The mind and heart need sick days too

Yesterday was such an off-day. I didn’t want to start work, I dragged my feet on taking a shower, and when I finally did sit down to work, I had to reward myself practically every time I did anything. I wanted to read, but nothing sounded interesting. I wanted to write on the blog, but I had nothing to say. The highlights of my day were breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and an unexpected evening visit from our friend Caroline). But other than meals, the day felt like crap. I have written before about off-days: on recognizing their inevitability and the role they play in the creative process, on the importance of going through the motions, and on how to turn them to my advantage. So I’m reconciled to their occasional presence in my life, and they no longer derail me entirely. But unfortunately, understanding them does nothing for my mood. Off-days still feel 100% bleh.

The off-day came as a surprise, after several weeks of inspired activity and major insights. Just the night before, I’d been super fired-up about an idea I had for the family history (it has to do with depicting family members), and was also getting really excited about changing up the Open Mic. We’d spent the weekend in San Jose with my family, celebrating the start of the Rabbit Year, and after we got back to the East Bay we went for a walk, made ourselves a tasty dinner, and then watched a movie before bed. Everything was going so smoothly, and then bam! I woke up in the middle of the night and I just felt depressed. I told myself the feeling would lift in the morning, but it didn’t, even after a mile-and-a-half brisk walk over the trails in the most brilliant sunshine. It feels like spring here. Our neighbors’ ornamental cherry trees have blossomed overnight into clouds of pink, and the birds sing like everything. But yesterday it made no difference. I even reread my “I get to be alive” post from last week and it made me smile, but I didn’t feel it in my soul. It’s so strange how our mental chemistry can shift like this.

Today I feel better, but I’m still not all that peppy. I confess I am waiting eagerly for lunch and playing lots of Spider Solitaire between the paragraphs of this post. I think the biggest trouble with off-days is that nothing feels important. I could work on the family history, I could paint, I could write a creative mission statement, but why bother? It all seems so difficult. At least I recognize now that I should still try. Yesterday when I was writing my morning pages, I couldn’t decide whether I should take the day off and play, or put my head down and work. It was a hard decision, because you know I have been trying to take better care of myself, and an artist date sounded very much like good self-care. But I just had a feeling that if I took the day off, it really would be self-indulgent and not what I needed. So I made myself work as much as I could, but took care of my body along the way — and I do think it was the right choice, because today I still have productive momentum and am feeling grateful for the foundation work I did yesterday. (And we are taking a proper weeknight getaway later this week, so fear not, my adventure-seeking self is not deprived!) I’m proud of myself for recognizing the difference between “I need to play; I’ve been working too hard” and “I want to play because it’s easier.” There really is a difference, but it’s not a distinction that anyone can make except myself.

I wonder if it helps to think of off-days as mental-spiritual sick days. When our bodies are off, we tend to their needs: taking time off from work, giving them what they need, easing slowly back into our regular schedules. I am thinking now that today actually feels a lot like recovering from a sick day. I feel better, but not enough to push myself into a full day of work by the 45/15 schedule. I think I am going to eat well, sit in the sunshine, finish a book that has captivated me, and continue some sketches I started yesterday. Why shouldn’t we recognize that it’s not just our bodies that pick up ailments and need to recover? I am going to be nice to myself today, without coddling, and my instincts tell me this will be just what the doctor ordered.