter school schedule than I do, but I’m trying these days not to focus on the advantages people have over me, but the commonalities which speak to the fact that if I want something badly enough, and am willing to put in the effort, I can get it.

Second, I blocked my ex on Facebook. This may not seem like a big step, but there’s been a lot of hmming and hawwing about whether I should. She’s the president of the geek-centric club on campus, which I and most of my friends are a part of. So I was afraid that to cut her out would limit my ability to know about events and opportunities to spend time with my friends. She also hosts a good portion of the parties surrounding that friend group at her house, which she’s said she doesn’t feel comfortable with me being in. So I guess my main reason for holding on so long is the foolish hope that one day we’d be friends again, and that I could hang with everyone as easily as before. But recent interactions have shown that to be an impossibility. We will not be friends, now or ever. Furthermore, and only after blocking her out totally do I feel this… even her presence or the awareness of her life updates makes me doubt myself. Makes it easier for me to direct self-negative thoughts towards myself about my capabilities, my intelligence, my looks, whatever. It’s just… a toxic influence on my mindset. I’m glad that it’s gone. I’ll find ways to hang out with my friends and spend time with those I care about some other way, but this was absolutely necessary.

Third, I’ve been staying up, and consequently waking up, later and later everyday for the last while. I’m going to harken back to last fall (when I was most productive) and set multiple alarms in short, one-minute intervals on my phone. I also have my sunrise clock, so I can use the latter as negative reinforcement if I choose to turn it off. It’ll be worth putting in the effort.

Fourth, I’ve been spending too much, and on stupid things like poor food choices while I’m out. In response, I’m going back to leaving my credit/debit cards at home when I go to work, to campus, or anywhere that I don’t explicitly need them for something I’m buying which has been decided on ahead of time. Cut down on the impulse buying that way.

Y’know, I have more in mind, but I think spreading myself too thin at this point would be counter-productive, so I’ll just work on this stuff today, and then come back tomorrow with some more. 😛

“Okay, so that didn’t work.”

Well, I shouldn’t make such a universal statement, but regardless, the day after I made my pledge to start using my new money saving plot to avoid eating junk food, I do just that. But maybe going over what led me to break down and buy ice cream will help me stop entering into such willpower-breaking situations in the first place.

So, I went to the gym this morning to do a cardio-conditioning workout with the plan of picking up groceries on the way back. I arrive at Bulk Barn, resist the urge to buy chocolate chips along with my usual comically-oversized bags of almonds and walnuts for various dishes during the week. So far so good. On my way out I realize that, with my gym stuff and the bags from Bulk Barn, I won’t be able to fit the items I want to buy from No Frills in without A) breaking my already beat up backpack, or B) something falling out, being crushed, or being punctured. At this point my body is CRAVING something to eat as a post-workout meal. I realize I don’t have the ingredients for any of my usual post-workout meals at home UNTIL I make my trip to No Frills later on, but my mind is  beginning to race, and my body is getting twitchy and irritable at this point, so the attempt to hold myself over is failing fast. At this rate I won’t be able to have something to eat for several more HOURS, on top of still burning more energy through biking back and forth from my house to the gym and grocery stores.

I realize that the mall is right across the street and figure that I’ll pick up one of the healthier subs at Subway for lunch (still a bad choice because of the abundance of bread), but I eat the sandwich and feel only a small pang of regret. Unfortunately, there’s a Dairy Queen right in the same food court, and I’m still feeling a serious lacking in blood sugar. I cave and buy a Blizzard. A big one. Fuck.

Reflection and Revision

Okay, so let’s break this down, piece by piece. I think the thing that began the downfall was that I even entered the mall in the first place. If I get tempted, it stands to reason that the closer in proximity I get to that temptation, the more difficult it’s going to be to resist it. Regardless of the fact that I was going to Subway to eat a relatively harmless sandwich, being in close vicinity to a Dairy Queen when my body is crying out for sugar is a recipe for disaster. So, mistake number one.

The second big factor was the fact that I didn’t have anything at home to whet my appetite before I did my grocery run for the day. So I didn’t have anything to fuel my rationale of, “Just hold on. Just hold on for 15 minutes (the time it takes to bike home from Bulk Barn) and you’ll have something to eat). Other than trying to space out my food usage over the week, there wasn’t really a whole lot I could do to help that.

In retrospect, it might’ve been just better to go straight home from the gym and do both my Bulk Barn and No Frills grocery run in one go. At least then I could’ve cobbled SOMETHING together in my house to fill my stomach before heading out. Yeah, now that I think about it, attempting to shop smart, first of all without shopping S-Mart, and second of all, right on the heels of a blood-sugar draining conditioning circuit, was probably pretty dumb.

Alright, so a couple of things to do differently for next time. For now though, I’m going to record those calories I ingested today, and fight the urge to just not write them down and pretend this blunder never existed. Holding myself accountable for my missteps is, well, the FIRST step to making sure it doesn’t happen again. But I guess if you’ve reached the end of this post, you probably already know that. 😛

Cheers,

Vince