A Late Post

My grandfather was prescribed Hospice Care today. That bit of news, accompanied by the tidbit that his tests all came back saying he wasn’t a match to the genetic profile they needed for a last-ditch treatment effort, has thrown off not just my plans for today but my plans for the next few weeks. When I found out he had only a few weeks left unless he was a genetic match for this special treatment, I planned on heading back to Chicago at a moment’s notice in case something happened and that I’d spent at least one day every weekend in Chicago, visiting family with a particular emphasis on my grandpa. Now I’m planning the same thing, along with preparing a long-term bag that I’ll keep in the trunk of my car and getting my computer area reconfigured so I can dismantle it quickly for travel so I can work remotely if I wind up staying in Chicago for any length of time. We don’t know for sure how long he has left, but it’s probably more accurate to measure in weeks than anything else.

It’s difficult to focus on writing anything, right now. I’ve been trying all day to get my mind into gear for this and it’s basically just grinding the gears rather than actually slipping into gear. Trying to make myself write anything is doing more harm than good and I wasn’t able to create the stockpile of blog posts I wanted to have finished by now, so I’m going on hiatus for a bit.

I hate the thought of stopping, honestly. This decision has been tearing at me all day, despite the fact that it’s been lurking in the back of my mind every time I’ve gotten to my daily writing time and felt the black wave of grief and exhaustion (which are all I have left at this point) wash over me. I want to write more, but trying to make it happen is just making things worse on myself. As is the thought of stopping something I’ve done for four hundred thirteen consecutive days. I’m immensely proud of that streak of daily posts and the daily writing they represent, but I’ve pretty much run myself to the point of a breakdown and I can’t afford to have one of those right now. My stress levels are higher than they’ve ever been, I’m dealing with difficult emotions, I constantly feel run down and exhausted no matter how much rest I get, I’m pretty sure I’m currently sick and only not laid up in bed because I can’t afford to be, and all I want in the world is to keep writing and updating this blog because at least then I can point at it and say “look what I’ve done.”

This past year has been pretty awful for me and it has taken every scrap of willpower I have to make it this far right now. Choosing to take a break feels like giving up and writing this post, making this decision, feels like I’m rolling my soul in a pile of broken glass because daily writing and daily blog posts was all I fucking wanted out of this year. That’s it. My one goal for 2018 was to update this blog every day, write every day, and do whatever it takes to keep those things going. Just thinking about it and everything I’ve worked through up to this point makes me want to delete this entire post and re-write it as a “I’m not going to let this stop me” post. I’m not going to do that, though. I’m going to take a break. I’m going to stop making myself do this every day. I’m going to go back to journaling extensively every day. I’m going to reflect, try to deal with my emotions, deal with my anticipatory grieving, deal with my regular grieving, and then try to come back to this in the new year once I’m no longer traveling every weekend or constantly fighting back exhaustion that makes me want to just dissolve into a puddle of tears on my bed when I get home from work.

I am tempted to leave myself wiggle room for musing posts over the next few weeks, like I did seven or eight months ago when I was stressed and trying to figure out what was going on with my emotions. That might allow me to continue updating every day without the stress of creating new fiction, poetry, and reviewing things, but I think I really need a break from the internet in addition to every thing else as well. I don’t know if that’s going to mean deactivating Facebook and removing Twitter from my phone, or if that’s just going to mean I spend more time away from the computer, but I think I need that right now. Beyond the grief and pain I’m dealing with right now, I haven’t taken a break in over a year. Even the planned breaks wound up not being breaks because I was always working on something during that time. I had a project to do or some writing goal to accomplish. Whatever it was, it pretty much negated the whole point of the break, even if I tried to convince myself otherwise.

So I get I’m concurrently going on vacation and taking a hiatus. The vacation will end on the second of January, so that’s the earliest I’ll be back to writing. The hiatus will end once I’ve dealt with my grief enough to not feel like I’m shaving years off my life and pulling off splinters of my soul to sit down and make something specific. I’ll probably keep writing, but that’ll be expressive stuff rather than following the planned posts ideas I picked out a few weeks ago. I’ll be exploring my emotions and trying to cope with what’s going on rather than writing about pre-established fictional characters or creating parodies of famous poems.

See? I can’t even take a break without planning something for me to be doing while taking said break. Whatever. The point is I’m taking away the obligation and drive parts. I’m just going to create if I feel like and catch up on my giant collection of unread books if not. I’m going to try to figure out better routines for myself, ones that incorporate better physical self-care, and see if I can finally do something about the burn-out I’ve been fighting for almost an entire year.

Or maybe two weeks will pass and I’ll still be tired. Who knows. All I know is that writing feels incredibly painful today and I need it to stop feeling painful. Even if I want to write, even if I’m willing to put up with the pain (which I clearly am, given this blog post), I don’t think it’s going to be healthy to pull more than this out of my for the next couple weeks, at least. Catch you all later. You know how to reach me.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 29 (11/29)

I wanted to give up yesterday. I sat down at my computer around six, hoping to get a jump-start on the night’s writing so I could finish earlier than previous nights, and I didn’t even get started until nine. My moods are rather mercurial and yesterday had been particularly draining, so I wasn’t really surprised by my sudden lack of drive and ambition. Disheartened and frustrated, sure, but not surprised. I’ve been working with myself too long to be surprised by this. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I haven’t been getting enough sleep for a long time, so I’m not surprised I hit a wall. The fact that I was humming along on Tuesday, managing six thousand words over the course of the day, doesn’t mean much since I can keep working at full capacity right up to my moment of complete exhaustion. It’s probably why I tend to work by burnout cycles rather than in any kind of moderation.

