A few years ago, I tried to do what I’m doing now.
I quit grad school (it wasn’t the right path for me at the time), and instead of going back to work right away, I decided to use the rest of the fall ‘semester’ to pursue writing instead of graduate work. It was September – I was giving myself until January to see what I could do.
It was a disaster.
I wasn’t productive; I floated through days, trying to figure out what to do writing-wise, avoiding writing and keeping myself busy with other things, feeling guilty constantly when I wasn’t writing, going to bed each evening hating myself when I hadn’t gotten anything done (which was most of the time).
By December, I had spiraled into a deep depression. I had headaches often, and I was always turned inward, focusing on what I hadn’t accomplished, but not making any steps to become more productive. I wasn’t eating enough. I was sleeping too much. Worst of all, I began to self injure again. Finally, after spending one evening lying at the foot of my bed sobbing for no reason, I talked to my husband and told him I needed to get help. He listened to me without judgment, and helped me take the steps I needed.
I went back to work, and began seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. I got back on antidepressants. I started taking anxiety classes. After several months of working on myself, I began feeling healthier.
I don’t know that I was ready to have that much time on my shoulders back then, to put that much pressure on myself to write and solely write and hope to make something out of it. But one thing I learned from the experience is that I needed to be careful treading back into the process this time around. I try to be aware of my mental state now, to notice when my outlook begins to darken so that I can immediately catch myself and work on it.
A big, big thing I’ve noticed through trying to be more emotionally aware this time around is that my levels of productivity are strongly linked to my moods and emotional state. When I’m being productive – when I’m outlining, revising, and writing – I’m light, my surroundings are beautiful, it’s easy to smile. When I’m procrastinating and avoiding work, things immediately get heavy. My state of mind is closed off, dimmed, and grey. I catch myself in negative thinking, making negative conclusions and frowning more often than not. I hate everything around me. I blame my unhappiness on my environment.
I caught myself today staring out my living room window, expressionless, yearning to be somewhere else, somewhere different, somewhere without palm trees and perpetual sunshine, where the air would smell rich and damp like earth and fog, where woods and trees lined the horizon. If only I could go elsewhere, I thought, like that would solve all my problems.
Ding ding ding.
Going somewhere else wouldn’t solve any of my problems. Sure, I live in suburbia, but I could live in Brooklyn and it wouldn’t matter. The problem was me. I didn’t write anything all weekend, and now here I was, Monday morning, feeling murky and weighed down, and thinking that if only I could get out of this town, things would get better. Big red flag that I need to plant my butt in the chair and get back to work.
Here’s my deal with myself: if I work hard for a few days – I mean, actually work, not just type a line or two here and there throughout the afternoon, like a kid pushing their vegetables around the plate because they think mindless motion means progress – and I still feel blah, well then – time to reassess. Time to call the doc again, time to exercise, time to take a trip. But knowing myself, this is probably what I need.
So, reminder to self – if you’re feeling depressed/in a funk/heavy/blue, ask yourself: have you been productive enough lately in your writing? Sit down, and get back to work.