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I Took a Break From Writing to Take Care of Myself

14 Jun
Laptop computer and desk

My laptop is taking a break from writing.

Sometimes, I blatantly contradict myself.

Like how I used to say it was so important to have balance in your life.

Then I went on this kick like, fuck balance, it’s all about the passion.

And now I’m kinda into the balance thing again. Or trying to be at least. Living a life of balance  is not the place I naturally default to.

But, both things are true. Balance is nice. Passion is cool, too. Balanced passion may be something to strive for, although sounds like something that’s probably impossible to achieve.

Or when, several years ago, the married man I was having an affair with abruptly ended things. I was devastated to the point of barely being able to function, but I was also relieved — relieved that I no longer had to spend agonizing days waiting for his texts, calls, or emails, or hours lost to fantasy, obsession, fear, and worry. I was devastated, but I was also free.

Both were true.

I learned this from my therapist, she says it a lot. Life is big and complicated enough for seemingly completely contradictory things to both be true at the exact same time.

The last blog post I wrote was about how I always need to be writing. I wrote this almost 9 months ago. So you can see already: contradiction.

Shortly after writing that post, things fell apart, as they sometimes do in my life. As a freelancer, I was doing work that I loved, but unfortunately not enough of it to support myself. I have a high tolerance for deprivation in service to following my vision; if I’m doing work I love, I can make do with very, very little in terms of material gain.

But at a certain point, the chaos of financial instability starts to interfere with my creative process. Waking up every day in a state of panic tends to make me shut down, writing-wise. As someone I know once said, “You can’t write a novel if your house is on fire.” And based on my own experience I can say: tru dat.

Not knowing how I was going to pay the following month’s rent, and with my financial house up in flames, I set out looking for work. Once I’ve reached this point of complete desperation and panic, I can’t like, casually look for work and keep writing on the side. At that point, earning money requires all my time and attention.

I got temp work right away, and a month later, a full-time job. My first full-time job in over three years, I now had health insurance, paid time off, and some stability.

Although I hadn’t written in a few months, I decided to consciously continue my writing break so I could get acclimated to my new job. Also, I wanted to be a normal person who went to work and then had a life — time for socializing, dating, and decluttering my apartment — instead of this person who has a day job and then in every moment of her free time is trying to make things happen with her own creative projects on the side, living multiple lives and driving herself to exhaustion.

But after a month at my new job, my friend said to me, “Jen, I think you should start writing again.”

Because what happens is, not writing takes on its own crazy non-momentum momentum. If you don’t write for long enough, it turns into this really huge, daunting deal, and you can’t imagine how you ever wrote anything in the past or will ever again in the future. I said something along these lines to my friend right before she said, “Jen, it’s time.”

So, I wrote my dating profile for OkCupid. It was kind of fun. It made me laugh. I thought, This is good and I can write.

Inspired by my success writing my dating profile, I dipped my toe further into the writing pool, and wrote an essay about writing my online dating profile. Then I wrote a few more things, like this, and this.

It felt so good to be back. I was on a roll. Sort of. I still start and stop. Write, take a break. Struggle with writing/self-care. Balance/passion. Working hard/rest. Being consumed by creative projects/having a life. I write, but then I have to take mini-breaks. Because I work full-time and have activities and commitments almost every night after work, and I get t-i-r-e-d and need to rest. Not be so busy and striving all the time. Just be.

Last Sunday afternoon, I planned to write. But I was exhausted. So I took a nap instead. By mid-week, I was aching to write. I’m doing it today. I may need to take a break tomorrow.

Taking breaks from writing can be good self-care, and necessary periodically, but still, still, if I go too long without writing, I feel really shitty. Sometimes I need to take a break from writing to pay attention to how I’m going to pay my rent. But when I’m not writing, inevitably, I hit a point where I start to get angry and filled with resentment. I feel invisible, unseen, unheard, disempowered, like I have no voice. And the only way out of this is to USE MY VOICE and write something.

I need to be writing all the time. And I need to take breaks.

