It’s been a while. It appears that I needed a break.
I’ll be honest: I’ve been stuck. Stuck in ALL. THE. WAYS. Overthinking. Underthinking. Autopilot. Inertia. Consumed by busyness. Servant to my “to do” list. Distracted by news headlines (I rarely sit still long enough to read the whole article). The general volume of inputs is overwhelming, luring me in until I squander my limited down time (one quick check of my phone or email and a wormhole opens up and consumes me – SO. MANY. SHINY. OBJECTS).
Also, my old friend self-doubt has been visiting. Literally the only visitors not disallowed during these social distance months have been the gremlins of my mind – clearly a mistake! I recently learned that self-doubt, apathy (depression), and anxiety (not good enough) are well-known for causing creative slumps, like writer’s block. When those more negative mindsets take over, a whole lot of nothing happens. Call it what you will, I can assure you that a whole lot of nothing has definitely been happening.
During this fallow period, I haven’t been fighting it (much). Typically I beat myself up for lacking productivity, wonder what is wrong with me, what I have to complain about, what my contribution to the world is. My inner voice is JUDG-Y. Like majorly judgy. And also a bit dramatic and prone to catastrophizing: “You Could Feel Like This FOREVER;” “Woman Retreats to Home in March 2020, Never Emerges;” “Why Does Everyone Else Handle It Better? You Aren’t Even Trying. You Have Made Nothing of Yourself. No One Wants to Hear What You Have to Say Anyway. Indulgent. Worthless.” You get the idea. Super not helpful.
This time, especially during the depression phase, I simply let go. Simply may not be quite the right word for it – listlessly is probably more accurate. I totally lost the plot there for a little bit. I had truly (and mercifully) forgotten how debilitating depression is. But, thanks to COVID Christmas round 2 (is it really just 2?), I now remember. I don’t want to talk about COVID anything so just trust me when I say that that little Omicron-wrapped holiday care package did my head in.
So how did I get unstuck? It was a splash of honoring it and allowing myself to wallow coupled with knowing what it takes to get myself going again (and time). I implemented all the tools in my anxiety/depression toolbox – get outside, get exercise, feel the feels, take time for myself, breathe (often and deeply), try not prognosticate or narrate my very sad story, connect with sympathetic and wise friends, recognize what is and is not in my control, and try to tame that judgy ass inner voice. At first, the sadness still crashed over my head and (briefly) swept me away. If you too were like, “well, crap, here we go again” for most of December, I hear you. I’ve had to work extra hard to put my oxygen mask on these last several months, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
The empowering part of this episode of reality is that, bit by bit, I clawed my way back. Every path has a puddle or two, and I army crawled right on through the mud (after a good wallow).
By the time late January/early February rolled around, I was starting to feel more grounded. I kept finding nuggets of hope and slowly they grew bigger. A friend proposed the notion of a new year filled with “renewal and reanimation of abiding commitments.” She suggested that I write for 30 minutes a day, a goal that seemed entirely doable. Stephen King once said something along the lines of, “if you show up to write every day, when inspiration comes it will know where to find you.” And so I await inspiration’s arrival.
Today is day 11 of my new/old effort to carve out time for myself before the day gets away from me. Every day I set aside 45 minutes with no distractions: 15 minutes of yoga and 30 minutes of writing. The first few writing sessions produced complete garbage – totally aimless, useless nothings. I thought I was probably permanently broken (inner voice still judgy). I also noticed as soon as I sat still for two seconds how much of my time I allow to be buried under busy (and headlines and other distractions).
After a couple of days of yoga and undistracted writing/sitting/pondering, ideas started to form, and then sentences, and then full paragraphs (not Pulitzer-worthy, but also not utter crap). This subtle but real shift in my daily life helped me reclaim headspace. When I feel frenzied and uncertain, caught up in “doing” mode, I approach life more defensively and am more timid and reactive, like an anchorless ship being batted around by the waves. By carving out distraction-free time for myself, I feel more grounded, content, and sharp, which in turn is empowering and leads to more proactive, purpose- and passion-driven choices. Doom scrolling: not an effective use of my time. Connecting with friends, thinking about big issues, walking peacefully in the woods: really inspiring. More than just the acts of stretching and writing, I have been reminded that creativity and inspiration take root when we slow down and allow curiosity and wonder, passion and purpose, to lead the way, even just for 30 minutes.
Words that got me through it:
The Comfort Book by Matt Haig
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
Untethered Soul by Michael Singer
Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel
On Writing by Stephen King
In Our Care and Attention is Our Continuity by Sonnet Coggins
And, let’s be real: I did not magically find more time in the day. There is only a finite amount of time in a day and my life responsibilities haven’t changed. I carve me time out of sleep. Coffee is also a passion, though, so I guess it’s a win-win? Feels like it for now.
One day at a time.
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