You win, 2016. I give up.
The difference between defeat and a tactical withdrawal lies in how its perceived. And, I guess, whether you decided to retreat or were driven from the field.
Today, I can’t tell the difference. I hope it’s a tactical – or strategic – withdrawal, because I have come to some hard decisions. At the same time, I’m aware I was pushed. Trouble is, when you run from the Black Dog, it comes with you. And that does colour your perceptions.
Here’s the thing: I’d been doing quite well to build myself back up after a crushing August. What felt like this year’s final straw failed to completely finish me and I got back in the fight. I give myself a lot of credit for the progress I made. Although I couldn’t claim to have been winning, I was doing pretty well in the wake of where I’d been.
October was, on the surface, a good month. Seasoned with plenty of reasons to celebrate and/or feel good. A project came back to me with a big thumbs up from the editor and minimal edits requested. So that was both welcome news and a pleasure to work on, its completion one of the few achievements I can be proud of this year. Worth a yay! for sure. Had a great time at a local beer festival, a comedy gig the very next day, enjoyed some good films and TV, quality time with friends – you know, normal healthy functioning life type stuff. Also worth a yay!
Amid the highs, there were distinct lows and a number of real struggles. Even when I was doing okay, there was an undercurrent of a lack of confidence, perhaps worse - the sense of moving forward on shaky ground...
Recently, I saw in my Facebook feed that a friend was having a hard time in their fight with the Black Dog. And I was set to write words of encouragement and support in the comments. But the words kind of stopped in my virtual throat. I choked. So I ended up just leaving a heart emoticon as a show of empathy and understanding. On the face of it, that may appear a feeble and empty gesture, but I can tell you that the 100 or so words I might’ve written were wrapped up, embedded, in that trite little icon and they were sincere, well-meant and heartfelt. For my friend.
For me, the words stopped because I seemed to run out of energy before I’d written them. What actually exhausted was belief. Whatever I said, however I phrased it, it was a message I no longer believed for myself.
It was a little after that moment that I properly appreciated how far from winning I’d been. And it was a little after that point that I carefully looked at what I wanted to do before year’s end and examined that next to what I knew I was capable of doing in the next two months. And it comes right back down to something I’ve realised – and mentioned here – before.
Whatever you consider realistic and achievable has to be re-eveluated and measured again in the light of your health. Just as if you’d broken a leg, you’d probably scale back on the number of marathons you’d planned to run in that twelve-month period.
So here I am, scaling back once more.
Which leaves me with just the short story, which even I can manage – because it’s for someone else and when others are depending on me I don’t let them down. It’s only when I’m depending on me that letting down is even permissible.
Two months shy of the end of this crappy year, I had only one other project on the cards in any case. The novel, fifth in my Evil UnLtd series, was already delayed. Now it’s struck from the To Do list. On the plus side, for various reasons I think it will benefit from further postponement, even if right now I mostly see the disappointment of another shelved project and another thing not achieved.
Back in January, I was in a much better state and the year was full of promise. Since then, so many projects, whether on the to-be-written list or even potential publications, have been diminished, reduced, tainted, disintegrated, sunk without trace, shelved or postponed. That’s hard to bear. I take responsibility for some of the shelving and postponing, of course, since I decided to scale back some of my aims and goals. Because I had to, quite simply. In the face of everything else that was falling apart one way or another.
So this latest step, likewise, amounts to cutting myself some slack. It probably reads like defeatism. And it’s meant to. Because, like I said, defeat and retreat are so hard to tell apart. I’m not sure I can trust a hundred percent which this is, but I know which I mean it to be.
I’m not going to sit at the water’s edge like King Cnut, denying the incoming tide. I’m going to go relocate up to the lonely clifftop. Where the next two months will be all about rebuilding, reorganising, preparing and laying a more solid foundation for next year.
In order for the writing to be any good, I have to focus on the writer for a while.
The difference between a defeat and a strategic withdrawal is in how it’s perceived. What feels and looks like defeat from one perspective might actually be the smartest, wisest move to make.
You win, Black Dog. I give up.
Except, you don’t. And I won’t.