Sunday, February 28, 2016

Black Dog Dead - February

Back in August of last year, my then recently ex wife asked how I was doing and if I was eating ok.

The answer? Well, I was, I think, eating all right – I was consuming food anyway – but I constantly wondered why. Why was I eating at all? Food sustains life, but if you feel like you have none, what’s the point? That question - what’s the point? – was my principal enemy.

Other such Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs) have plagued me in the past – and certain ones still do (there have been times I could swear the words NOT GOOD ENOUGH were tattooed on my brain at an early age), although I am generally much more aware of them and practised at catching them before they can flit around my head too long and make a major fucking pest of themselves.

But ‘what’s the point?’ is a particularly stubborn one to swat.

It’s returned today, just as I sat down to write this blog. But it’s not born of any questioning the worth of this exercise. Which is probably one reason why I’m still ploughing ahead and writing it. That, and I can be a stubborn bastard too.

Fortunately, I’ve progressed a long way since last August. Remembering that time serves as a helpful reminder of how far I’ve come. Of course, the days when these breakdowns still threaten serve as a counter-reminder of how fragile sometimes recovery can be.

Today’s blog post can be viewed as something of a test, then. How will I fare in confronting and handling this mini crisis point? Will the NAT win today? Or will I spray it with positive insecticide and watch it emulate a dying fly on the windowsill of February?

Where’d this NAT come from?

Well, NATs hover around all kinds of shit, but I remember this particular one from back in the middle of this month.

There I was still working away to get caught up after that first fortnight in January and I was doing pretty well, I reckoned. (At current estimate, one more month of playing catch up should get me back on the original schedule, yay!) Then someone kicked my sandcastle. Twas those nasty folks at the Inland Revenue. Mind, they were just following orders. Changes in the rules for Working Tax Credits, handed down from their Tory scumbag masters.

Briefly, in future, £54 per week of WTC will be dependent on my ability to show a profit in my chosen self-employment. This will require quarterly reporting, interviews, assessments etc. Because, obviously, the pressures of making a living out of writing weren’t enough already.

Now, I’m guessing, but maybe when normal, healthy people read these kind of official notification letter from government they grumble, bitch, moan, probably swear a bit. For me, it provoked huge anger, anxiety attacks, reduced me to tears, made me contemplate jacking it all in and question the worth of life. In short, resurrected that old NAT to come haunt me again.

What’s the point?

(Honestly, my heart goes out to those more vulnerable than myself who may identify with some of the above, but are finding themselves under greater pressures and suffering greater hardships.)

Battled through it and fought it off over the course of a day, which is to my credit. A case of being good to myself, giving myself a day off work (that’ll help prove my profitability), lots of music, modest amounts of creativity (I find artwork therapeutic – I’m no good at it, but oddly that means I don’t end up beating myself up about the quality – or lack of it – the way I would with a shoddy piece of writing). A combination, I suppose, of fighting the thought at the moments I was feeling strong and diverting myself from it when I wasn’t feeling up to the fight.

That spell aside, most of February has been productive and creative. I’ve been working hard on a number of projects, enjoyed a lovely little morale boost just by virtue of officially announcing one of those projects (a novel for the Lethbridge-Stewart range, by Candy Jar books – that’s right, me writing for the dear old Brigadier from Doctor Who), and achieving all manner of stuff that wouldn’t impress the Inland Revenue one jot.

(NB. All these efforts of mine may actually generate income at some point, but I’m just not sure hard graft and productivity will weigh heavily as evidence to present before officialdom. Time will tell.)

Wary of the power that added pressure had to sink me – even if ‘only’ for a day (and I put ‘only’ in quotes because it really was a horrible day) – I looked to be a bit more prepared for future torpedo attacks – because we all know there will be more. There are always more.

So I did an exercise in what we’ll call life accounting. Essentially, listing goals – the elements you’re missing or seeking in life, the ‘things’ you want (quotes because most of the things I want aren’t things) – and your principal enemies – the negatives, the qualities or habits, say, that hold you back, barriers or opposition etc – in Column B. Example: mine are largely internal – depression, obviously, stress, anxiety, anger, loneliness, tiredness.

See, I don’t even include the Inland Revenue, they don’t feature because although they have added to my pressures – thanks, guys – they are not the problem. My problem lies in how I deal with them. Indeed, I made a conscious effort to exclude anything that wasn’t dependent solely on me. Because anything you are trying to address or achieve in life that is reliant on someone else is open to huge amounts of uncertainty. And this, we don’t need. Not when we’re focused on our own recovery.

Anyway, in other columns, you then start to list your actions. The steps you might take to attain those items in Column A and the steps you might take to eliminate, reduce or overcome those in Column B. Broad strokes, at first, but it helps if you can then go on to break the broader steps down into smaller, more immediately manageable actions. Baby steps.

(As I said on Facebook, columns – they’re s supporting structure.)

No need to bore you with my entire spreadsheet, but it’s worth citing a specific example, particularly one where I know it’s helped and I’ve made measurable progress. If tiredness is an Enemy and physical fitness/health a goal, one response is physical exercise – I resumed my (old) habit of a morning swim. Just once a week for now, since that’s all the budget will allow for, but it’s a start.
That, as it happened, had additional side benefits. I felt good about myself just for doing it. Yeah, it took me until the last week of the month to apply this plan, but hey, I did it. Medal, please. Pat on the back. Muchos congrats.

And if my subconscious throws up that NAT – what’s the point? – about that, well, I can point specifically at the point. The point in this case, oh nuisance NAT, is physical health, feeling fitter (eventually!) and feeling generally better about myself (heck, feeling more attractive maybe – why the hell not) and possibly feeling sufficiently knackered for at least one day a week so that I actually sleep pretty well. Thanks for asking, NAT.

And if you have an answer for the NAT, there’s not much for it to do but sod off. For a while anyway.
Writing this has gone some significant way to answering today’s NAT. Hopefully it’s beating its head against a window somewhere in this cafĂ© in its efforts to get out and leave me alone.

For the duration of March, at least. Because I have every intention of being too fucking busy to deal with NATs. And the action to take in the face of Inland Revenue letters of doom is to stick with the plan. It was a good plan. And it’s still a good plan. We have to trust in that.

In the months since that dark August I have battled to find raisons d’ĂȘtre and I believe I succeeded. Now I think I’m ready to start looking for raisons de vivre.

SAF 2016

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