Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Back From the Deep

A few of you might remember that I was starting a writing class this winter. It's into the final week now, and what a fabulous experience it has been :)

Naturally, our Internet went kerplunk as soon as I was immersed in an online course. So it was both a challenge and a blessing to lose our contact with the online world. Posting to the class was a pain--definitely! But I think I maintained as much of a presence as my busier classmates did. The Internet came and went, you see, in drips and infuriating drops, wasting more time trying to log on that just. going. to. write.

So it turned out that losing the Internet for a month was helpful, in that I had to quit checking email, reading American news (!), and trying to log in to my blinkety-blank online course site and just go do the work of writing. And, let me tell you, that's harder than it sounds.

Does anyone out there remember the days of staying with a task from beginning to end, uninterrupted, for hours? Looking up at the clock and being shocked at how much time has passed? I do! Mind you, it was years ago, before I had kids. And also before the Internet and smart phones reduced my attention span to that of a gold fish.

After a month of very little connectivity, I managed to regain some of my work ethic and attention span. I'm now able to work for an hour, even two, at a time without checking email, logging into my class to check for new posts, or just taking a break to browse news sites. I have to wonder--how productive of a writer would I be if I could keep up this forward momentum? If I could make writing, real, nose to the page writing, my priority instead of turning on my phone to feed my brain more smut and intrigue from the online headlines?

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep abreast of what's happening. The worst thing we can do is bury our heads in the sand, now more than ever. But feasting on every detail of Trumpism, right down to the fact that he obscenely eats ketchup on his well done steak, is distracting me from this very important moment in my life where I set out on a journey of learning, discovery, and achievement. I'm not saying I'm going to selfishly ignore what's going on so that I may improve my writing. I want to refocus my attention on the certain issues that most worry me, and let those concerns inform me as a person and a writer and do something about it.

The ability to shut off the noise and concentrate and invest yourself in what you are doing is being lost. I go on social media rants all the time, so I'll spare everyone that. But in my constant sense of crisis these last months, I felt my ability to cope being threatened. I'll admit I've had issues with anxiety and depression in the past (who hasn't, really!) but it surprised me, and scared me a little, to have the old hollow, panicked feeling return. Racing thoughts, avoiding social situations, the works.

Then I sent a draft of a story to a friend for feedback and was disappointed with I what I heard. It affected me far more than it should have. But I am at the beginning of this learning curve and my feelings were hurt. Frankly, it was hard to get back in the saddle. But when it is hardest, I know this well, that is where the most learning is taking place.

I can't say for sure if the way I was feeling was due to a cold February, Trumpism, the headlines, social media (I'm not on FB, twitter, instagram), the emotional process of writing and editing a story over and over, or just depression rearing its ugly head, but I can say this--whenever I feel the panicked, untethered feeling of not knowing what to do or how to manage, it is time to sit down and talk myself off that ledge.

A quilt for my friend. See any yellow butterflies?

I had to take a break from working on my story. I knew that I wasn't giving up, exactly. Just that my mental health needed a reprieve. I worked instead on a quilt I've been making for a friend (after a day in bed. I actually didn't have the energy to move, and Husband was home to look after the kids. I had a good cry, milked it for awhile, then put on my big girl panties.But in my defense, I also came down with a brutal flu!)

This quilt is significant in many ways. My friend and I have been very honest with each other about our separate journeys through depression. She has done so much better since reading that it helps to give yourself a symbol to watch for--that reminds you of something good, or that you will be fine, whatever. That's my understanding of it, at least! But she began to notice yellow butterflies around her, everyday. And I can attest to this. I have been with her every where and noticed yellow butterflies appear out of nowhere in the air, or on paper, pottery or photographs. It's uncanny.

My own process is the careful sewing and pressing of fabric. It brings me back to earth, out of the flights of anxiety that seem to take me off my feet. As much as I didn't feel like getting started, it helped me immensely this February to return to a project I abandoned in the spring once I got gardening.

And while I was sewing and pressing, sewing and pressing, I had time to ask myself what is at the root of my anxiety? Why, oh why, after years of calm, am I so shaken?

I always ask myself if my actions are in sync with my beliefs. As soon as they are not, I spiral into a bit of a funk. I just really can't stand how I feel in the pit of my stomach. And this is possibly because in the past my actions were out of line with my beliefs. I can't tolerate it now. So if it is a social situation where I find myself behaving differently around certain people, whether to impress or to show off, I am a basket case. I have to step back from some interactions but I am still processing and figuring out how to do it.

And in my forwarding a draft of a story around, and getting my feelings crushed in the process, I have to admit that I was searching for an "atta girl" rather than truly seeking growth and learning. It was tough but to be a writer one must find a thicker skin. I'm going to get better at detaching!

Over and over again, when my belly tells me something is not right in my world, I ask myself whether I seek meaning or approval. Have I been hoping to get noticed? Would I like recognition, praise, admiration? Or would I like to work on myself from the ground up, from the calloused feet to the greying hair, and be the very best version of myself that I can be? Because I won't find my best self in someone's compliment. I'll find it when I unplug from distractions, keep my family close and let into my world people that are on the same journey.

If you have ever suffered from anxiety, I hope that it helps you to find a hobby, activity or symbol that comforts you when it gets bad. Retreat from the noise, if possible. Practice things that calm you down. Talk to someone. It may help to explain to your kids what is going on, if you have them. They may end up traveling a similar path and it can only help them to remember the ways you coped and were open about how you felt. At the same time, don't burden them with too much information. Keep it age appropriate. I'm not a professional, so seek out professional advice. My situation is mild and only pops up from time to time. But there's no reason to be ashamed.