Both are true.

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Trying To Be Selfish. Kind Of.

3 Oct

“I want you to be really really selfish…The more selfish and nurturing you can be for yourself, the by-product for those that you love or work that you do is greatly enhanced.”  -Greg Gumucio, Yoga to the People

People ask me for things, and because I’m codependent (recovering, though), I often say “Yes,” even if it means that doing this thing whatever it may be, will make me feel depleted and resentful and pissed off and did I mention depleted?  But every-so-often, or OK, maybe with some frequency, I will go through periods in my life, when I maybe wake-up one day and am like, “Huh.  I’m so not where I want to be or thought I’d be.”  Which sounds like a calm self-reflection, but is usually accompanied by some form of pain and sadness.  Or I’ll realize that I’m exhausted and depleted and as I look around to assess my circumstances, I see that they are in some degree of let’s say, shambles.  But people are still asking me for things.  So I have to start saying, across the board, “No.”  And I have to enter into a phase of total and complete selfishness where I must 100% focus on myself and my life and getting everything back together and on track.

This, initially, makes me feel bad.  It makes me feel selfish, and everyone knows that being selfish is bad.  We probably learned that sometime around age two when we were playing in the sandbox and didn’t want to share our shovel and pail, and then it continued and continues to be reinforced.  Selfish = Bad.  Don’t be that.

I have this strong, visceral, total body reaction to saying No to people’s requests, to disappointing people, to letting them down.  To seeming, in any way, the least teeny tiny bit selfish, to not being thought of as The Nicest Person In The World Who Is Always There To Help Others.  And when I have to do this, and let somebody down in some way in order to take care of myself, I will often feel shaky and sick to my stomach.

But, luckily, there are times when I have no choice.  When myself and my life desperately need to be attended to, and to do this I just have to be selfish, no matter what.  And I have to sit with these awful, uncomfortable feelings about how no one is ever going to like me ever again if I am not always helpful and giving.

It usually goes like this:  first, in crisis management mode, I just have to say No to everyone and everything indiscriminately.  Then I start to feel like maybe I’m getting back on track and beginning to have more energy, so I can start to be giving again.  But I can’t then just indiscriminately say Yes to everything, or I will quickly get thrown back into the same rut I’ve been trying to dig myself out of.  I have to sit with requests.  So someone will ask me for something, and I have to slow down the process.  Instead of bursting out with an immediate, compulsive Yes, I check-in with myself and see if I really want to give this thing and if doing so will make me feel good and happy and fulfilled, or if I want to say Yes just to please someone or be The Nicest Person In The World, but I really don’t have the reserves for it, and doing it will make me feel depleted and resentful and pissed off and did I mention depleted?  I have to kind of play it out in my mind and tap into what I ‘ll feel like after I’ve given in this way.

And slowly, over time, I can start to give more and more, but only as much as I can without depleting myself.  This means that sometimes I have to experience the discomfort of being selfish and letting people down and not living up to their or even my own expectations of myself.  But the alternative is much worse.  Have you ever tried giving generously, selflessly to others while your life is crumbling around you?  Yeah, it doesn’t feel so good.

And the point of the S-word is not to be selfish as the ultimate destination, and never give anything to anyone ever again.  It is a nurturing resting place, where you stop to get filled up when you are depleted.  Where you can put up walls, or as they say in codependency, boundaries, to protect all your energy from leaking out in service to others while you stumble further into exhaustion.  Where you can declare big ‘ol Time Out to just stop automatically indiscriminately responding to what everyone asks of you without giving yourself what you need let alone even knowing what that might be.  Where you are selfish to get yourself and your life back on track.  And then from that rejuvenated place, you will have the reserves that you need to contribute to the people you love and the work that you do and the world in meaningful ways that leave you feeling energized and excited and inspired instead of depleted.

What connotations do you associate with the word selfish?  How do you feel when you have to say No to someone’s request?  How do you decide how much you can give without depleting yourself?  And what helps make this process easier for you?