I was sitting in the office around 4pm on Tuesday feeling slightly overwhelmed. Not quite that slightly out-of-control, I need to write a list, my head feels very full, my heart is beating a little too fast kind of overwhelmed, but just very… busy. Some of it was my actual job – there is a lot going on all the time, and more added regularly – but I am *mostly* on top of what needs doing. (Even if things are going a little slower than I would like – it turns out it takes a long time to build a contacts database…- things are ticking over well). It was all the many other things I was trying to do that suddenly burrowed their way to the front of my conscious and made me anxious: emailing editors with pitches for articles I want to write, reading I need to do for a journal article, reviewing a journal article, waiting to hear if revisions on another article have been accepted, sorting out various visas and leave to remain applications, organising upcoming holidays, wondering what will happen to us after March (Brexit anxiety), wondering if we will every be able to buy a house etc etc etc… After I got home, and A- shook his head at me as I turned on my laptop and edited a piece of writing, I started to wonder about this anxiety-induced busyness. Do other people do this too? have many things on the go all at once? Working on a myriad of different projects? This perpetually chasing something restlessness?
While I have left research work, I seem to have taken the busy, ‘always working’ mindset with me. Let’s be honest, I did not expect it to disappear right away. The writing pursuits are part of a long-game goal, and so I keep plugging away at them, sometimes unsuccessfully, sometimes successfully. And writing fills me with joy, even if it starts out painfully, excruciatingly, trying to find words for the page, at the end I feel accomplished, happy, satisfied. But sometimes, I can’t help but wonder, what if I worried less about where I might be in three years time and just concentrated on this day, this moment? If I wasn’t chasing, chasing, chasing…
Then I got into work, read this article, and was like oh hello. That is all me. I am always pursuing something, wanting to do more. This is not necessarily a bad thing but sometimes, it makes me forget about the here and now. The moment I am in. I am on a hamster wheel cycle of pursuing what? success? satisfaction? peace? As soon as one thing is done, there is another thing I must do. This year, I published an academic book. Now I am trying to work on a non-academic one, because (my head says) then I will be a real writer. I also published in a food writing journal (a longtime goal) but now I want to publish in others. Have I written x number of words per day? No? Better get on it then! There is a constant more, more, more going on in my head. I have never done enough, I am never enough.
The problem really is that for years the academy told me precisely this – you are not enough. You haven’t published enough or taught enough or edited enough or reviewed enough or networked enough etc etc etc… Basically, you are not good enough. And so that striving mindset is ingrained in my psyche, and my physical way of being. I still do not yet feel like enough.
I blew into September after an exhausting summer. It has been wonderful, full of amazing experiences, places, people but last week, I realised I was heading towards being burnt out. I am at least that little bit more in-tune with my body now that I can recognise an exhausted crash before it actually happens, and can take measures to avoid actually crashing out (the anxiety-related busyness, the constant stream of thoughts about what still needs to be done, is a symptom of my exhaustion). So despite working on writing after work was finished, I’ve been slowing down. Slowly. Incrementally. As if preparing for the changing season, the coming cold and dark.
I read Hannah’s blog on realistic self-care and have embraced a few of her ideas – getting several early nights, going back to yoga after several weeks off, reading, and (inevitably) decluttering. We were hoping to buy a house before Christmas but that looks unlikely now, and so I want to clean up our flat, sort out those piles of magazines I’ve had gathering dust in one corner, sort the DVDs and give away the ones we won’t watch again, get picture frames for all the prints I’ve got in a pile… It is a kind of winter-prep nesting I suppose. And I find it helps calm the worry, the anxiety over writing more, and centres me in my place. (A’s mother arrives next week, so that is another incentive for sorting!)
Often, the slowing down happens in tiny ways. This week for example, I’ve remembered to take breakfast in to work and to eat before midday. This is an achievement for me – I often get to 2pm and am suddenly exhausted, realising that I have only had two coffees. I have also brought in homemade lunches, and have taken actual lunch breaks where I have left the office (on Tuesday I lolled about in the warm sunshine, on Wednesday I took refuge from the storm in the common space upstairs) and read (new Strike anyone?). This past weekend I did very little, some reading, some gardening, some cooking (killer tomato maize pie for Sunday night dinner). I stayed in bed for ages. I’ve started meditating via the Headspace app. Just 3 minutes a day so far, but the stillness it brings is totally fab. It has felt good after this busy summer, a good counterbalance to all the writing/organising/travelling plans I have.
I am trying to think of ways I can actually appreciate when I am writing, because the writing/not writing is a strong aspect of my current anxiety. I have been thinking about all the spaces where I do write, and not trying to become too anxious as to whether any of this writing will ever be published. Things like: writing this blog, writing small chunks of essays or book proposals, making lists, reading (often necessary before writing something), journaling… I do a lot of writing in my everyday life, I just don’t see it.
As September moves quickly (I feel like I missed the month practically) into October, I am slowly slowing down and recharging after the summer; working on worrying less (surely an oxymoron?), concentrating on the current moment more, reviewing my ‘April book’ – another of Hannah’s ideas (the January book), and getting ready for cooler, slower months ahead. And hoping that all this slowness will help my mind to still. What are your plans?