I've been having a Hard Time.
It's been going on for a couple of weeks. And the thing about depression is, it can take all kinds of forms. My particular brand is very sneaky. It starts telling little lies and graying out the edges of the world until it gets all the way in. By the time I realize what's going on, the insomnia and numbness and general sense that nobody really likes me and probably never has are in control.
Do I think this difficult and personal election cycle is a contributing factor? You bet I do. But there's more to it than that one thing. There always is. And, if I'm being entirely honest, I've been ignoring the activation of some of my self-destructive impulses for a while. I took on a lot of Big Life Changes very quickly this year, some of which I'm in the thick of right now. There was bound to be some backlash.
So I've been having a moment. A longer one than usual. Why write it down? Why now? A-#1) My m.o. when things get hard and I am operating at less than 100% is to keep it a secret. That's neither good nor helpful. No more of that. B-#2) Last year, Wil Wheaton very generously shared that he needed to take a year off to hit the reset button on a life that had, in many ways, spiraled away from him. He shared the system of improvement he had created for himself, and checked in throughout the year with progress updates. I've been thinking about that a lot lately.
"Reset" is a dramatic word. And the thing is, I'm happy with a lot of the things in my life, chief among them the people. But on a basic level, I haven't been able to connect with myself and with all of those good things the way I want to. I've been feeling so inept and timid and tired, and I know that erosion of my confidence has made me moody and distant. If I don't address it head on, it will get worse. I don't want that for myself.
I need to start taking care of myself again in a Big Picture way, instead of limping along with a pocket full of off-brand band-aids.
So I'm borrowing from the Wheaton list, with some changes/adjustments that are more specific to me. I'm going to take a year, starting from today, to work on all of these things - even when they're going well - to really cement them as no-brainer habits and set myself up for long term improvement.
So here's my list of seven things that need to change:
- Drink less.
- Get better sleep.
- Spend more time with family and friends.
- Exercise more.
- Eat better food.
- Write more.
- Spend less time online.
These are my focal points for the year - a list meant to help and guide, not punish. Because that's the thing about the anxious/depressive brain: as much as lists can set us up for success, they can also be used to point out all the ways in which we've failed. Why these seven things specifically? Again, I stole a lot of them, but they're all things that play into my general well-being almost each day, and they're in need of some repair. Let's take a look:
It almost feels like cheating to put this on, since I've already been practicing this one for a while. But it's important for me to keep actively focusing on it, and to remember why. I genuinely enjoy drinking and making drinks. I've studied all kinds of spirits, whisky (more specifically, bourbon) emerging as a favorite, and I love being that friend at the party who you want to turn to for a top shelf cocktail.
While I've never really been a binge-drinker, and only ever imbibe every couple of weeks if that, I've been meeting a lot of new people over the past year and was starting to feel like I was drinking to ease my social anxiety without even realizing it. My glasses were starting to empty very quickly, and I was refilling them without a second thought. I put in a lot of work to feel more at ease with new folks, and that muscle needs to be exercised, both for me and my friends.
Get better sleep.
I've been having so much trouble getting solid, productive sleep. More and more, I've been relying on audiobooks to trick my brain out of spiraling so I can fall asleep, and then staying out becomes a whole other thing.
On top of that, I haven't exactly been setting myself up for success with a good "winding down" period before bedtime and allowing for enough time to get at least 7 hours, if not more, before I have early mornings for work.
I'm not one of those, "Sleep for 5 min. and I'm ready to go," folks. Never have been. I'm fraying at the edges a little here.
Spend more time with family and friends.
This has been a hard one lately because of a packed schedule with school and a new job - I've been on opposite ends of availability with a lot of people, it seems like. But, if I'm being honest, I could try harder. I've never liked, "scheduling," time to see people - in my mind, it makes what should be enjoyable feel like a job, another task to check off. In reality, it's a part of adulthood. I know this, and it's time to stop resisting it.
The people in my life are important to me, and important to my happiness and health. I want to stop missing people who are right here with me.
I love being active. But injury and time management has knocked me off the path of regular exercise. I'm most disappointed in myself for letting this one slide after getting into such a great routine, and I've let that disappointment become paralyzing. Time to break out of that cycle and get back into fighting shape - it feels good, it clears my head, and it's definitely a fulcrum for a lot of the things on this list.
Eat better food.
I've been up and down about carving out space to cook for myself - when I do, I'm balanced and happy and nutritionally healthy. When I don't, I end up frantically grabbing-and-going or not eating at all. It doesn't take a genius to see how this is a problem, and that part of being run down and restless is tied into this just as much as it is my erratic exercising. Time to re-focus on the nutritional building blocks that I learned so well and make honoring them a main priority again.
It's almost funny to put this here right now, as I made the hard decision to skip NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2010, I think. Given what I've got going on with work and school and a different writing project, it just would've been pure stress with no enjoyment.
But I have fallen out of the habit of writing every day. Creating is important to me - again, it clears my brain, but storytelling is also what has made my heart feel the fullest since I was wee. It's me, and I'm it, and not doing it is not an option.
Spend less time online.
The internet is a beautiful unifier and place to share and connect. It is also a black hole of awfulness and apathy and a fire for procrastination and rage and sadness. I've been living on the destructive side of it - it's been pulling me down, and that means it's time for me to pull back.
This was a hard one to try and get my head around, as I don't mean to imply that it's socially responsible to stop having or raising an awareness of the world and what is happening in it. But it's also important for my own well-being to maintain a healthy distance from the things that hurt me, and right now, the news cycle - and the comments that come with it - are hurting me.
As of today, I'm not deactivating any of my social media accounts. But I am going to be closely monitoring how much I use them, as well as re-evaluating how I want to use them. Whether or not they get to stay will depend on how that goes throughout the year.
So there it is. Just under a week away from my 30th birthday, I figured this was the best gift I could give myself. I'm sharing it because I wanted to, and because talking about struggling with self-care and trying to do better shouldn't be as difficult as it still often is for me. I can't show up for the world in general or the people in my life if I don't show up for me first, and that's a hard thing to remember sometimes.
I'll give you an update in a few months, pals.
**Note: Brain stuff and life stuff are complicated, and this is my experience. I'm not at all a believer in the, "Smiling and hiking will solve all your problems, just try harder and you'll feel better," way of thinking - while I'm sure it's well-intentioned, it discourages and shames people from seeking the treatment they as individuals need. Talk to medical professionals about what you need in your life. I do. And if they're not helping or if they make you feel uncomfortable, find new ones.