(Another brief reminder that I write these a week ahead of time and while I hope nothing drastic has happened since I wrote this, it might not be an immediate reflection of the day it gets posted).
The past few days have been exhausting. Reeling from all of the expected but still devasting decisions by those sitting atop the judicial branch of the US government, I still had to go grocery shopping, clean my apartment, make myself meals, do laundry, and navigating a draining social situation that was one of my biggest anxieties which I’d been coping with by telling myself it would never happen. Because it’s not like my life grinds to a halt the instant something terrible happens in the world. I still need to pay bills, feed myself, maintain some kind of social connections, and take care of myself even when I’m trying to figure out how I can respond to the horrible things happening in the world around me.
I’ve been working on a new poem (goes up tomorrow). I got a draft done pretty quickly, forty-five lines across three pairs of stanzas, lots of nice imagery, all of that in about twenty-five minutes. I had a super clear image, a theme to work with, and a form that rapdily emerged from the way the thing arranged itself in my head. Not my fastest work, but still pretty good for a first draft. I spent another five minutes over the rest of the day reading it and making small adjustments and then sent it off to a reader for a quick review. I was expecting a comment about the end, that it would feel very abrupt or like it shouldn’t have been the end, and that’s the comment I got back. See, I had more I wanted to say, but I couldn’t find a way to say it, so I tried to wrap it up there. After all, not everything needs to go into one poem. But clearly it was missing something, so I decided I’d spend some time today to work on it.
I was taking a break at work, sitting in my chair and mindlessly flipping between email accounts on my phone so I could feel like I got something done (clean out my email inboxes) without needing to really do much (all I really get are ads these days), because I was too exhausted to engage with even something as simple as a sudoku puzzle. After I ran out of inboxes to clean, I decided to text a friend a simple complaint about being exhausted and not knowing why, given that I’ve actually been getting decent sleep this week. As we talked and I went from that general statement to considering the specifics of my past few days, I realized that I should actually be very proud of myself for only being this exhausted. All of the stress of the last two months hasn’t actually gone away, I’ve just adjusted to carrying it and started getting enough sleep that I’m not so tired in the morning that I need to spend two hours convincing myself to get out of bed.
While I know that I am the source of most of the pressure I feel to be productive and to do most of the stuff on my to-do list in a timely manner, I can’t help but feel like it is easier to find better ways to work than to address the monumental issue that is how much of my self-worth is derived by being productive. Nothing highlights this more than times like right now, as I’m working on catching up with everything I didn’t do for the full week I was feeling exhausted and out of it due to sleep deprivation and stress caught in a horrible feedback loop that is taking me multiple weekends to break out of. I have a simply massive task list since I wrote down everything as it came up last week (I’m pretty good at recognizing that my memory is going to be faulty once I reach a certain level of exhaustion), and it has been a struggle to ride the fine line between productivity and rest. After all, it won’t do me any good if I get a lot done in one day but wind up tiring myself out so that I’m useless again the day or two after that.
One of the worst parts about not sleeping enough over a long period of time is how divorced from reality that level of exhaustion can make you feel. Going without any sleep can rapidly turn bad, making you more susceptible to getting sick or even causing you to hallucinate if you go long enough without just collapsing. Definitely not going to deny how awful all that can be or imply that just being chronically short on sleep is worse than getting zero sleep. I think it’s just a different kind of hell, though. One that varies based on how much sleep you’re missing out on, as compared to what you need to feel functional.
I’ve written many times about my relationship with sleep. While sleep and dreams and my ability to rest don’t occupy my mind as much as stories and tabletop roleplaying games do, they’re probably third or fourth highest on list. After all, I’ve been dealing with one kind of insomnia or another for over half my life and my experiences with it and relaxation in general have made me highly aware of the different kinds of rest you can get. This makes it easy to direct my time towards what I need in order to maintain high-function in periods of high stress or enduring periods of constant stress, but it also means that I tend to abuse this power at times when my stress levels are lower than my usual state.
Spite can be a powerful motivator. I can think of a huge number of things I’ve done just to prove people wrong, and I can think of times spread across my entire life that it has motivated me to act when I otherwise might not have. It is growing less and less frequent, though, as time passes. Spite burns brightly, but it burns quickly as well. Spite can be used to alleviate exhaustion from burnout, but it generally leaves me feeling worse once I’ve burned through it. These days, I’m pretty much out of everything I used to burn as the fuel that drove my work. I get by on discipline and inertia, but nothing has really stepped up to take the place of the hope I once felt.
Today has been rough. I apparently ate something that vehemently disagreed with me last night, but not until more than 9 or 10 hours after I finished my dinner, aka 4am. I did not get back to sleep after that and the sort of restless stress and general depression I’ve been battling this week meant I only got about 3 hours of sleep last night. Still managed most of my workout routine, though. My to-failure point on the cycling portion of my routine was about half of what I’ve done the rest of the week, but that kinda makes sense given how terribly my gastrointestinal system hurt all morning and how little sleep I got. Still, I’ve managed to keep up my routine to the best of my abilities and wasn’t even THAT late to work after all was said in done. The week is mostly over at this point, I’ll be able to rest soon, and the only stressful item left to do today is my weekly grocery shopping.
As part of my general efforts at improving myself and my life, I’ve started waking myself up at 6am again (something that I stopped doing a couple months into the pandemic) and immediately getting out of bed so I can exercise. Even with the extra hour I’m spending on working out, this has meant that I’m now at work by 8:30 every day, thirty to ninety minutes earlier that I was previously. Even though I’m only getting up an extra hour earlier. After all, if I get out of bed and start working out right away, that means I’m not spending thirty to ninety minutes of every morning laying in my bed, browsing twitter or reading comics on my phone. Or, you know, wallowing in depression as I struggle with motivating myself to get out of bed and actually do stuff with my day.