Know the signs; when you’re having an off week

Life just keeps moving faster an faster, or so it seems. I know for me and my colleagues at least this year is just moving past at the most ridiculous speed I almost feel like I’m actually someone’s character in a game of The Sims and they’ve got me on triple speed. How are we three quarters through March already? It’s Easter next week for crying out loud! And as the year keeps whizzing past like a humming bird I’m wondering what the hell have I achieved? It really doesn’t feel like much at all, and because I feel like I haven’t achieved much I’m starting to be riddled with self doubt and some good old existentialism.

I’m not one of those people who is satisfied merely by the job that they are paid to do. No, I need to feel some form of creative satisfaction. That’s why I’m sitting here writing this today. I set myself a goal to write for myself once a week and I’ve not yet fumbled since the first week of the year. The trouble is, I’ve had a couple of off weeks, a symptom of the speed at which we are working in our everyday, and I’ve slowed down all my personal stuff. The things that keep me happy, motivated, and engaged. The things that I get out of bed for seem to be the first things to go when energy is lacking and I’m feeling drained.

My off week is slowly turning into an off month, which is not great since I have SO MUCH to do in SO LITTLE TIME. Plus, my sewing machine broke, and then I repaired it, but I’m so scared to use it now which doesn’t help the fact that I have SO MUCH to do. I have a dress to make for my 30th, plus a top for a hen’s party, plus a gift that I promised a friend (who I know will tell me to do it in my own good time, but you know…guilt), plus other things I just want to make for myself or finish. I have writing I want to do. I have a painting in my mind to paint. I have photos I want to take. I have SO MUCH to do, and SO MUCH I want to do… but I’m feeling that heavy weight of life starting to drag me down.

The signs leading up to an off week can be subtle, but they’re there if you pay attention. It’s like a playful little current moving around your ankles, slowing you down at first. Your mind is moving fast, but your body is moving slow. You feel ever so slightly out of sync. And then it grows. The tide starts to come in, and with it the current begins to grow. And before you know it, if you can’t find a raft, you’re drowning and doing nothing rather than everything. For me, it started with my regular season shift CFS/ME fatigue flare. I was in pain, I was exhausted, my brain went to mush. I still managed to drag out some words for you, but it was so hard, and I had to skip the gym and yoga. Slowly I climbed out of that funk, but since then I’ve just felt weighed down and slow, like I can’t keep up. I have too many events every single weekend, and the amount of time available to myself is next to nothing.

The problem with having next to no time to yourself, especially as a creative individual with a crippling invisible illness, is that you begin to lose yourself in the mundane. Now, I’m not saying my job is boring by any stretch, but it isn’t exactly enabling me to be the reclusive artist/writer that I’d love to be. Plus I didn’t win the lotto last night (again), so I’ve got to keep it up! I’ve got to be able to afford my fabric, my paint, and all my other tools somehow! And I do actually enjoy my work and the people I work with. We manage to find ways to allow me to be creative at work, I even get to do some writing which is always a good challenge for me. I just wish I had more time.

The less time you have to yourself, the more likely you are to notice that little current tugging at your ankles and rising up your legs. I start to become despondent, and less engaged in the desire to create. At its worst, I become dissociative and depressed. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle though, because the lower you feel the less likely you are to lift yourself up and just do the thing, even if it is just a few words on paper, or a smear of paint, or one seam of a garment, or a few scribbled lines. And that’s the key. Despite it all, despite the lack of time, we creatives need to just pick up the tool and use it ever so slightly to reclaim the light within.

I imagine it is probably similar for people who are very active/outdoorsy types, who work indoors. Work takes hold, the weather cools down, and you feel less inclined to go outside or go to the gym. You’d rather just turn yourself into a blanket burrito because you’re leaking energy all over the place and you can’t plug the hole.

