Episode 36: We’re in the middle of the ride
In which our protagonist tries to pull herself out of the hermit zone
It’s been a while. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to start this next missive after my little and much-needed break away in Scotland last month, but I can tell you that nothing good has come of those attempts. And I mean nothing good - not ‘nothing good enough’, but nothing at all. It’s like in that break I forgot how to do things.
Truth be told, dear reader, I feel like I’m right back at the beginning.
I wonder if, subconsciously, this is why I’ve always kept myself busy. Even in this sabbatical I’ve been on, I’ve plumped up my schedule with things I ‘must’ do - reading, writing, watching, walking. Even if they’re not work, they’re not rest, either.
Yes, I invoked the R-word. I’ve been scolded a few times this last week while talking to people about this numb malaise that’s come back over me. While I’m nowhere near as bad as I was at Christmas, I’ve forgotten all the good gains I made while taking my time to be self(ish). Turns out, I wasn’t self(ish) enough. I didn’t rest. I just did different things.
My kingdom for a rest
Shall we pull out the ol’ dictionary definition? Let’s check in with Merriam-Webster:
A bodily state characterised by minimal functional and metabolic activities
Freedom from activity or labour
A state of motionlessness or inactivity
A peace of mind or spirit
To be free from anxiety or disturbance
How much of these things have I done since Christmas? Bugger all, that’s how much.
Someone remarked at the beginning of these missives that I seemed to be doing a lot for someone who was on sabbatical. Instead of work, I filled my calendar with courses, with goals, with plans. I dreamed and spoke of all the things I would get done now work wasn’t taking up my life 24/7. Sure, I was having a daily nap and I was not at my computer all the time, but I was still… active. My brain was working, just on different things.
It would crash sometimes, and I’d take a day or two for doing not much at all, but then I’d just get back in there, pushing myself along, doing allllll the things. Not resting.
So is it really any wonder that when I did finally take two weeks away from the computer, away from home, away from the tiny radius around my house that has been my life since the plague hit, is it any wonder that my body started resting and went ‘Oh. This is what I needed.’
...and then we drove home from Inverness to London during the first weekend of the petrol crisis. And we discovered our bunny had a near-death experience while we were away. And we got home to all the problems that we had shut the door on when we left for holiday.
And my world came crashing down again. The stress, the anxiety. It all returned.
The mask is slipping
Dear reader, I’ve been home since the last week of September. That’s four Mondays that have come and gone when you were on my mind. Lots of things were on my mind.
All the things.
Distracting me. Taunting me. Berating me.
What is my purpose? What am I meant to be doing? Why aren’t I doing it? Why can’t I bloody well just make a move, any move, in any direction?
I couldn’t face it. I went into my hermit zone and refused to emerge.
Then, during a bout of doom-scrolling, I happened upon this post from the Real Depression Project, an account I’ve come to recognise as being Inside My Brain Dammit. The post was about “high-functioning depression”, and what people see vs what is actually happening. Alarm bells went off.
People see jokes and smiles; what is actually happening is difficulty accepting and expressing painful emotions
People see caring for others; what is actually happening is someone feeling undeserving of the same love
People see high achieving; what is actually happening is imposter syndrome and feeling undeserving of the achievements
People see someone who is constantly busy; what is actually happening is someone struggling to be alone with their thoughts
People see someone who’s unshakable in ‘tough times’; what is actually happening is someone who’s numb and apathetic to the outcome
People see someone working long hours; what is actually happening is they’re distracting themselves from their own suffering
It was that last one, really, that hit me in the gut. No, I haven’t been resting while on this sabbatical; I’ve been distracting myself from having to think and process and deal with my suffering.
I need to learn how to rest. I need to process my emotions and figure out what I need, not what others tell me I need. I need, I need, I need…
But I also need to go back to work, because the money well is drying up.
Dear reader, I haven’t been around much, but you have been on my mind. So have a lot of things. I haven’t slept for two nights in a row because my brain is revisiting the toxic workplaces of my past and showing me everything I did wrong.
But I’m getting back to routine. I’m slowly waking up. I’m figuring my shit out.
I’m still here.
I hope you’re ok. And if you’re not, please reach out to someone, ok?
The week ahead 🗓
October - Spooktober! - is a month of huge creative influence for me. How can a horror writer not be influenced by Halloween? So far I’ve spent a few days volunteering at the London Film Festival (though had to pull out because of all that you’ve just read), while the second half of October brings the Bloomsbury Festival. I’m wrangling the writers in residence on behalf of 26 for the next week, and will be doing my own stint as a WiR on Wednesday. (Ha! Rest?)
Amongst all that...
Writing: Tinkering around. Finding the thread again. I want to start looking into short story submission opportunities as a way to get my mojo back.
Work: Focusing on two things this week: sorting my various websites, and putting the work feelers out. The household breadwinner has been very patient but he needs some support.
Health: I, unsurprisingly, have fallen right off the wagon. The wagon is no longer visible. This week, I must recover sight of the wagon.
Routine: Rebuilding my habits is the key. Plus, join me and hundreds of others at the LWS Writers’ Hour every weekday: 8am London, New York, California and NZ.
On the stereo 🎧
Self Esteem, I Do This All The Time
The other half heard this on a podcast and raved about it so much that he eventually had to pin me down to listen to it. I’m glad he did. It is magnificent.
Off the shelf 📚
Witches, Sluts, Feminists, by Kirsten J Sollée
Writer, curator and educator Sollée explores the intersections of art, gender and the occult. In this short series of connected essays, she looks at the lineage of “witch feminism”, and how the demonisation of women and female sexuality can be traced from the witch hunts through the early modern era to the current day. Through pop occulture analyses and interviews with activists, artists, scholars and practitioners of witchcraft, Sollée is just skimming the edges here - but it’s fascinating, enraging and empowering all at once.
(It is quite an anglo-centric view of the topic, though she does note at the end that witch hunts and persecutions continue in parts of the world today.)
“Misinformation and demonisation have been consistent threads in the history of women’s sexual and reproductive health. A majority of Europeans and Americans may no longer believe women’s bodies are likely to be bewitched by the Devil, but ‘the curse’ is still slang for menstruation. The church and state may no longer exterminate midwives, but the lingering stereotype of midwifery as filled with duplicitous shrews persists. The phrase ‘old wives’ tale’ echoes some of this cultural bias, as there is no equivalently gendered term for a man who delivers supposedly harmful, naive and unscientific advice. These attitudes and turns of phrase may seem innocuous, but are vestiges of a barbarous history. Despite immense social and scientific advances over the past six centuries, politics, religion and women’s health remain inextricably entwined.”
Please also read these incredible essays by writers I am proud to know. Read them, and then share them far and wide.
Spurred by a quote about fear and recent/ongoing court cases in the UK, Victoria’s piece about the joy of running in nature takes an unexpected turn.
Lamentation for Songbirds, by Lindsey Trout Hughes | The Rumpus
Beautiful, heartbreaking, lyrical - Lindsey’s essay on parenting through griefs large and small is a truly remarkable work.
Get an eyeful 👀
Free Guy (Disney+)
Who knew that a Ryan Reynolds vehicle would actually be incredibly sweet, well crafted and have something to say about the world as well as being incredibly fun? Me and the other half had been looking forward to seeing this but don’t yet trust the local cinemas, so we were super excited to see it pop up on Disney+. If you have access, watch it ASAP. It is a remedy in this f*cked-up world.
Visual confirmation 📷
Look at these two: so happy, so carefree, so full of adventure… What happened to them? It was only a few weeks ago! (Photo taken on the Isle of Skye.)