The other night, with Daddy going back to work for 10 days in the morning, I explained to my 7 yr old that I always make us special food the day that Daddy leaves. To make us feel better. Because it is sad when he leaves. And it's okay for us to feel sad. But it is also important to realize why we feel sad, and do things to make ourselves feel better. For us it is board games and stories, chicken nuggets and popcorn. Hey, whatever works, right?

I'm out of my February Funk. Rising back out of the Deep. At the same time, I'm ready to face the year with renewed determination to unplug from what distracts and upsets while still learning about and fighting for causes that are important. I can't fight every battle for every person and remain whole. But I can fight for some and save myself in the process.


  1. oh sister, you're writing directly to my heart.

    all of what you said. all of it.

    i'm in a constant state of recalibration these days, so it seems. sorting and sifting through what keeps coming up again and again...noticing how certain things make me feel - good or bad.


    sorry you had a bad experience with your story -- it's unfortunate you had that sort of feedback, just as you were finding your writing legs again. :( good for you for soldiering on, though. i remember being in a critique group where there was this one woman who consistently upset me -- i think she was just mean :) -- she just didn't seem to *get* my writing and i think that sometimes happens. but it's gutting in the moment.

    big love, xoxoxo

    1. Oh, Mel. I knew you'd get it. Since that day where I felt so lousy I've worked more on the story and sent it out with more detachment. I am looking to find out what works and doesn't, what is the reader hearing that I'm not etc. You know better than me what you need from readers when something is at draft stage! I don't want to be a thin-skinned diva. All of this is an opportunity to grow :)

      Always so nice to have you pop by! J

  2. I think internet problems can often be a sweet, thoughtful blessing in disguise  I’m hearing more and more about “internet detoxes” many are taking purposely, and many experiences were similar – there was a situation which led to someone being disconnected (fuzzy internet, losing their phone, etc) followed by an epiphany of how darn good it feels to just BE.
    I miss those task start-to-finish days, and I miss the state of flow (before the internet came along and murdered it!) but there’s no reason I can’t take a cue from your experience and now make a conscious decision to reduce my internet consumption, even when sitting with the silence and my own racing thoughts can be …uncomfortable. I think those small, repetitive tasks, like the sewing and pressing of your quilt (for me, it’s the chopping of veggies or meat when preparing food) are comforting perhaps because they’re a predictable constant? Does that make sense? The pressing and sewing almost becomes automatic (flow) after a while, and the result is consistent, expected, and… safe. It’s so satisfying and comforting. Maybe that’s what makes it so grounding? Maybe it provides us that safe harbour we can be in while our mind goes out to explore some unchartered, or uncomfortable territory?
    I’ve always admired you for being so open about topics that many of us feel (extremely misplaced) embarrassment to discuss – like need for approval. I suffer with this, and I retreat from being open about it. The few times those close to me have acknowledged it (ex-bf’s and the like) it’s usually shot out like a knife meant to wound, as some terrible quality that flaws me and can be used as a sure-fire ego jab during an escalated argument. I think a lot of us have seen this need approached this way, and we shy away from discussing it, even though so many of us (I’m going to venture out to say most of us?) grapple with this. Apparently, it’s built into us by evolution (I like the way this article explains it: so the shame we can feel is so misplaced. This all being said (so sorry I’m writing you a novel today!) I totally, 100%, absolutely get how you felt after your friend’s review of your story – because I would have felt and reacted EXACTLY the same way. However you need to give yourself massive kudos for working through it in such an uplifting way. The quilting, the questioning – you peeled back the layers to ask the hard questions so you can get to the heart of it. You analyzed yourself (which in itself is tough, many don’t ever turn inward when there’s a problem but look for anything and anyone else to blame!) and if your actions and beliefs matched up. You know what I would have done? Likely eat tons of ice cream, every form and combination of cheese and carbohydrates and then would have convinced myself I needed a pretty new dress to feel better (followed over the torture to not buy a dress). You have to give yourself a huge pat on the back for approaching this with such wisdom and empathy.
    I’m glad you feel renewed and the funk is a past memory now. I hope your wee ones give you lots of cuddles over the next 10 days, and you enjoy more of this unplugging time together!

    1. I love getting your comments, FD. Thanks so much. I wonder if repetitive tasks like sewing and ironing and chopping food etc appeal when we are stressed because they are an age old task that women have done for generations. And when we're rattled we just need that sense of history. I say this knowing that you are of Mediterranean descent...imagine generations of your grandmothers in kitchens taking solace in providing their families meals. I really think there's something to it.

      A few years ago our eldest son had to do treatments that really, really scared me. They had to reduce his immune system super-low to reset it, and what they'd been doing for a couple years had stopped working. I was terrified. This all took place over the winter, and I found such comfort sitting and watching the fire in my wood stove. And I thought of all the women before me that had worried so much about their kids but not had the medical advancements we take for granted. The treatments were scary but there was no alternative and thankfully they seem to have worked perfectly. I think it's important to find something/anything that comforts us and identify how we are feeling and be gentle on ourselves. I talk to my kids often about "how did you feel when..." because I want them to realize what behaviour makes them feel proud, or helpful or needed, and what makes them sad or depressed. Then I want them to have a plan for when when they aren't feeling good about themselves. It was a hard road not understanding what depression was and getting to this place where I can talk about it so freely. I want them to be able to take lifes highs and lows more in stride :) I could go on and on...

      Always so nice to have a chat with you! J

  3. Also, I wanted to say your quilt is absolutely lovely. Your friend is going to be thrilled to receive such a beautiful gift, imparted with so much thought and care :)

    1. Thanks so much, FD. I forgot to add in the post that some of the fabric actually belonged to my friend's gramma, some of which had yellow butterflies on it! It is a really special gift. We both turn 40 in April and we have been friends since birth because our parents were friends (I'm 9 days older). I'm having it professionally quilted so I'll post more pictures when I get the binding done :)