The issue is a looming, high-pressure deadline at work. Maybe the real issue is that I've allowed it to totally consume me. I've been overwhelmed, and rather than summoning the plucky, cheerful determination to attack the thing one step at a time, something in me has been sending the whole operation to a screeching halt. My subconscious has been calling in a strike - shut 'er down! - and it's been presenting as procrastination, avoidance, general overall grumpiness and depression. I just want to cower in my bed with the covers over my head.
And, like quicksand, the more I struggle to extricate myself, the deeper I sink. I try to give myself a pep talk but it turns into an internal tirade. You should be better at this by now! Better at what? Life. Work. Not getting overwhelmed and depressed. Not hiding under the covers.
I've tried all sorts of things to try to lift myself out of this mire. Some have worked better than others. Some have worked basically not at all. Here are my observations:
What hasn't worked that great:
- Procrastination. The avoidance, the ostrich-ing, feels good short term, but it just leads to more pressure, which leads to more procrastination. But how do I get myself out of that cycle? Hint: not by...
- "Shoulding" on myself. Telling myself I should be stronger, I should be made of sterner stuff, I should be more organized, more diligent, an all-round better person.
- Letting one negative thought snowball into a whole host of others. "This is frustrating. Omg this project is killing me. I'm doing a terrible job at balancing anything. My life is terrible right now. I've tried so hard to make my life balanced and sane and now all my progress has disappeared! All my spunk and grit has evaporated! I'm lost! I'll probably be stuck like this forever. I should just give up."
- Not allowing myself to work the way I know I work. With this deadline screaming in my ear, I am possessed of the notion that I should be working non-stop all day, all night, all weekend, without a break until the work is done. Never mind the fact that this has never worked for me! I work in chunks. A couple of hours at a time at the most, then I need a break, fresh air, a change of mental scenery, a reward. Particularly when the work I'm doing is painstaking and not particularly interesting to me, it's even more important that I can break up the monotony with something a little bit pleasant. Yet the German Orthodox/American Puritan strand in me rails against this idea. There is a blustering red-faced overlord in my brain that screams, "No! Nothing but gruel for you until the work is done! Get moving! You deserve to suffer! Suffering is virtue!"
- Gentle examination of the mental torture. My shrink helped a lot with this. She helped me understand that the source of my work shut-down was not due to some fundamental defects of character, but that I was feeling overwhelmed. (Duh!) Then she encouraged me to try a different approach than the bang-head-on-wall one I'd been using.
- Getting quiet. At one point, in the midst of a whole lot of internal haranguing, I threw myself onto the couch in frustration. My eyes happened to land on the books I keep around to remind me of my commitment to meditating, breathing, and staying aware of the weather in my own mind (a commitment which had gone out the window of late). Desperate, I figured I'd give it a shot. It was surprising how quickly I calmed down. And surprisingly (or not), once I got to this quieter, more peaceful state of mind I didn't feel so daunted, and in a matter of minutes I was able to get up and calmly go over to my desk and resume operations.
- My support persons. My boyfriend, my sister, and my friend C are all on my Phone-A-Friend list. They are good at listening, commiserating, and letting me whine. They've helped me through plenty of crises, both external and internal to my own mind. They have talked me down from many an emotional ledge, and I think somewhere in the process of explaining how, no seriously, this one is truly the end of the world, it triggers a memory of how many other ends-of-the-world they've lovingly watched me live through.
- Honey over vinegar. I think I read a poem once about how the soul/spirit/inner-whatever is like a deer, easily frightened by loud noises, quick to bound away. But if you can sit quietly for long enough, maybe it emerges from the edge of the woods. I think I scared it away this week with all my thrashing and crashing. It doesn't respond to threats. Conversely, I made good progress with things like gentle coaxing, understanding, and doing some things that don't come all that naturally, like forgiving myself and having compassion for this poor girl who is doing the best she can, trying to please everyone, trying to hang on to her health insurance the best way she knows how. Bumbling around but ultimately muddling through.
- Changes of scenery. One of the best things my boyfriend does for me when I get work-fever is force me to go on walks. Fresh air, glimpses of other people in the neighborhood going about their lives, a chance to work off some of those stress hormones that have built up in my system. Another change of scenery that helped is that I'm immersed in this book I got for Christmas called The Unconquered, all about a trek through the untouched Amazonian wilderness. In one scene, the group is scheduled to leave the last known outpost of native villagers the next morning for the unknown rigors of the jungle. Along with the villagers, they've strung up some lights from the boat and they're roasting fish and wild boars over bonfires in preparation for a feast. The author walks to the edge of the village and looks up at the vast stars, contemplating the bigness of the world. The scene helped jog that knowledge loose in my own head, that the world is so much bigger than my tiny little project, the tiny little deadline I'm so wrapped up in.
Just as it was for the Amazon explorers who encountered fallen trees blocking their course on the river, the only way forward is through. Break out the chainsaw. Don't forget that it's one small grueling part of what promises to be a spectacular adventure.