My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Self Care Check In ([Very] Personal Update)

Check out my sweet, sweet haircut!
These last few days have been extra rough with difficult sauce a heaping side of onerous and a big, ice-cold glass of liquid grueling, so today I'm going to take a moment to whip up my famous Personal Update Casserole with some Writerly Advice Seasoning, and just a sprig of Cautionary Tale.

Stop. Storytime.

A little over a month ago, I got a diagnosis of exhaustion. I had done some sleep walking.

Well, actually it was more like sleepFacebooking, but if you've ever spent a day trying to piece together what the hell you actually did the day before, you know that's pretty alarming even if you found out you didn't drive, your worst crime was a lot of typos, and apparently sleeping you was way into Iron Fist because you watched the whole thing in one day.  I don't really know what to say. Sleeping me can't spell and likes whiny white guys I guess.

Fortunately, even though sleepwalking isn't very common, the reasons I seem to have for doing it are very common among those who sleepwalk. I've been doing it off and on since I was a kid, but haven't really had an episode in years that I know of.

A quick call to the doctor got me a "almost certainly" diagnosis and some advice. They ruled out a sleep study unless it was happening regularly, but asked me some questions about my life. The kind of questions that when you answer them honestly (because it's your doctor), you start to realize that you've been not noticing the rotten grass of Denmark grow. Questions about stress, sleep patterns, anxiety I'd been dealing with, nightmares, and how much work I'd been doing.


I'll spare you all the deets. Suffice to say I was running way too hot on top of a long run of deep stress. (Apparently it takes about 18-24 months of severe life stress before your body really starts to have some major problems–and guess what started almost exactly two years ago?) And this last week a physical side effect that I was promised started to kick in.

"You're going to want a lot of sleep," the advice nurse said, "after you start getting enough sleep for a while. When you start to feel safe, your body will want to catch up. It's going to feel like you're sleeping way too much, but if you're not having trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night, it's not actually too much sleep."

So here's me on the other side of this. I have three jobs I cobble together to pay bills. I worry CONSTANTLY about my patrons getting enough bang for their buck when it comes to content. I have a Kickstarer to do right by (and a novel to write), and I'm working about sixty hours a week, and I crash into the Four-Hour-Naps-Are-Your-God-Now truth of prognosis right around the time the weather decides that what the continental US needs is to experience the apocalypse in real time. Also my social calendar literally bursts into flames when I look at it. (That's right, fuckers. I said literally.)

How my soul felt at noon on Wednesday.
Image description:
Donkey being lifted by overloaded
two-wheeled cart.
Somewhere around Wednesday I hit "Overload."

I give it a lot of cutesie little names. I call it an "incoming storm cloud" or "going down the rabbit hole." I call it the blues. I say I need to wiggle my big toe when I'm stuck in bed. Most artists have sort of a natural ebb and flow to their work, so I call it an ebb or a slow. I work around "The D Word™" because I'm not diagnosed and I don't want to appropriate others' struggles, it crops up infrequently and usually doesn't last long, and I'm often am able to battle it with what amounts to preternaturally aggressive self care. But when it takes me five hours to get out of bed and three more to drag into the shower, sometimes I wonder if I'm not doing a well choreographed dance of denial around a social stigma.

It was time to take an inventory of how I'm doing on the self care–something more creatives should probably do as well.
Some people say self care, and they're talking about bath bombs and frozen yogurt. That's cool, and I love me some caramel over ice cream too. But a lot of times I've noticed with myself, and sometimes with other creatives too, we need to be a little more fundamental. Are we doing nothing to reign in what is sometimes debilitating levels of empathy? Are we eating right? Are we getting enough sleep? Did we take a shower yet? Have we given ourselves time to work on our art. And if we have given ourselves time to do art, have we given ourselves time to NOT do art too? (Because when you're done at work, you clock out and go home because it's time or your boss tells you to, but when it's art and there's always more to be doing, it's easy to get carried away.) Do we have enough time to do something that doesn't feel like work–read a book, watch some Netflix, play Fallout? Did we shut off Facebook for a while and stare at a fucking squirrel or something?

Sometimes self care means brushing your teeth, putting on clean underwear, not working a sixteen hour day, and the mani/pedi is nine degrees of separation away.

Here's an experience I've had a zillion times: I'm talking to someone who was having trouble conjuring their writing muse or another artist struggling with their creative energy, and upon closer inspection we found out they had eaten fast food for five of their last seven meals, were running on half their normal sleep that week, and couldn't get their mind off a fight they'd had on social media.

I'm not going to tell you that a nap is all you need, that a spinach salad will cure chronic illness, and I'm sure as FUCK not going to tell you that exercise beats store-bought neurotransmitters, but for a lot of creatives, ticking off too many in the "No" column of basic self care can take a toll.  So here's my Wednesday process shared with you in my ever ongoing quest for transparency and process demystification.

I took a hard and brutally honest look at my usual suspects. Diet. Exercise. Sleep. Obsession*.  All but sleep were lacking. And sleep, that rascally scamp, had its own issues.

