As you know if you read Monday’s entry on family, this has been a trying week for me. That entry (and the private journal entry which prompted me to blog it) was the fallout from something that happened on Sunday, and then on Tuesday I read the comments from that post and a couple of emails which came in about it — including one from my mom, since she’d read the post too. All of this was as unexpected for me as it was for anyone, so I’ve spent my week in a bit of a daze, trying to get through a semblance of normal activity while my brain just reels. I’ve finally finished responding to the comments from Monday’s post so if you’re curious where my feelings are now, check there.
Even without the family and emotional drama, I was probably due for an off-week anyway. It has definitely been a bad week for work. I had plenty of time, but I couldn’t bring myself to do much of anything, even simple cooking. All pursuits felt futile and overwhelming. Why cook? We would just eat it and I’d have to cook again the next day. Why work? It wouldn’t come out right. Who cares, anyway? I felt like I’d dropped my importance compass and it wasn’t functioning anymore. What were my priorities? What did I want and need? Why couldn’t I answer these questions?
I’m sure my emotional state (and the weather) contributed a lot to this depressive funk. But it’s not a foreign place for me; I’ve gone through this before. I’ll be chugging along brightly and happily and then boom, everything will feel pointless. I’m left paralyzed, because every single project seems of equal importance (or unimportance), and so it’s impossible to choose which one to tackle at any given moment. Replanting my garden seems every bit as vital as writing, or replenishing my wardrobe, or going for a walk. How can I possibly decide which activity is most urgent?
I finished Health at Every Size on Monday, and it got me thinking about internal versus external motivation. Eating healthy, according to HAES, means learning to re-attune to our internal feelings of hunger and satiation, rather than relying on the external cues we’ve been trained to obey: plate size, family habits, sociocultural rules, medical/scientific advice. It occurred to me yesterday that we’ve also been conditioned since childhood to look to external guidelines for achievement and work: grades and degree requirements, teachers’ and parents’ feedback, work prerequisites, bosses’ and supervisors’ instructions, deadlines. Since 2009, I’ve been without almost all of those, almost all the time, and that’s unusual in our society. It’s no wonder I often feel unmoored! I have lots of freedom, but I often feel it as a responsibility. If I accomplish something wonderful, I can take all the credit, but if I spend days doing nothing more than playing computer games, the blame falls on me — and so does the pressure to do better next time.
Since my work is all internally motivated these days (aside from the occasional workshop or publication), I decided it is vitally important to articulate my goals, expectations, and priorities, and to re-articulate them whenever I find myself treading water. (Companies have handbooks for their employees. Should I write one for myself, so I’ll have something to refer to when I get lost?) This morning I made a list of things I need to be happy; I guess these are my good working conditions. They include not multitasking, not over-committing, equal and ample time for work and play, and a little time every day to be still and quiet. Then I made another list (much longer) enumerating every single thing that’s on my mind, from the mundane (“take a shower”) to the global (“how can I call myself a writer if I don’t write every day, or write certain types of work, or send out stuff for publication?”). This showed me where my mental energy was going. I divided up the list into things I can take care of immediately, and things I’ll need to think about. I plan to spend the rest of the afternoon attending to this list and giving it the thought it deserves. The list also contains a section of things I think about and don’t need to; I intend to give those energy drains a formal farewell and a proper burial!
It’s a good time for me to be thinking about all this stuff, because in April I’ll be starting two biggish new projects: eight weeks of experimental/multidisciplinary writing workshops in San Francisco, and six months of training in “Playing Big” through Tara Sophia Mohr’s e-course. I’m also swearing off computer games for the duration of the Playing Big course, which will free up lots of time (probably more time than I’m willing to admit). But even without the games, I’m making a big time commitment, so it’s more important than ever that I figure out how to streamline my life and all my activities.
By the way, don’t worry about my state of mind. When I can write about a funk, I’m always on my way out of it — I know this from experience. It may be a long climb up, but writing is often the first productive thing I do after days of bleh, and it inevitably leads to insights and motivation to get moving. So it’s all good.