If I took it easier, I’d maybe be in a better place, energy-wise. I don’t know that for sure, but I suspect and I’m usually pretty good at figuring this kind of thing out. Too bad I’m apparently only good at it after I’ve wiped myself out. The flip side is that I wouldn’t be able to avoid a night of low energy and exhaustion if I hadn’t pushed myself. I’d have needed to get even more words done that I did last night, and it wouldn’t have been a choice. I’d have forced myself to do them. Instead, I was tired and inclined to give up, but I was able to choose to keep working and then pack it in a bit earlier than usual. I didn’t get an amazing amount done, but I got enough done and that’s what was important to me. I did something.

Out of every year I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, this year’s attempt has been the one I’ve wanted to quit the most. Since November fourth, the day I found out about my Grandfather’s failing health after being kept up all night by my neighbor, I have entertained daily thoughts of giving up and taking some time to rest and meditate. There have even been a few days where I half-decided to give up but wound up being able to make myself do it when it came time to write the “I gave up” post. I mean, I’m a few thousand words away from finishing the month and so close to my goal of having written one hundred thousand words this past month, but I still want to give up. It’s not even me feeling defeatist or incapable. It’s my bone-deep weariness. Just like my worst days of depression, it isn’t the feelings of failure or of ineptitude that get to me, it is the feeling that I am so tired I could just lay my head down to sleep and never get up again. The feeling that whatever it was that once pushed me forward has wound done. Gone out. Been destroyed. Decayed into nothingness. Any or all of the above. The rationalization hiding behind the worst intrusive thoughts coming from my OCD. They both come from the same place and they’re a mixture of depression and actual exhaustion.

Which is why I know exactly how to handle them. Which is why I managed to get some writing done last night despite wanting nothing more than to lie on my bed and be still until I fell asleep or ceased to exist. I know that this is just a feeling of legitimate tiredness being amplified by my depression that has latched on to a combination of my anxieties about whatever wore me out that day and my anxieties about how I’m going to manage my exhaustion. They get all bound up together and create a feedback loop that will eventually wear me down unless I manage to escape it somehow. I can meditate my way out most of the time, but that’s really close to the whole “lying down on my bed and not moving” thing that I’m trying to avoid so I prefer a more active solution. Like writing about it (which is why I wrote this bit about how I felt yesterday before doing my day’s writing and then came back to fill in the before and after parts to tie it to the rest of a daily blog post). It works. I wish I’d gotten more sleep, of course, but I needed to stay awake long enough to reframe “going to sleep” as something I chose to do rather than something my depression-based exhaustion made me do.

A lot of managing yourself, and by extension your mental health, is finding little tricks to convince yourself to do whatever it is you think you should be doing. That’s what most of my tips are this month, ways to trick yourself into focusing on work or into doing more work than you originally planned. That’s what the previous paragraph is, a way to trick myself into dealing with my mental health so I can write more before the day ends. Or write anything beyond a couple hundred words. Anything that gets the job done and doesn’t cause additional harm. I’ve got hundreds of little coping mechanisms I’ve developed over the years that can be adapted to fit almost any scenario and I bring a lot of them to bear during months like this one, where I’m constantly exhausted and stressed from working hard, all while trying to cope with the bad news I keep getting. Sure, taking a night off to sleep would be nice, but the guilt would be horrible. I’d feel like I’d abandoned my writing goals if I just took a nice off. So I found a way to get some writing down and get some extra sleep. A little bit of compromise can go a long way.

Anyway, I hope this made sense and I hope you got something useful out of it, even if it’s just an example of someone who is doing really well with their goals wanting to quit. We all have those moments and it’s usually better to deal with them out in the open than to try to hide them away or pretend they never happened. Denial gets you nothing, so learn to cope, learn to process, and know that you’re not alone in whatever you’re feeling. I hope your last two days of writing go well! Good luck! I believe in you!

 

Daily Prompt

As you look over your story and all the work you’ve done this month, you probably start to get an idea of what this story is really about. Sure, you planned it to be about one thing, but that really pans out. Too many changes get made during actual production for any plan to stay intact unless you’re entirely rewriting something that you’ve already finished or you’ve strangled your story in an attempt to get it to fit the narrative you initially chose. Now that you know, though, find the right place for this idea and work in a scene that solidifies it in the earlier part of the narrative. Maybe do a couple if it’s a complex one. Just make a few small adjustments so the story’s message says what you want it to say.

 

Sharing Inspiration

Last year, the writer who inspired me the most was John Green with his novel, “Turtles All The Way Down.” This year’s story is an updated and slightly adapted version of last year’s, so it bears mentioning that I was inspired by his candid way of writing about mental health. When the book was coming out and for a while after it came out, he also spoke more frequently and openly about his mental health and struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It means a lot to me that someone who struggles with OCD more than I do was able to openly discuss and still manage to make great art despite the struggles it often presents. While I can handle my OCD better than most, I’ve always kind of shied away from talking about it because I don’t really like admitting how constant and severe it is. Reading John Green write about his experiences, through the story of a teenage woman, inspired me to try to write about my own experiences since that’s a story I’ve never seen before. Hopefully I can get it finished and shared with the world. I feel like it’d be really helpful for people like me to read a story like that. I know my life would have been a lot easier from sixteen to twenty-five if I’d read something like this.

