Trying to mix it up, do a different topic each week. We’ll see how this goes. Since I’ve spent most of the last month in an anxiety brain fog, let’s talk about surviving your brain chemistry, shall we?
There are three types of mornings.
Type 1 are your usual, I slept well, I slept poorly, but I’m able to get out of bed without too much fuss.
Type 3 are the today is on fire, my body, brain, and the weather, and the gods above are telling me, do not get out of bed. I have a raging fever, I can’t breathe the anxiety’s so bad, or one of my physical disabilities is acting up, and this is a day for meds and rest.
Type 2 is what I have most days. It doesn’t matter if I slept well or poorly, I don’t want to get up. I need to shower, I don’t want to shower. I made social plans, I have no plans, something nasty happened yesterday, I’m afraid of something nasty happening today. Mr. Pond and I are fighting. There is something going on that I don’t want to face.
On good days, I know what it is. Sometimes, it’s just the ok, i need to shower today. And once I conquer that frog, the rest of the day’s fine. I have an interview, I’m visiting family, or there is some social or performance based thing I’m absolutely petrified of doing scheduled for today.
But more often than not, I don’t know what I’m worried about. As a writer, I spend 95% of my time in my head. But I also have ten hobbies, read 5 books at a time, play different games, and try to balance a varied social calendar. All of which is to say, there’s a lot going on at any individual moment in time.
So when I wake up, I am dealing with that normal resistance of leaving my cozy warm nest of blankets, a vague or sharp sense of something being very wrong, and the desire to hide, freeze, or run. But I have no fucking clue what I’m scared of.
Did I post something on Twitter that I’m scared to see the reactions? Did I forget to post my blog on time? Do I have a therapy appointment today that I can’t afford? Is the car payment due this week? Have I not written in a week, and the shame goblins are acting out? Did I make a social plan I’m not ready for? Is my hair really greasy, and I really HAVE to shower this morning, no matter how much I don’t want to?
Getting Better at Playing Sherlock
So I don’t know about you, but I wake up, not sure what was real in the dream, and what was brain magic. There’s a series of comics on a shelf in my dreams that I don’t own and can never remember what they are. Sometimes, I’m locked in a house, unable to see my cats and husband. And sometimes, it’s a conversation I’m not sure really happened, or a text I sent during the night that may or may not exist, it’s too close to reality.
So when I wake up with existential dread or worse, space aliens might feature in my top 3 culprit list. Ok, not space aliens. but chickies, surely. Regularly.
Chickies, Sherard Jackson’s version of reality sized velociraptors
I mean, I’m an action/adventure/fantasy writer. I’m ok with worrying about what I would do if velociraptors crawled into my apartment through open windows and which cat they would eat first. How zombie proof my house is not, and if I or my husband would get eaten first. Is it good for me? Probably not, but I am ok with this type of early morning fugue. It means I’m at least thinking about my writing, which is the struggle most days.
So the trick is to wake up enough to separate dreams from reality, ideas from facts.
On days where I can easily identify what I’m worried about–I’m getting a shot, I don’t like needles, I don’t like pain. Boom. I know what I’m worried about, and I can comfort the emotional three year old in my chest and tell the bossy know it all logical fifteen year old to sit down and shut up.
But those days where I don’t know what I’m scared of? Those days where my body is reacting to something, and my conscious mind is completely out of the loop? Well, my logical brat usually steps up, and makes everything worse. In reality, I need to focus more on my inner three year old. If I’m cautious and kind, I can usually get her to tell me what I’m scared of, and then I can act accordingly.
Today was particularly bad. Took 2-3 hours to realize I couldn’t handle having two meetings today. Also looking at the rest of my week, and seeing what obligations I can cancel or reschedule. But then going over that list, and looking at what things are scary but necessary, or what are obligations I’m doing for propriety’s sake that I never should have agreed to in the first place. Look at the list of all the Big Scary Things coming up, and see where the resistance is the strongest.
