Painful reminders of my failure yelled out to me from everywhere. A sci-fi writer on National Public Radio regaled the audience with his mastery of his own literary battlefield, illustrating his brainstorming of book ideas while hiking. It wasn’t even a month ago when I had those brainstorming sessions while at my day job or sitting by the pond.
Now I play some zombie game on my phone where I quite literally watch numbers tick downward. Only thirty-two minutes and thirty seconds until my building becomes upgraded. It calms me to look at the numbers on the screen approach and it takes my mind off the dream-betrayal.
The Start of the Slumber
I’m not sure how my confidence left me like a sieve so I’ll start from when it was only a slow trickle several weeks prior. I had found a system for editing my autobiography that I was pleased with, whereby I read through paying no mind to grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. I’m only looking at plot development and character arcs. It was a weight off my shoulders to finally have a plan of attack for my freshman attempt at editing a book. Aside from the book I was very active on my social media writing groups, commenting daily on the blogs of my fellow writers, contributing to other writing sites, and not to mention putting out material for my own blog. I was in the thick of things and I reveled in the high of the self-motivated accomplishment. I could see the need for recreational activities, nurturing my personal relationships, and enjoying life in general, but was often left with a feeling of being pestered when such opportunities arose. I’m a writer and writers are busy.
I didn’t think of much else besides keeping the momentum going, lest it buried me in an avalanche after a moment’s rest. My bible was a to-do list that outlined how I was to achieve my worth on a given day. Two weeks back and I noticed a troubling trend. The check boxes next to the items on the list began staring back at me blank, unchecked. When the virgin boxes became a routine occurrence, making the lists at all had become too painful, too reminiscent of my yielding and non-metallic nature. Downtime on the day job had been spent reading other bloggers and planning out my next adventure in writing. Now I was playing the zombie game in between call lights. I knew what I was doing to myself. Guilt and self-condemnation were in season. On top of trying to make everyone happy and managing my own mental health, it had seemed the fight had gone out of me.
Struggling in the Quicksand
I just couldn’t seem to do what I should do. I would meditate at the end of the day, finding new space and determination to succeed in the next, only to be processed through the same discouraged lethargy from the day before. A fresh influx of clients had made my day job significantly more demanding and I was beginning to have a blossoming panic attack with each early morning commute. When I finally got a chance to rest after my hectic morning cares, and having burned through the meager calories of the day in short order, I would collect myself in the break room. I’d stare at the wall and let my body rest or I would keep my head in the phone with the zombies. I knew I had the same strength within me to pour myself into jump-starting my writing career in that break room as I had a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t seem to muster it.
You’re lazy, you’re weak, you’re a coward, you’re self-destructing. My internal critic had gained stripes and influence.
The hiatus of editing my book had again been extended. My blog went silent. Facebook notifications from writing blogs, writing groups, writing tags, and writing friends began to pile up in the triple digits to taunt me. This was going to be how my dream ended. A strong starter who put too much gas into the initial take off. I gave myself to the depression. I gave myself to my harshest self-judgments.
To See, You Need to Have Your Eyes Open
I watched a video on Youtube about meditation and negative feelings. Certainly I had plenty of those. I was hurting bad. I followed the video blogger’s suggestions and laid prone on my carpet, surrendering to the morass of heavy energy that had enveloped me. On that floor, I got to know this feeling that had been my constant companion as of late. A lead-like pressure that wrapped itself around my torso like an upper respiratory infection, I could now sense the qualities of my being that had so hampered my enthusiasm for writing and life. I could accept this feeling. The meditation did nothing to quash the bitter self-loathing of my own dejected spirit, but I knew it was a step in the right direction of awareness.
This period like Groundhog Day, I would end each day with good intentions and a new resolve for tomorrow, begin the next day with a rush hour panic attack, tackle my formidable client load, play the damned zombie game in the break room, think about writing when I got home, get completely overwhelmed by even the thought of doing so, and beat the shit out of myself while I tried to be a boyfriend pulling his own weight to my lady.
It should be noted, as I should have noted to myself, that I was accomplishing some goals as far as writing was concerned. I had kept the obligations that I had made to others for phone calls, assignments, and guest posts. I could admit to myself that this was a good thing, but not good enough. I hadn’t the uncaged fire I once had and I was still reasonably certain I should just accept the idea of living a life with writing as no more than a hobby.
After the most productive weekend I had throughout this whole slow, heavy period I told myself I had the fire back. Maybe I would end up self-actualized after all. I was all set to get the show back on the road, however the next day brought more unchecked boxes on the list. Discouragement and frustration at myself again ran over me like an unwelcome rain. My best efforts had come up short once more, and it seemed that I had been missing something.
With the arrival of a new batch of despair, I lay on my bed and watch the seconds tick downward on the zombie game. I thought of a story I had heard from a counselor in treatment about a man with depression who sat in his chair and stared at his lawnmower all summer long, with the thought of ‘I should mow the lawn.’ repetitively, callously, viciously streaming through his head. The lawn remained uncut and he remained a prisoner in his chair. I was surely kin to that man. I didn’t know how much longer I could take this and I had begun to expect that whatever this was was bigger and more systemic than writing. I was sick with something.
I had our apartment to myself. I feared it would only be a matter of weeks before I was drinking again. After neglecting more arranged plans of writing and progress once more and staring into my phone for another moment too long, I resolved to do something. I was going to have faith that if I calmed the hell down for a little bit my answer would come to me. I did some yoga. I lit a candle, smudged with sage, and took a bubble bath. I allowed my awareness to spread throughout my body in the hot water. My flesh felt fatigued and confused. Perhaps even alien.
The Spirit May Not Always Want What the Mind Thinks is Best
As I toweled myself off, a thought had occurred to me – beyond my condemning mind and my frazzled emotions lay something I had too much tunnel vision to grasp. My spirit was in its winter hibernation. Sleeping, recovering, consolidating. I could see that pushing myself to do more was the equivalent attempting to use a dam as a bridge. I needed to accept that I couldn’t do what I could do only a few weeks ago. Not if I wanted to make any real progress in writing or enjoying my life.
That was last night. Things are a little different now. This post has taken me three to four more hours to write than my typical length of time over the laptop.
- I’ve taken a handful of breaks for yoga, making pancakes, and yes, the zombie game.
- I’ve managed to cross over the intimidating threshold and check my emails.
- There’s Facebook notifications, even some about my own pieces that I’m not going to look at right now. I may never look at them, and that’s okay.
My sponsor in AA had told me frequently to be gentle with myself. That’s what I’m doing. This is where I’m at. There’s a pancake battered mess in the kitchen that I will get to when I get to it. I’m satisfied with this article and I’m satisfied with what I have done with this day.
If you have watched your progress towards your calling, writing, or any other ambition take a dramatic free fall, give yourself some space. If beating yourself up worked sustainably than you wouldn’t have any problems right now. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. Your answers will come. I would also like to remind everyone that for a percentage of the population, depression is a clinically-proven real disease process of the brain. I suspect this percentage may be greater in writers. If you think or know that you have this condition, talk to someone who’s trained in treating it.