Thursday, March 31, 2016

Black Dog Dead - March

Last month I talked a lot about those pesky NATs (Negative Automatic Thoughts) and while I’ve not found the perfect insecticide to clear my head of them altogether, I believe I have made some progress.

It’s not the kind of progress that’s as easy to measure as, for example, the daily wordcount on any given project. And if I gauged my success by that, I’d have to report that March has been a variable month indeed. Up days, down days, active days, rather stay in bed days. But on the work/writing front I’ve kept things moving on the whole.

Even faced with the real struggle days, when the words are sluggish and my brain snailish, I managed to drag myself up and out for the morning and write something. And generally that had the beneficial side-effect of helping me feel that little bit better about myself. One definite improvement I’ve noticed is my conscious ability to congratulate myself for the minor wins.

Hurrah! Yay me! Etc.

But before we get too carried away, we’d best admit to the points we lost, whether through double faults, collapse of serve or whatever other tennis analogy you care to use.

Your sport of choice may vary, I just happen to prefer the tennis one, despite this month’s Sharapova-related disappointment – Maria, you let me down! But it’s still her mental approach to each point that I’d like to be able to adopt in the game of life. A setback should be just that – a single point, signal to move on to the next with the belief you can still win the match.

So, the principal enemy this month has been anger.

I’m angry with myself just thinking about it. For allowing it to get the better of me to the extent it has this past month.

Never really had anger issues until one upstairs neighbour embarked on a nine-month campaign of DIY (Do-It-Yourself and Daily Irritate Yourneighbour). Through the course of that constant daily noise and disruption, anger somehow embedded itself as part of my depression. Became a damaging additional symptom, almost, driving my stress levels through the roof long before the neighbour drove a hole in our ceiling. And made matters worse by laughing about it, through said hole. Perhaps the anger was an entirely separate ‘condition’, but it was tough for me to view them as distinct.

Anyway, once the Neighbour From B&Q Hell departed, the aftereffects remained and too often the smallest disappointments, frustrations, problems magnify into disproportionate irritants. It’s something I’ve struggled to control, because it’s an emotional, impulsive response and I’m at heart an emotional person. How do you govern what plays to your nature?

Still, I’ve managed to some degree.

Although I still swear profusely at my computer and anything technical that goes wrong. It’s inconsiderate, I know, but I expect machines to be dutiful slaves and do what they’re bloody well supposed to. I’m sure I’ll be one of those first against the wall when SkyNet launches its machine rebellion.

That aside, most days I have learned to take deep breaths, count to however many I need to count to see the spilt milks and other trifling mishaps in the appropriate perspective.

Most days.

But if exposed to anything that actually matters, I am prone to explode. And those days even the trivial stuff promotes itself right back to major annoyance.

News, global and national, is a frequent cause of that kind of volatility. So naturally I’ve had to avoid much of it or ration my intake. Even to the detriment of our pub quiz team’s performance in the current affairs rounds. But heck, there’s always a price to pay.

This month, the Tory plans to slash benefits (aka vital financial support) for the disabled in order to fund tax breaks for the already comfortably off, thank you very much, fuelled what was (obviously) entirely justifiable rage. And there was as little I could do about the anger as I could do about a government policy that even odious slimebags like IDS can’t defend.

Clearly, I should get angry about that sort of thing. Anybody in their right mind would. But when you’re not entirely in your right mind, your heart being in the right place can be a problem.

Anger can motivate action, of course, but what action can anyone take against a government so reprehensible? Beyond signing a petition or protesting or spreading word of their vile deeds on social media, etc. And I can’t actually enter into politics as a career, because I’d be completely unable to remain polite or civil in the face of these Right Dishonourable bastards. (And there I’m exercising restraint because with the written word I at least have a moment to pause and edit myself.) Anger and powerlessness are a recipe for a sense of futility and as such a dangerous source of sustenance for the Black Dog.

One consequence I became acutely aware of was that, even on some days when the writing wasn’t a struggle, while I could congratulate myself on what I’d achieved my subconscious would undermine me with the old poisonous questions: Why? What’s the point?

Toxic indeed. And as discussed last month, it’s essential to meet those NATs with positive answers. It can feel like mental warfare. With the enemy dropping dirty bombs and either you don loads of protective gear, isolate yourself, or you go out and meet the threat with whatever weapons you can get your hands on. And keep moving.

That latter approach has been key to my March.

While I’ve yet to come up with a concrete answer to those NATs that doesn’t just crumble some days and require rebuilding, I have stuck to my guns and I’ve all but put myself right back on schedule after those two weeks lost due to illness at the beginning of January.

I daresay I could have made myself busier and progressed further. But we don’t help ourselves by measuring where we are against where we could be. On the road to recovery, we do ourselves more favours by gauging our current position against where we began.

And if I can’t expect to control anger, then I might at least learn to compartmentalise it. Maybe use it.

In the face of opposition you can do nothing (or precious bloody little anyway) about, then the best you can hope is to use such enemies as anger to motivate unrelated action. Fuel for yourself, instead of food for the Black Dog.

In my case, that translates as continuing what I’m doing. Sticking with the plan. Working on my different projects, working on my mental good health.

And as luck would have it, part of that includes writing the fifth volume in my Evil UnLtd series, handily titled Vote Evil. So there’s some chance of channelling a quantity of the political anger into something positive and – hopefully! – funny.

If the darkest clouds lack for silver linings, I guess painting them on yourself is the way to go.

SAF 2016

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