 

Helpful Tips

As we get to the end of the month, I just want to say that it isn’t a big deal if you failed this month. Failure is something you’re going to encounter frequently if you take risks and attempting to create something without taking any risks will get you nothing. No new lessons, no new skills, and quite possible no end result that you’re satisfied with or proud of. Last year, my entire department read a book about creativity and failure in an R&D department as my boss tried to foster a more adventurous and engaged attitude in his employees. The book suggests that failing early and failing often is the best way to approach any task. If you spend all of your time planning, you’re still going to come up with one or more failures later in the process but you’ll have less time to correct those failures than if you’d just dived right in and started failing immediately.

Writing is hard work. National Novel Writing Month is also a lot of hard work. I’ve failed it twice, once because I decided to give up at the beginning of the month and once because I told myself I didn’t need to register–that I didn’t need to be accountable to anyone but myself. The former was a good decision on my part, a choice to focus my time and energy on finding a new job to leave one that was slowly killing me (and already almost had). The latter is a decision I regret because it was made out of a desire to avoid the appearance of failure. The first one wasn’t really a failure because I learned and made a change that helped me succeed in the future. I dove right in and took risks by starting a new job. The second was one of my worst failures as a writer because I let the fear of an ultimately meaningless goal prevent me from doing my best. Better to try and fail rather than not try and fail anyway. You always get something out of it when you try, even if still fail. I’ve learned this lesson many times through life, but my first “attempt” at National Novel Writing Month is the one that has stuck with me the most.

I want you to know that, even if you know you won’t finish in time, don’t give up. Keep trying. Make your failure the best failure you can because the things you learned this month will all still be there whether you succeed or fail. Every attempt is a learning experience and the ones that teach us the most are almost always the failures. So try hard, dive in, and fail quickly. You’ll be surprised just how much you learn when you learn to not fear failure.

How to Cope with Exhaustion

Feeling like you’ve scraped the bottom of the energy barrel to the point where the barrel no longer has a bottom? So tired you just kinda want to cry and find somewhere dark to curl up in the fetal position so you can finally let your exhaustion overwhelm you? Feeling like you’re stretched beyond the point of recovery and to the point where all of the stress has invaded your dreams so now you have to deal with it while your awake and asleep? While none of these things is a good position to be in, we often find ourselves in them when the shit hits the fan and we focus ourselves on simply doing everything one step at a time until we’re finished. Or until we collapse from exhaustion. I’ve done both, and neither one works out well in the end because we’re ultimately taxing our mind and body to the point of damage.

There are ways to help prevent some of the damage, or to mitigate the negative aspects of trying to buckle down and work through long days, busy weekends, or months of ceaseless stress. None of them are guaranteed to work and they’ll all need to be tweaked to fit your specific needs, but the core concepts should definitely work for you. I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with various forms of exhaustion thanks to insomnia in high school, business and insomnia in college, and stress and business after college, so I feel like I’m pretty qualified when it comes to figuring out how to cope with mild to extreme exhaustion until you’re capable of resting.

The first thing I’m going to say, despite it making me feel like a total hypocrite, is that these sorts of situations are best avoided. Even short periods of exhaustion or sleep deprivation can interfere with your short-term memory, inhibit the formation of long-term memory, wreak havoc on your immune system and muscles, and will for-sure exacerbate any health issues you have, be they physical or mental. It is good to know your limits and to be able to push past them when you need to, but there’s a pretty big difference between “I need to just push through this” and “I think pushing through this is going to yield the best results I’m going to ignore options that would leave me feeling more rested.” I guarantee that you will always have better results if you can rest first. You can’t always rest, but you should when you can. If you rest up or take good care of yourself, you will see your best results in the long-run.

If resting up isn’t an option, you should really figure out which type of energy you’re going to be running short on. If you’re physically active during this period of low sleep or high stress, you will be short on physical energy. If you’re stretching your skills and abilities in new ways or being forced into new situations without much time to prepare, you’ll run out of mental energy. If you have to take care of people or deal with people who don’t want to be dealt with, you’ll rapidly run out of emotional energy. If you’re doing something that involves all three, then I feel so sorry for you and I wish you the best because most of my strategies for coping with a low energy of one or two types requires relying on the other(s) to help carry the weight or be turned into the type that’s running out.

If you need more mental or emotional energy, some quiet meditation or music is usually very helpful. Something that will help you feel a certain way or that will help you process the feeling you’re dealing with at that moment. Maybe you need something to make you feel powerful or something to help slow you down to alleviate some of the mental strain you’re experiencing. If it’s physical energy, I suggest taking it easy by sleeping, playing games with friends, or watching something while you let your body rest. Even a couple hours of any of these activities, while you continue to work on other things, can help get you back to a point where you can make it through the day. I’d recommend against anything that might be destructive, like excessive eating, alcohol, or drugs. I haven’t got much experience with the later, but I’ve seen enough people make that mistake to have learned the lesson.

Additionally, a change in your diet can help keep you going. Avoid too much sugar since that is going to just set you up for a terrible crash later, unless you’re eating natural sugars from stuff like fruit or vegetables. I recommend eating plenty of both to keep you going since it helps to have something to do with your mouth while you’re trying to focus. At the same time, having an idea of what kinds of foods provide the most energy for you will help a lot. I know my body processes protein very efficiently, so I can delay encroaching exhaustion by eating a lean, protein-rich diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit. It’s not really going to make you feel energized, but it’ll keep you fueled and prevent your body from taking too much energy away for digestion. Throughout it all, avoid sugary sources of caffeine. Stick to things like coffee or tea and don’t add too much sugar to them or else you will get an immediate boost followed by a crash when the caffeine kicks in so you’ll feel exhausted and be unable to rest it off. Also, drink more water than usual. A good goal for water consumption is to drink half your weight in ounces of water. If you want something a little easier, I suggest going for at least three quarts or liters. It’ll help keep your mind clear and hydration is key at all times.

