Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Black Dog Dead - May

What with one thing and another, I’ve been too busy this month to think about depression. Why, I barely have time to dash off this blog post. But I’m going to squeeze it into the schedule because, if nothing else, I find it helpful to processs the last month before moving on to the next.

Actually, I say one thing and another, May has really been about one thing. Owing to various external pressures and life-torpedoes, I’d left myself too much to do on one project, one that has an actual deadline, and rather than do the unthinkable and request an extension I figured the only way to go was to just juggle the timetable, postpone other projects (heck, I even put my weekly Tortenschloss Chronicles on hold, and I never like doing that) and focus exclusively on the main one.

It’s unlike me, because I generally welcome variety. I find it useful, for example, if I get temporarily stuck or inspiration dries up on one thing to be able to just switch to whatever else is currently in the works and keep going.

Keeping going is good, but it can also create problems. Days tended to blur together even more than usual this mad month, with only weekly routines like my Wednesday morning swim (still going strong!) and the Thursday night pub quiz to help me tell the days apart. The concept of weekends has been long forgotten.

You pack yourself off to bed thinking about which chapters/scenes you’ll be working on tomorrow, you lie awake thinking about the same, when you do sleep you dream about it and your subconscious totally screws with your carefully laid plots and then you get yourself up and try to remember where you were, then press on with the day’s leg of the Great Writing Race.

At least in the face of the Mountain Of Stuff To Do I was able to apply some lessons previously learned. That is, if a task seems on the daunting side, break it down into manageable pieces and tackle those pieces one individually, try not to think about the Mountain, just one handhold/foothold at a time.

In this case, that meant setting myself daily wordcount quotas and breaking those down further: for instance, on a ‘heavy’ day, a couple of hours at the cafe, an hour after lunch, break, another hour, break, another hour, dinner plus a spot of TV, an hour and a half in the evening, break, then another hour or so to finish off. Lighter days would balance that schedule out to some extent.

There were days that I didn’t feel like doing anything, but that wasn’t an option. On the flip side, there were days that went really well and I met my quota ahead of schedule. There, I had to be a little wary and I’d generally not allow myself to go over my quota, the trick being to avoid burnout the following day. Discipline was key.

Where that discipline sometimes did me no favours was in the matter of leisure time. I’d occasionally polish off the day’s work, find myself with free time (what?) and be utterly stuck as to what to do with it. Empty hours and a total inability to decide what I felt like doing. Film? No. TV? Don’t fancy it. Video game? Meh. Read? God no, my eyes are so bloody tired.

As though I’d locked my brain into work gear and it was the only thing it knew.
My epic journey through old Doctor Whos continued, with an episode to accompany breakfast, and I had series to follow (The Expanse, Orphan Black) one episode per day with dinner, but any available time outside of that routine was difficult and sometimes scary. Later in the month, I chanced across the game Life Is Strange on special offer and that offered a bit of rationed escapism that restored my enjoyment of video games at least. Playing music good and loud was also a helpful release and this month I journeyed through my complete collection of Yes – which is pretty affirmative.

There were also times when I stopped when there would be tears. I guess just a release of stress and built up emotion, which is to be expected. There was perhaps one major low and that was provoked by having to complete my tax credits renewal form, a task I’d put off and put off because I knew what it would entail.

It’s an easy form to fill, not many boxes to tick or fill in, but one of them pertains to your self-employed income. And I confess, having to put that ZERO in really fucking hurt. All the familiar plague of Negative Automatic Thoughts returned, including my archenemy, “What’s the point?”

Yeah, that day was a battle. And I slipped behind schedule.

But somehow I got back on my skates and caught up, actually had a really successful and productive day the very next day. I couldn’t tell you how, with any certainty, but I can only assume it had something to do with the compartmentalisation. I.e. because I’d broken down the month into manageable segments, it was a matter of sort of throwing away yesterday’s broken piece and getting on with the following day’s share.

Anyway, there in a wordy nutshell is my month of May.

In some respects, the level of busy-ness proved helpful, but it can be something of a carpet that problems get swept under. At the end of it all, I am able to say I dunnit. The project is complete, to first draft, and so I’m able for June to just address edits before submitting to the editor – within deadline, yay! – and have room to return to those other projects which had to wait so patiently in the background.

For that, self-congratulations are due. And I firmly believe that’s something we should never be afraid of – to give ourselves credit, even a big shiny medal and a glass of something to celebrate, why not. Given how much we beat ourselves up for the things we don’t manage, we owe ourselves that.

My main reward though at the end of all that, is to reintroduce that concept of weekends into my routine. Doesn’t have to be a full two days, nor does it have to necessarily be on a Saturday/Sunday, but I think one day per week where I give myself permission to switch off my brain will be truly valuable.

Before any of that, though, and because I promised myself this as far back as May 1st when I broke that Mountain up into bite-size chunks, June will commence with *THREE* *DAYS* *OFF*

Amen to that.

SAF 2016