Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Mental Illness Isn't the End of the World — But Sometimes it Feels Like it Is

It's no secret that I've been struggling lately. I stress about everything at the best of times, so the past few months have had me worrying about everything from whether I'll be able to write more soon to whether I'll still be living with my parents when I'm 50. Suffice to say my current situation is less than ideal!

But I have to remind myself that it's not the worst situation. I may struggle with my finances, but I'm not going to be left to starve anytime soon. I have a safe place to live and I've got my dog, Murray Monster. Sure, there are times when I'm so overwhelmed by my problems that it's hard to breathe, but I have some good things in my life. I have a foundation.

I think a key aspect of dealing with any problem is to stop beating yourself up. Blaming yourself for your situation isn't taking responsibility — it's as helpful as blaming your parents, your school bullies or the world in general, i.e. not at all, even if there is a grain of truth in it. All any of us can do is our best, whatever constraints and challenges we face. There's no point panicking whenever we fall short of our expectations. All we can do is go from here — this very moment — and try our best.

Being able to see this perspective is evidence that my mental health is improving. Not long ago, I felt that my life was hopeless and I was useless and a burden on my family and friends. That's one of the most horrible things about mental illness, depression in particular: it steals any sense of time passing and life changing. It feels like you're hiking up a mountain and can only see the slope you're trying to scale. Everything else is covered in fog. When things improve a little, you can look down and see where you've been but the top of your slope is still covered in mist. You don't know whether it ends, let alone if you can make it. As mental health continues to improve, you see more of the mountain above you. You can see the top of the slope you're climbing, maybe even the next slope or ones beyond. Hopefully, one day, you will be able to see the top of the mountain.

I think writing a novel is also like this: you may have a vague sense of the whole, but you can only write it step by step. You start out with a map, but once you're climbing the mountain you lose track and take detours, slopes blur into one another... I suppose it all comes down to faith. You need to keep faith that the mountain is there and that you can conquer it. 

Of course, that's easier said than done when you're surrounded by fog and can't see your hand in front of your face! You might also reach the top to find — as I did with my. First attempt at a novel — that you were climbing a foothill and the mountain is beyond. What do you do: give up or keep climbing?

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Hardest Thing is Also the Easiest

I often wonder why I keep going. Most days, I feel like I am trudging through a deep bog and it is too foggy to see where I'm going or if the bog ever ends. Why do I keep setting goals, let alone trying to achieve them? Why do I keep writing?

Everything seems so damn hard a lot of the time that I find myself thinking I'd be happier if I never set goals. That way, there can be no disappointments. Anything good that happens will be a bonus. But I can't. Part of me will always want to be A Writer (as in, "proper" writer who makes a living from writing, no matter how frugal) and part of me will always write.

Following your dreams is hard. Working towards goals is hard. Keeping faith that it's better than giving up is bloody hard. I suppose the trick is to gain what satisfaction and enjoyment you can from the monotony, the banality of trying to change your life. Sometimes that will be finishing a short story, other times it will be watching an episode of Friends that I've already seen (conservative estimate) 50 times while I plug away at my novel-in-progress.

Full disclosure: I've had a stressful month and have been ill for the past week, so I'm not in the most positive frame of mind. In fact, this is the second time I've been ill this year and it's left me with about 9 days when I've had a relatively clear head. My energy runs low at the best of times, so all hope of tackling my New Year's resolutions head on has sunk into the bog I mentioned at the start of this post. Suffice to say, I feel pretty crap at the moment.

However, I read something today that made me feel a little better: time passes anyway.

It's so obvious that I've never really thought about it before, but whether or not you're working towards a goal, the time you would have spent on it passes anyway. Writing when I might never be successful seems like a waste of time, but the time I spend writing passes anyway. As does the time I should have spent writing. The real waste of time is not working towards your goals.

Am I really going to look back in 10+ years and wish I'd watched Friends more? Or that I should have spent more time worrying about the prospect of failure? Yes, it's bloody hard to keep writing (and exercising and working on being less anxious), but it's also easy to keep going because there is no other option. Time passes anyway.

So I will keep adding words to my novel and I will keep doing the little tasks that I hope will add up into something big, something good. Even if I waste the rest of every day feeling awful, I have marked some progress. I will keep celebrating these tiny milestones because it's better than the alternative. Time passes anyway, so I might as well use it to be the best I can be.