The last thing, and the most effective, is getting organized and writing things down somewhere. The exact methods for doing so depend a lot more on how you think and how you tend to organize information, but it’ll help if you do it, regardless of how you do it. For instance, the only reason I’m still sane and productive these days is because I’ve taken to writing to-do lists and journaling things as the day goes on. Not only is it helping my emotional energy, but it’s take a constant source of mental energy drain (trying to remember everything) and offloading the work onto a notebook. I can write down not just how I’m feeling, but also what my thoughts were on whatever meeting I just had, save ideas for later, and get a little mental clarity when I set everything else aside for five minutes so I can write things out. For people who don’t have issues with remembering things that only exist electronically, there are a ton of applications and programs out there, most of which you can get on your phone. Heck, even Google Now does a lot of that stuff.

Like I said earlier, it is best to avoid pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion, but hopefully these tips will make it easier to cope when you don’t really have any other choice. Good luck!

Friday Morning Musing

I have a great poem I’m working on that I’ll post soon, but I’m almost literally frying my brain in a reduction of stress and Overtime this week, so I’m saving it until I’ve got the time and energy to make it as good as I know it can be. I really want to write more poetry and actually stick to my plan of posting a poem a week, but it takes even more energy and time than writing a long piece for every Tuesday’s Coldheart and Iron post. When things are stressful or super busy, I just don’t have the energy and the past few weeks have been both. I’m still amazed I got something up for last week. I’d like to say I’ll definitely have it done for next week, but I might actually have to work this weekend (a first at my current company), so we’ll see how it goes. No promises, but I probably want to get a poem posted more than you want me to post a poem.

As much as I hate my long hours and how tired I am, I still appreciate that I can work these long hours and actually get paid for all of them. I know a lot of people still working long weeks who don’t get adequately compensated, either because they don’t get overtime, because they’re salaried, or because their hours are split between several low-paying jobs and would get fired if they asked for overtime pay or anything like that. Thanks to paying off my car loan, I appreciate my current position even more, since I don’t even need overtime to make ends meet or have a little freedom in my finances. It feels good to get paid.

On the other hand, I’m only working this long because of some questionable organizational decisions made by some of the people I work with and, while I’ve got a plan to fix our processes so this doesn’t happen again, it unfortunately hinges on a lot of people who would rather complain about problems than fix them. To be entirely fair to them, they mostly do that because they’ve tried to fix them and nothing worked. Only one or two of them are frustrating and they’re frustrating for incredibly different reasons that actually cause each other, to some extent. It’s a kinda weird situation if I’m being honest. It creates and perpetuates itself. If I could figure out how to harness the energy that goes into it, I could solve world hunger or the looming energy crisis when the world runs out of oil and all we’ve got left is renewable resources my current government is refusing to harness. I’m a bit bitter today, sorry.

I’ve been struggling to stay focused and forward-thinking lately because I’m seeing a lot of parallels between my current job and the I job I left because it was destroying my soul. The reasons I’m staying late every day are matching up what happened at my old job to sink me further into depression and crush my soul, ultimately forcing me to quit in order to save my mental and physical health. They’re not nearly as bad yet, but the fact that I can draw any similarities between them is incredibly worrying. I still think I can head these problems off before they show up and I’ve actually got people on my side in my current job (including my manager), so I should be able to avoid another situation where I need to choose my livelihood or my health. That was a pretty awful decision to need to make and it has had a lasting impact on me. I actually almost had a panic attack today when I realized what is happening now is incredibly similar to how things started going wrong at my old job. Throw in the fact that I’ve had a few “I told you so” situations already this summer with people at work and I’m having a hard time believing things will wind up different, despite tons of evidence to the contrary.

I still hope they will be, though. I’m nowhere ready to abandon ship yet and I really want to believe I can change things so everyone is happier with how things related to my job work. And it will do that, if everyone does their part. I’ve spent the last year and a half listening to people talk about what they want, how things should work, and what bothers them, and this plan should make no one happy but everyone content. Well, I’ll be happy if it works, but that’s because I take incredible satisfaction in a job well done rather than because I tweak the process so it make my life easier. It’ll actually give me the most extra work since I’ll be taking over a few things that either no one does or that other people aren’t doing the way the process requires. Stuff like running meetings, holding people accountable, and enforcing the agreements we make during meetings. I’ll basically be setting myself up as the benevolent dictator of testing and, as long as everyone agrees to let me rule them, we shall have peace and prosperity.

Sounds real nice, right? I figure it has a twenty-five percent chance of working, given that it requires people granting me authority over them in certain matters. It’s a lot like democracy or peace treaties. It only works so long as every agrees to play by the rules and then actually plays by the rules. If you start breaking the rules or altering them to help you at the cost of others, then it all falls apart. It also didn’t hurt its chances that it requires people to actually follow-through on the commitments we’re making to have each other’s back and stand together at all times so we can actually gain some authority for me to wield. There are a lot of points of failure, but even a partial adoption would be great. I honestly wouldn’t mind if someone else wound up with all the authority. I’m not much of one for the spotlight and I really dislike conflicts or confrontations, both of which would be common for whoever winds up with all the power since they’d actually have to wield it against everyone at some time or another.

