Occasionally, I find myself a little lost. It isn’t the kind of lost where I sink into apathy and depression, but rather the kind of lost that means I have to take a breath. I become so caught up in doing – in doing a project, finishing reading a book, getting blog posts written, blasting through my to-do list – that I don’t take the time to check in with myself and see whether I’m feeling good about what I’m doing, and how I’m doing it.
In recent years, I’ve become a little unsure and less confident about who I am and what I believe. I’ve discovered new things, that have helped me understand myself a little better, like introversion, and being an HSP (highly sensitive person), and that I’m prone to mild anxiety. I’ve read as much as I can, and I’m still learning what this means for me, so as to make sure I have the tools to cope and thrive.
These periods of feeling lost have been debilitating in the past. It seems that summer is often my worst time for losing my motivation and my sense of direction. I have been depressed for the past three summers, each beginning with a feeling of lacklustre enthusiasm, running out of steam, and failing to deal with the conditions that make me feel that way. Last summer was far more productive – I did at least start my new novel – but dealing with the grief of loss and family angst didn’t help, eventually grinding things to a halt. These problems have tended to resolve themselves by the time autumn rolls around, but I don’t have the luxury of allowing that to happen again.
This year, however, has been good for me creatively and productively. On days when I don’t feel I’ve done much, I just have to remind myself that every little thing adds up to something – a little bit of writing, a bit of art, a bit of mind-mapping and journaling, planning projects. We are all too hard on ourselves, because we want to do well, but we also can’t do everything at once. My strategy this year is to work on at least one thing a day that moves me forward. Whether that’s writing an essay, a blog post, or doing some research, I’ve managed to keep that going.
I’m doing two things at the moment that are stopping me from sliding backwards. One of them is reading Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, which is a treasure-chest of advice and encouragement for writers. If I’m feeling stuck and discouraged, her words have reminded me just what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. She has been through everything that a writing life entails – from the need to be kind to yourself on difficult days, to establishing a rhythm and the habit of daily writing.
The other thing I’m doing is using a free 52 page workbook from Rachel Giesel called The Real+Good Writer’s DNA. It digs deep into who you are, what you read, the authors you love, what you write, and what you want. So far, I’m doing a little of it each day, and it’s encouraging me to reflect deeply on what drives me and interests me, and what kind of writer I am and want to be. If you’re feeling a little stuck or unmotivated, I would recommend it: so far it is rekindling my enthusiasm and reminding me who I am and what I love. It helps to take a closer look at things, just to check that you’re doing what you truly want to be doing.
When we’re in the midst of change and growth, I think it’s easy to feel like you’re being swept out to sea, and you can’t make out the horizon. Maybe you’re too fixed on that horizon and need to pay a little attention to yourself, to what is going on in your inner life, and with your heart. It’s not selfish to check in with and take care of ourselves; we can only be better humans for other people if we’ve filled ourselves up first. So you just have to take a breath and slow down. Look a little deeper, or just take some time for silence and rest.
‘We have to learn to be kind to ourselves. What we’re doing isn’t easy. We have chosen to spend the better part of our lives in solitude, wrestling with our deepest thoughts and obsessions and concerns. We unleash the beast of memory; we peer into Pandora’s box. We do all this in the spirit of faith and exploration, with no guarantee that what we produce will be worthwhile. We don’t call in sick. We don’t take mental health days, or holiday weekends. Often, we are out of step with the tempo of those around us. It can feel isolating and weird. And so, when the day turns against us, we might do well to follow the advice of the Buddhist writer Sylvia Boorstein, who talks to herself as if she’s a child she loves very much. Darling. Honey. That’s all right. There, there. Go take a walk. Take a bath. Take a drive. Bake a cake. Nap a little. You’ll try again tomorrow.’ – Dani Shapiro, Still Writing.