Diet: Yeeeeeaaaaah.  Time to eat a lot better. I've been doing a lot of eating out and a lot of frozen meals since I've been pet sitting so much. Need things with cellulose. Maybe not swimming in gravy.

Exercise: I have been in a bad pattern where I don't exercise until I've finished writing and the writing probably was going slowly because I was not feeling a little pumped from some exercise. I sit there and dribble out words all damned day.

Sleep: I was worrying myself because of how much I was doing, but then I remembered that the advice nurse said when my body felt like it was no longer in distress, it would try to catch up. And the best way to do that would be by getting some sleep. So suddenly I would feel tired all the time for a while, but that was okay. As long as I can still fall asleep at my regular bedtime without any trouble, I'm probably getting the right amount. (There are a number of conditions that would make this advice bad for others, so please don't consider it universal.)

"Obsession": This has to do with things I'm letting myself lose time to. Once upon a time it was Everquest and after that WOW and these days it's a lot of Facebook. It's basically been off the charts lately. Since the election really. I usually do okay for a while when I notice it, but so much of my writing promotion stuff is online that every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in.

I named everything I could that was bothering me. Everything I could think of. From South Korean nuclear posturing to a stuffy nose. Feelings don't come with convenient labels to the thing that's causing them, and this is especially true when there's more than one thing on the table. Where does "Upset about Friendsplosion" end and "Need Alone Time" begin? (Wouldn't that be awesome though?  Oh yeah allergies kicked up, but they were only 1.3% of my bad mood. The rest was that fight I had with Shelia.) Best for me to just to get everything on the table and fix as many things as possible in one go. It's not science–I don't need to isolate the X factor.

I categorized everything as being either something I could do something about, something I could adjust the impact of, or something I couldn't really do anything about more than the way I dealt with it. I can't stop hurricanes, and my worry won't save a soul. I can't do more than write and keep showing up to protests when shitty harmful politics are rolling out every day. I can't stop the people who have friended my public account from having difficulty with each other, but I can develop new ways of handling my public persona that insulate me from such things. And of course I absolutely can deal with feeling overwhelmed by treating my personal and writing time with more regard.

A plan came together.

  • Start seriously meditating. Daily. There are too many things I can't control and I am not able to turn off my empathy.
  • Take another full step away from a community that has high levels of infighting. Adjust my public profile to be more of a simulacrum. Unfollow some of the worst offenders. See that as more of an "entertainer" profile. Admit that trying to keep up is very bad for my mental wellness.
  • Take more admin weekends to catch up on emails and get back to guest bloggers and potential guest bloggers. Starting this weekend.
  • Allergy season is starting, and I seem to have the sniffles. It's probably not the only thing wrong, but it almost certainly is contributing. Start taking allergy meds every morning. Even if I feel okay at the time. Winter is coming.
  • Keep sleeping when I'm tired. Even if that means long naps. I'm not having trouble going to bed, so that is probably my attempt to catch up on sleep debt–and right on schedule.
  • Keep writing about how crappy fascism is. Keep showing up to protest. I can't control politics. I can only use my words to resist.
  • No more double-book petsitting jobs unless the overlap is no more than a couple of days and the jobs are close together. 
  • There was an immediate spinach salad and eggplant parmesan and many more such things need to be worked into the rotation.
  • Clean my room. I know some artists delight in the chaos around them, but it always makes me feel a little disorganized in my head, and like that's one MORE thing I really need to get to. Knock it out.
  • A long walk every day. If I can't write early, I'll walk instead, and write later. But a bit of physical exertion needs to be part of the routine.
  • Cancel all my non-critical weekend plans and take some time for myself. Yes, that includes writing, young man! (That was in my mom's voice if you couldn't tell.)
I made some choices that will affect this blog this weekend. Today's post should have been yesterday. I'm taking admin weekend this weekend to clean up menus, reply to emails, and fix links. Monday I'll put up the poll results and turn over the next round of our poll. The stuff I had mostly written I'll start pumping out next week. The "early access" post for this Friday will either be up by Monday or will be the NEXT Friday's post.


  1. Good. :) and thank you for the reminder and the model... frome someone with all the diagnoses, but who still can't self-care.

    1. Blargh! It looks like blogger doesn't do nested replies. So this was directed at Julianne (the first comment):
      Your name kind of tripped me out, especially since my maiden name was Winters. I can't tell you how many times my name was accidentally written as: Julianne Williams! Apparently Winters and Williams sounded really close over 1980s and 90s crappy phone lines.

    2. And then it made me a liar and nested the characters moment! Lol.

    3. Yeah, it LOOKS like it's not going to do a nested reply, and then it does.

  2. Everyone needs to follow most of this plan (or at least I do).Thanks for sharing.

  3. Glad you are being proactive. And definitely go be outside....lean on a tree, go watch that squirrel....

  4. Thank you for this, especially the part about too much empathy. Oh, and the part about taking a long walk every day. I look forward to updates.

  5. Thanks for this from those of us who can really relate. It does help to see others in the same boat. Sending wishes of fulfillment, peace, production and relaxation.

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