Still, it’s better than keeping my head down and hoping things get better on their own. Change has to start somewhere and I value my time too much to let it get wasted like this. I’ll do what I need to and I hope that only means taking a stand against poor planning (well, probably a lack of planning) and asserting the right to have everyone’s voices heard when we make commitments.

I hope you have a great Friday and I’ll do my best to get some poetry up soon! These crazy weeks can’t last forever.

Saturday Afternoon Musing

I just took a five-day weekend and I already need another. One of the things I’ve been reflecting on recently is that it has been quite a summer. Two weddings because the relationship I was in, the end of the relationship I was in, throwing myself into my writing and my work in order to take attention away from the end of the relationship I was in, working more than ever so I could pay off my car loan, paying off my car loan, tons of flooding in my area, winning the Hamilton lottery, going to see Hamilton, trying to enjoy my long weekend and the game I took it for and being unable to because the internet has been going in and out without warning or pattern… A lot has been going on.

Sure, some of it has been good stuff, like the lottery and Hamilton, but that’s a still lot of emotional energy that gets spent. I can tell I’ve reached a new low because I’m always filled with the kind of existential exhaustion I associated with my depression but none of my other usual symptoms that go along with it. I also find myself spending an hour or more sitting on the couch, doing nothing or letting the TV just run because I know the internet is out again and, sure, I could write in a Microsoft document and just past it into WordPress when I’m finished or I could even just grab my phone and write my posts on it if I don’t want to bother with a bunch of temporary files but that’s a lot of effort and it’s taking all the energy I’ve got to just stay calm about how unreliable the internet has been and how that’s been negatively impacting my relaxation activities. Which isn’t at all a description of how I spent my early afternoon while waiting for the internet to come back so I could finish today’s post and get it online.

It definitely doesn’t help that work has been super stressful as well. We’ve got a big deadline coming up and I’ve had to assert my priorities to some senior coworkers a lot more than I’d like to. I’ve also had to deal with the prospect of getting put on a future project that continues a current project which has been a total nightmare of everything going wrong and one person domineering the design decisions. It’ll be a great product eventually, of course, but a lot of the time it feels like it’ll be good despite some people’s best efforts to turn it into an unholy abomination of things that sound good but are totally useless. I am extremely uncomfortable with conflict, but I keep finding myself gearing up for them at work because I don’t mind telling people they’re wrong or that they’re wasting my time. I’m one of the only people stubborn enough to sit through an hour of a meeting and stick to my (correct) line of reasoning rather than just agreeing so the meeting will end. I don’t blame my coworkers for not being willing to fight to the death like I am because they’ve been dealing with this guy for much longer. Most of them are much friendlier than I am with people who waste their time and none of them are as stubborn as I am. I’m a perfect storm of the right personality traits to confront people like this person and the sincere desire to never be in conflict ever. I’ll fight the battle because I recognize it needs to be fought and, if it turns out well for me, will save me stress and effort in the long run, but I’d also rather just keep my nose down and get through each day as it comes.

Some days, it feels like a lot of my life is like that. Lots of stress and effort now so things will hopefully be easier later. As I see this particular thought crop up in my life, I find myself wondering at what point I stop thinking “it feels like” and start thinking “my life is”? I think the main problem the later is that it’s easy to go from reflecting on how much effort I put into everything in my life these days to a whole slew of negative thoughts. Stuff like “is it worth working this hard” or “I have to work this hard because nothing good ever happens” or “I wish something nice and easy would happen because nice stuff never happens to me,” all of which are false. If anything, this past summer has taught me that this isn’t really a “good” versus “bad” scenario, this is a “work” versus no work” scenario. I did no work to get the Hamilton Tickets. Spent twenty dollars and clicked stuff on an app every day for so long I forgot I was doing it. That’s not any kind of definition of work in my book. That was a good thing that happened to me. It was an amazing thing that happened to me and I’ll be holding on to that happy giddiness for months.

I don’t sleep enough. I take care of myself last of all. I have depression that leaves me feeling listless and unable to do anything but focus on moving myself forward through the day. I get so caught up in my anxieties I can’t breathe. I have a hobby that fills my soul with meaning and helps me set direction for myself. I have good friends around me who care about me and the stuff I care about simply because I care about it. I have terrible luck, but it often turns good in surprising ways and at unexpected times. I can support myself and am only financially limited by my willingness to work extra hours. I make enough that I don’t actually need to work more than my required minimum number of hours to make ends meet. My life is pretty well-balanced, honestly. It’s not bad. It’s not great, either, but it’s on the positive side of neutral. I just have to work hard pretty frequently. Not because my life or lifestyle is in danger if I don’t, but because that’s the cost of making progress on my dreams. I wish it was easier, but then I probably wouldn’t value the time I get to work on my dreams as much as I do. I wouldn’t value a quiet weekend in the woods as much as I do.

Today, I don’t wish my life was different. Today, I just wish I had a few extra hours each day. There’s so much to do… It’d be easier if I suddenly got four extra hours every day so I could sleep more. I bet I’d get a lot more done if I was well-rested all the time. Maybe that’s what I should do with my next vacation. Just go to bed every day at ten at night instead of staying up super late because I know I don’t need to get up for anything in the morning. It’s worth trying, some day.

 

Saturday Morning Musing

No matter where you live, what you do, or who you are, there’s a lot going on in the world these days. The only way you can escape it is if you’re being willfully ignorant that the world is going slightly (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a bit of a tendency to understate things) crazy and that only works for upper-middle class white dudes and rich people. Even then, it probably still intrudes on your life because global politics and the constant stream of fear and anxiety pumped into the world by modern “journalism” are almost impossible to get away from unless you cut off all human contact, including the internet. Especially the internet.