So, my top couple of signs that I’m heading to a hole and I need to just fight back and claw myself out of the ditch are:

  • resistance to just “do the thing”
  • low energy
  • CFS/ME flare up
  • staring vacantly
  • loss of appetite
  • becoming the ultimate couch potato
  • playing games on my phone
  • constant social media cycling
  • lowered desire to work out
  • disassociation

Maybe you can relate to a few of these, or you’ve got your own list. Now what do we do with that knowledge? I guess for me acknowledging that I am having an off week is actually the first step. Then I need to tell myself to put down all the devices of distraction. And when motivation is really lacking, well it helps to have my other half on board with pushing me when I can’t push myself as hard as I should. I need to force myself to look at the situation and ask myself what is the smallest thing I can do that will still bring me some satisfaction, even if I haven’t created a masterpiece (or climbed a mountain). And sometimes just saying “I’ve got nothing” switches on that little stubborn part of me that always, ALWAYS, manages to find something. Like tonight, while I sat here sending angry emails to my internet provider I also asked my sister what to write. As soon as I explained how lacking in inspiration I was, I realised that is what I should write about, because I know for certain that we all feel a little lost and out of it at times.

So today, what’s that one little thing that will bring you some satisfaction even if it isn’t going to fulfil your grandest dreams. After all, you know what they say about the first step…

I made a promise to myself

My intention for 2018 was to write for a minimum of one hour a week until a habit had been formed. Once it was habit I would place no limit or constraint on how much time I must spend writing, just as long as I did it and made progress. I’ve been telling myself I’ve been working on a book for so many years now, and yet truthfully I’ve barely written a thing. Last year I finally sat down and planned out chapters, and began on the one that was easiest for me to begin because of how it related to my life at the time, but the thing is I am not disciplined in my writing habit and so I have moments where I write loads, and then many weeks of famine in between. At this rate, the book will never get written.

And so, here I am, keeping my promise. Last week I wrote twice, and perhaps I will again this week. I’d begun writing another piece this afternoon, but I can’t quite get the feelings on paper…or is it screen now? Either way, I find myself stumbling over my words today. My thoughts are jumbled and I am tired. What is the point of me writing today? I guess I need to share that this is hard, especially when you’ve grown up with the romantic idea that authors just write when inspiration strikes. I’ve tried living this way, and it doesn’t work. Inspiration always calls when you are unable to write. ALWAYS. My God, the number of times I have been in the middle of my workday and a paragraph, or even a sentence, begins to loop in my mind. In those moments I consider dropping what I’m doing to pursue that little literary treat dancing upon my brain, but before long I am brought back to reality and that line is gone forever, unless I’m lucky enough to jot it down.

I find myself constantly caught between wanting to express myself intelligently, and not wanting to sound like I think I know everything. Most people would say I think way too much about this, and many would tell me to just get on with it and write. As absurd as it is, I constantly think what makes me so special to tell this story in my mind? Who wants to hear that story? You’re probably wrong anyway. Self doubt, it is so constant. And yet, so many people appear to believe in me so here I am, writing, and sharing. The truth is, I am so scared that I will pour my heart and soul into something and have it just flop, never getting anywhere beyond me and my circle. If that happened, would it be so bad? No, I guess not, but oh how I dream of being able to be creative for a living. To write, photograph, paint, and sew, and for that to earn me a comfortable living so I can do what I feel I was made to do.

Just keep going, I tell myself through gritted teeth. There are only two ways about this; I give it a go and I succeed, or I give this a go and I fail. I no longer want to give myself the option to just dream about doing. It has gotten me nowhere in life, nowhere but sadness and regret and I don’t like that place. Practice makes perfect, they say, and so with each piece I write I hope you see me getting better. I’m no longer scared of reading over what I have written and editing it, so that is progress, but at the same time I think I need to just pour it all out and worry about the editing later. So for now, when inspiration calls, I will jot down those words dancing behind my eyes and store them away for later.

I feel it is important to share our struggles and how the beginning of something can be so daunting and exhausting, but eventually we’ve got to realise that just DOING something is better than dreaming, even if it isn’t great to start with. That’s the biggest lesson I have learned over the past couple of years, and each year I am better at the doing (though I am still an honors student in dreaming!). Tonight I am tired, but hopefully I’ll be able to share something a little more captivating next time.