So if you have that bossy, bratty logical 15 year old in your head, here’s some advice.
- Remember how you mouthed off, acted out, or otherwise hid your insecurity at 15. Give the brat a hug, instead of strangling or threatening her.
- When you hear the vitriol your brain’s spitting at you–stop. Don’t verbalize or vocalize it. Rephrase it. Find your mantra. I recommend Chuck Wendig. Visceral, punch in the face affirmations. Artist’s Way has gentler, creative soul type affirmations, and I mean, you can google whatever you’re channeling and find a graphic with a quote on it. Those are usually too cheesy or whimsical for me.
I will burn down the forest. As the conflagration rages, all my excuses shall come scurrying forth like syphilitic rats whose backs smolder with the smoky scent of my coming victory. When my excuses bound, shrieking and squealing, toward my feet, I shall use my mighty wordhammer to squash them all, ‘asploding each like a sausage stuffed with self-deception and disillusionment.
This book is not the boss of my shit.
We offer ourselves to you as instruments. We open ourselves to creativity in our lives. We surrender to you our old ideas. We welcome your new and more expansive ideas. We trust that you will lead us. We trust that it is safe to follow you. We know that you created us and that creativity is your nature and our own
– Julia Cameron, Artist’s Prayer, The Artist’s Way
I mean, one is a lot more visceral and in your face than the other. And one is more sensitive and vulnerable. Sometimes you need creativity–but more often, I need a kick in the ass, and a powerful affirmation to get my shit in gear.
Ok so let’s take a step back. What is self care? According to Psych Central, it is any activity that we do with intention to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. It’s that intention part that usually trips me up.
I feel better mentally and emotionally when I wake up early. I have to set the alarm–but then I also have to decide to get up. When the alarm goes off an hour or two before you need to be up, it’s really easy to shut it off and go back to sleep.
The Artist’s Way talks about taking weekly artist dates. These are events or activities you plan to fulfill yourself, to fill the well, so to speak. Living in the US, separating this from capitalism is tricky. Going to a cafe and buying a coffee and pastry is nice, but I’m not wealthy enough to do that every week. Not when I buy a coffee three other days of the week as part of my routine. Going to the beach sounds nice–but that’s a tank of gas, parking, and whatever food I need to buy.
I live in a kitschy, cute neighborhood. I can walk downtown and admire the weird hipster shops and people who populate my neighborhood. Our house is near the Willamette, and there’s some nicely kept walking paths that I can take. Or I can take the train or bus to downtown Portland, and walk around. Lots of homeless and ugliness, but lots of cool stuff to see, too. And the homeless bug me a lot less when I’m able to do something to help them, instead of watching them sleep on the sidewalk.
But ultimately, when I decide to do something, I enjoy it a lot better. I chain read my favorite author’s bibliographies. That’s fun when I choose to do it. It’s a little bit too much of a guilty pleasure because I’m avoiding something I don’t want to face, and am reading to avoid reality.
The one thing that’s worked great for me is the Shadowhunters tv series. I have the first two seasons, and I let myself watch an episode when I do my writing for the day. But sometimes, I have something else I want to do instead. Or I watch 15 minutes, and I’m ready for a break.
The one thing that really helps is clearing out the central space in my office. I’d like a mirror, but for now, I don’t have one. But when I need to, or choose to, I can dance. It burns off the nervous energy, it makes my body happier, and it prevents the anxiety-pain cycle.
Your mileage may vary
This is what I do. It’s not foolproof, because I still fuck up, I still have bed days. But I think focusing on tying your actions to conscious intentions, and learning about the gremlins inside you, and separating them from you can be huge. Also, giving yourself something nice just because, and not shaming yourself for it? It takes practice, but the peace you experience after is so worth it.
Even if that “thing” you give yourself is opening the blinds, or listening to the wind in the trees…it’s worth it.