I don’t really want to go into all of what’s going on, because I honestly can’t escape it and I don’t have anything new to add to it. All my thoughts and feelings have already been said and probably been said better than I could with the energy I’ve got right now. It’s really wearing me down to be spending the vast majority of my time trying to keep track of what’s going on from as many sources as possible so I can hopefully uncover the truth of what’s happening. Even then, I know it’s mostly impossible without being a first-hand witness to most of what is going down because there’s bias not just from individual sources, but from entire groups of people based on what kind of group they are or if they’re reacting to something in particular.

I spend so much time and energy trying to follow what is going on, picking the battles to fight, and doing everything I can to advocate for human decency and respect of all non-shitty life (sorry, shitty lifeforms, I’ve got no time for you) that I barely have the energy left for doing my daily writing. Things were different when I had a significant other. The world would fade away a bit when we were together and I couldn’t help but forget everything else for a bit. Now that I don’t have that, I’m relying on myself to take breaks when I need them and I’m actually really bad at that. If I do not have something that requires me to take a break or to rest for a while, I will not take a break. I will keep working or procrastinate until there’s no point in working and then feel terrible about not having done any work. In the past three weeks, last night was the first time I consciously decided not to do any writing work and just read a book instead of fretting about my blog or the book projects I haven’t touched in months.

I realize this isn’t healthy. I need to be able to rest and I shouldn’t rely on someone else to pull me away from my work long enough to unwind. I need to figure out how I can pull myself away from my work and to find ways to rest. Video games, reading, and TV don’t always work and sitting around by myself is often more likely to be a recipe for anxiety and stress than rest. Even meditation isn’t a sure-fire help these days since I’m still caught up in the feelings of my breakup and struggling with the daunting task of trying to date again. Any time I try to quiet my mind, thoughts of what I used to have or of how much I struggle to meet new people intrude. It’s daunting and frustrating.

Even when I do manage to relax or to avoid thinking about my relationship status, the news inevitably intrudes. I’ll get a phone notification that someone tweeted something about someone doing something dumb or that some government official is now royally screwed because something leaked except they’re totally not because all the people who give a fuck are spineless or powerless. The few times that doesn’t happen, or that I remember to silence my phone, thoughts about the very scary potential futures ahead of the world intrude. There’s no escaping just how shitty the world is when it affects me and all of the people I care about on such an enormous scale that it’s nearly impossible to contextualize just how screwed we all might wind up being.

It doesn’t help that so many people are constantly reminding everyone that being scared or tired or feeling unable to cope is exactly what the shitty people want. Sure, taking a rest is a good idea and we should probably all do that, but so many people lose urgency when they rest and people giving up is actually what the shitty people want. They want us to stop. If we’re intimidated or worn out and stop, that’s what they want. If we’re resting and miss something important, that’s also what they want. I’d love nothing more than to be able to constant rage against the shitty people with the burning passion of a million stars fueled by the wildest dreams of poets and artists across the universe, but that’s a bit more than I can manage. No single person could contain that much power and, so far, even the best coordinated groups have proven themselves unable. Someday, someone might be able to channel that amount of strength into their righteous fury and wipe away the taint caused by shitty people, but that day is not this day.

It’s a nice mental image, but that’s all it is. If things are going to change, it’ll take a lot of people working together toward a common goal. In the mean time, I’m going to try to figure out how to rest up on the few days I can’t fight for my goals and human decency any further. I don’t think the problem is working up to the point of wanting to collapse that’s the problem (and no, that’s not me trying to justify working myself ragged), I just really need to figure out how to actually rest on the days I’m not working on whatever.

Anyway, try to not be a shitty human today and every day. Work towards the common good. Rest when you need it but don’t forget there’s a fight going on. And so on. Keep it up.

Sleep Deprived

I no longer sleep because I think of you.

I can sleep no longer
              because I think of you

My weary eyes refuse to shut again
And all my dreams reach fever-pitch
Before I lurch awake
                           clutching sheets
That have tangled me in my sleep

Weary eyes with constant crusts
              forming at the corners
Unblinking and blankly stare
At my desk while I try to work

I speak in stifled yawns to my own hands
As my bleary eyes plod through the day
              and bits of conversation
                             lose all
                                          connection
                                                        and meaning

I speak in stifled yawns and bleary eyes
As I vaguely try to find my notebook
So I can write down each of the replies
I’ll no longer remember tomorrow
No one knows what to make of this
And all I can tell them is it will be fine
              at some point in the future
For now
              I trace big lines on paper
              where I was supposed to write words
And      drift away         until I can leave
To find myself a moor for the evening.

Just Another Wave in the Ocean

Some days, as I wake, I do not turn off my alarm. The alarm on my phone marks the passing minutes by softly playing the song a once-friend recorded for me when I needed it more than I had words to say. It is a soft song, something that speaks to me of the process of healing, of starting anew, and of learning to forgive yourself for what you perceive to be your greatest failure. Unlike many songs about healing, or even most of the way we talk about healing, this song does not pretend that things will be like they were before. This song promises healing, but it also promises change. It promises that things will be different than they were and that whatever that difference is will be better than what you feel right now.

I don’t know what this song would say to you. I have a long history with this song and I’m willing to admit that at least some amount of its speech is projection. I need this song to say these things to me and, since it has said so many other, similar things to me before, I hear it say them now. So I let it play and I listen as it cycles through itself, restarting automatically because my phone is committed to ensuring I’m awake. It has no way of knowing that I was already awake before it began. It has no way of knowing that I’ve been awake for half an hour already, but have not been able to make myself get out of bed or even move until the song begins to play.

After a while, I roll over in my bed. My eyes, adjusted to the shy light of my phone as the alarm sounds, are stabbed by the bright white screen that flashes when I tell my phone to wait a bit before reminding me to wake up again. Five minutes later, it does so. I have not moved.

This time, before I temporarily silence it, I sit up in bed. The next time, I pull back the sheets. First one foot, then the other. I shuffle to the edge of the bed. Finally, after my phone starts singing for the seventh time, I stand. I tell my phone I no longer need the reminders and make my way through my morning routine as quickly as possible. I feel like someone running downhill. If I stop, if I stumble or trip, I will fall and roll to the bottom. If I can keep my feet moving, if I run quickly enough, I can stay upright.

Even when I sit to put on my socks, I still feel like I’m running. The edge of my bed folds underneath me as I lift up one of my feet for easy access, and I feel like all it would take to pitch me forward is a little shift in my balance. The first time I have to stop, when the feeling of running down hill ends, is when I put on my shoes. I have to sit in a chair or on the edge of the couch, and all of those seats are secure. As long as I keep moving, though, I’m fine. But if I stop, if I even pause for longer than a heartbeat, I might not make it back to my feet again.

This moment is dangerous. There is nothing to do in the seat. I should leave it fairly quickly, to get into my car and go to work, but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes, I stay there until something happens to remind me that there is more to do. A nudge from the cat, one of my roommates coming down the stairs, a notification on my phone, anything. I will sit there until one of those happens and not realize how much time is passing until afterwards. An impossible moment where I am nothing until I am reminded, somehow, that I am something. It is like falling asleep, but without losing all awareness. Any outside stimulation brings me back, full awareness and consciousness crashing back into me. Painful, but welcome.

The day continues the same way. So long as I am moving, so long as something is happening near me, I am here. If I fall silent, if I grow still, it creeps up, washes over me, and I am gone.

These days are not storms, nor are they whirlpools. There is no OCD involved and very little anxiety, only enough to worry about how far down I’m going to go this time. Days like these are wavy days. Sometimes they’re choppy water, with small episodes spread throughout the day, and sometimes they’re a single tidal wave that threatens to crush me beneath its weight. The tidal waves are horrible. I know they’re coming before they appear on the horizon and all I can do once they’re there is to wait until they hit. Do my best to make it back to the surface after I’ve been pushed down and spun around until I almost don’t know which way is up. Wouldn’t know which way is up without all the practice I’ve had making it back to the surface.

So far, I haven’t found anything I can do with these feelings other than wait for them to pass. If I get too focused on them, my anxiety builds and my OCD starts acting up, threatening to turn the tidal wave into a full hurricane. I try to treat them like just another day while continuously denying the urge to let myself sink. To let myself stay in my bed or on my chair or to sleep at my desk. I do not give in to the desire to stay still because I am afraid that saying yes now will make it easier in the future. Losing entire days to tidal waves and choppy seas is not something I want. There’s always the risk that I’d wind up getting caught up and carried along by the waves, stuck until I finally manage to break free of the lethargy and exhaustion that tempts me to stay still.

It is sorely tempting to give in. One of the features of my depression is a desire to rest, an unending exhaustion that is beyond mental or emotional or physical exhaustion. Existential exhaustion that makes me wish I could just cease to be for a few days, until the waves have passed. It makes a convincing argument that I could use a day off of work or a quiet day to myself, but I know the day would be gone before I knew it, vanished in the haze of unawareness. I do not want that.

So I deny myself. I keep moving. I do one thing after another until I am out of things to do and then I invent more. I keep pushing until the exhaustion fades, the waves recede, and I can get back to just floating again. After all that, floating feels wonderful and I find myself almost grateful for the normal, every-day version of my depression that makes me less sociable and disinclined to take risks. Anything is better than the constant invitation to feel nothing.

This is my depression at its worst. I don’t have many days like this, thankfully, but today it is taking everything I’ve got to deal with the tidal wave headed my way. Tomorrow will be better, thankfully. They’re awful, but they never last long.

I Think I’m Going to Step Out for a Bit

I’ve spent a lot of my weekend relaxing. As it is a three-day weekend in the US, I’ve been a lot less active that I might otherwise have been and much less directed. I spent Saturday with my girlfriend and her friend until I finally stopped putting off my evening plans, Magic the Gathering with my Saturday D&D group, and then got home in time to basically crash from all of the sun and fun. Mini-golf under the midday sun, three-ish miles of walking in the heat, and then a quick trip to the store so I could get a swimsuit. I didn’t want to miss out on the chance to jump in the pool after spending the previous four hours sweating in the heat. I got a bit of sun-burn despite putting some sunscreen on my face, so that was rather annoying, but doesn’t seem to be too bad.

Then I’ve spent most of my day today puttering about until I remembered I hadn’t updated my blog yet, for today. Played some old favorite games, some REALLY old favorites, and even a few games my friends recommended. Read a bunch, dozed about, and generally just avoided direct sunlight. It has been nice to relax and just lazily drift through the day. I can’t remember the last time I spent a day just doing whatever without getting “bored” and endlessly cycling between things after a couple minutes of considering them because I feel like I’m wasting my time.

While I was laying in bed, waiting to see if I could fall back asleep again and shifting to move my sun-burned bits away from contact with anything but the air, I tried to meditate, but my mind just kept running around in circles. I’ve tried twice more today, but I haven’t been able to get my mind to wind down enough to empty it out. There’s a lot going on in my life and it’s difficult to put all of that aside for even an hour or two. My girlfriend is house shopping; I’m entering my busy month and will be not getting much quiet time, let alone quiet time with my girlfriend; so many different things to reflect on; preparations for my hiking trip and grill-out tomorrow; and my general anxieties that I’m trying to avoid focusing on.

Mostly, I would love a quiet weekend with my girlfriend, hanging out without any particular plans, working on our individual creative projects, watching cartoons or movies, and playing video games. That sort of stuff is like plugging my soul into a recharging station. I’ve got other ways of doing it and recharging myself, but I would really enjoy that one right now. Between the sunburn, smashing one of my toes at the grocery store, and this annoying feeling of exhaustion that keeps pulling at me, I could really go for a quiet day and some peaceful companionship. I’ll probably be fine tomorrow, once I’ve got another good night’s sleep, but today I think I’m going to stop reflecting and just go back to playing games. I’d like to be outside my head for a bit since trying to work inside it has only worsened my mood.

I’d like a Prescription of Sleep to Address my Tiredness Problem, Please.

The last couple days, I have reached mid-afternoon and felt totally exhausted. I finish up whatever I’m doing (Pokemon Go Community Day events yesterday and moving the bed set I bought from a friend today) and, as soon as I take a moment to relax, I’m suddenly so tired I want to collapse.

Because of my insomnia and tendency to avoid sleep in order to maximize the amount of time I have to do things with my day, I tend to crash when I go to bed instead of just fall asleep. While I could easily blame this for my sudden exhaustion after doing something moderately active (lots of walking and moving a bunch of crap), I’ve lived in this state of perpetual crash-readiness for over a decade now. You can’t lie awake staring at the ceiling for hours because you can’t turn your brain off long enough to fall asleep if you’re so tired your brain shuts off as soon as you’re in bed. You can’t waste your night feeling anxious if you’re too tired to feel anything but sleepy.

Yes. I am quite aware this isn’t healthy and I’m taking things to an extreme to make a point. I live like this all the time, even when I’m being very physically active, so why am I suddenly exhausted when my day is barely even half over?

As I lay on the couch, trying to not fall asleep so I didn’t let my dinner burn in the oven, it struck me. I’m so tired because I’ve been spending so much mental energy on myself lately. Normally, my mental energy is what I’ve got in excess and what I use to help mitigate a shortage in either my physical or emotional energies. It is my will power and I’ve been spending it a lot as I try to make myself focus on something I’ve been deliberately ignoring for a couple of years or longer. Which means my relatively low levels of physical energy due to sore muscles from my weekly fighting practices and my very low levels of emotional energy because I’ve been digging through some tough shit don’t get replenished. This can cause weird moments like how I felt when I got back to my car after dropping off the U-Haul van I rented to move the mattress, box spring, and bed frame. I wanted to just collapse on the seat with the door open, cry my eyes out (not for any particular reason, I just felt like crying), and then drive home without calling my girlfriend to see if she wanted to do anything like we originally planned or just rain check it because she was tired from the engagement party she went to the night before. I just burned through all of the energy I had and was left with only the last dregs of my willpower.

I did not of those things. I turned my car on, took a few calming breaths, spoke with my girlfriend, and then drove myself to get some things for dinner. Now, having eaten my dinner and had a bit of caffeine to help me hobble through the rest of the day, I’m updating this blog because I’m not letting anything stop me from updating it daily. Even now, as I write, I want to just lean back in my chair and cry. Or put my sheets back on my bed as I exhaustion-cry before closing the blinds and collapsing onto my bed to sleep until time has no meaning and idea of “Chris” has melded with my new mattress and the universe returns to being the illusion new age gurus would have us think it is.

This leads me to believe that my willpower is limitless or at least a poor concretion of a difficult abstract idea. I’m doing none of those things. I’m doing what I think is an important part of my day-to-day life, keeping up with the goals I set for myself, and taking the requisite actions to ensure that my health (physical and mental) doesn’t deteriorate beyond repair.

I used to really love the “spoons” metaphor as an example of what it means to live with a chronic illness (mental illnesses are included in this) but I’ve kind of found that it doesn’t exactly work for me. If I feel something needs to get done and I have no way of making it easier on myself by adjusting the goalposts, I will just get it done. It’s hard to say I’m restrained to a certain number of spoons if I just give myself more for free when I feel the situation calls for it.

Now, I wonder if I am hurting myself by pushing myself past the point where all I want to do is collapse, or do I just feel like I want to collapse because my depression and mental illnesses tell me that I’ve done so much already and deserve to rest? Do I naturally have this energy and don’t feel like I do because my depression hides it behind a steady litany of how unable I am? I’ve heard of a lot of people who have similar anxiety, OCD, and depression problems who have said they felt like they regained a ton of energy once they were on a medication that helped treat their mental health without over-burdening them with horrible side-effects. Part of me wants to try out the medication route again just to see if I can get a similar boost. Even if I have the same amount of energy overall, no longer needing to fight myself and this weird feeling of consumptive exhaustion in order to use it would be amazing.

I don’t know. I’ll talk about it with my healthcare providers and we’ll see what comes of it. In the mean time, I’m going to reflect on my habit of exhausting myself, why I feel so tired this weekend, and how I can seem to spend so much energy on untangling my mind without realizing it. I hope you had a great day and found something in this rambling reflection piece that got you thinking. I know I did.