Well, March was quite a month, huh? I almost don’t believe it’s over. I have no idea what April will bring, or May, or… You know what, I’m not really going to talk much about current events, except to say that I am fine, and doing about as well as anyone can be at this point. My job is fairly secure, my apartment gets lots of sunshine, I’d mostly be eating pasta from my pantry anyway. I’m all right. But I haven’t been writing.
I had really hoped that this newsletter would be a victory lap for finishing my draft, but I’ve written less than 5,000 words in the last 31 days. And look, that’s fine. I’m being as kind to myself about it as I can, but what I’ve realized really drives my anxiety about it is actually this completely irrational fear that since I’ve stopped writing for a month, I’ll never start writing again.
And here’s another, barely related thing. Last summer I wrote to you all about starting swimming classes; obviously swimming is just not gonna happen for awhile. And that’s fine, but I have this completely irrational fear that since I’ve stopped swimming, I’ll never start swimming again.
And hey, since I’m not swimming but I do sit around at a desk staring at a screen pretty much all day every day, I wanted to find some other way to exercise, even just a little. I started doing some yoga videos on youtube. My goal was to do it every morning, but that was never realistic (believe me when I tell you, “I’m not a morning person” does not even begin to cover how not a morning person I am), and yet I had this completely irrational fear that if I missed a day, I’d never do it again. (Luckily for that one I have a lovely best friend who talked me off the ledge.)
And looking back, I can see plenty of places where this irrational fear has forced me to keep going on things I’ve hated, or caused me to be extremely upset with myself when I did let things go. It’s not helpful or healthy, but once I started looking for it, the source became pretty glaringly obvious.
My mother was bipolar.
I don’t mean that in the colloquial, able-ist way. She was diagnosed when I was in college, after having been misdiagnosed with depression years before that. The misdiagnosis was pretty understandable, though. Her depressive swings were major and obvious, but her manic swings were easy to miss. They didn’t manifest in a lot of the ways you usually expect — no sudden gambling or draining her bank account or quitting her job, nothing so drastic it interfered with her day-to-day life. Instead, her manic swings looked like this: she started projects.
Mom was a crafter. She quilted, she knitted, she spun her own yarn. Now look, every crafter I know is enthusiastic about starting new projects, and buying all the supplies for them; and while I don’t know every person reading this I feel safe in assuming that if you’re a crafty person, you have a closet full of yarn or fabric somewhere that you’re saving for a rainy day. Totally normal. Except the way Mom did it, all of her energy would go into getting started, with deadlines and schedules and a total 100% belief that this time it would go smoothly and get done, and then… it didn’t, and she’d feel awful, and the project would go into a shame closet to never be spoken of again.
Or sometimes it wasn’t crafting, it was exercising. She’d give herself a strenuous, completely unrealistic training routine, and swear that she was going to get back into the shape she’d been in during basic training, and she’d do it vigorously for a week… or two… and then crash, and do nothing, and feel horrible about it and hate herself.
Or heck, do I even need to tell you about the novels she started, wrote the first 10,000 words of, and then never returned to again?
Again, this is all stuff that can be totally normal and healthy, but for my mom was not. It was driven by mania (mild, as manic episodes go, but mania nonetheless) and always ended in shame and self-loathing and despair. I don’t think she had anything to be ashamed of, to be clear! Not for her mental health, and certainly not for starting projects. But she beat herself up for both of those things, and I grew up watching this cycle, which is now deeply ingrained in my psyche.
The thing is, I don’t fall into the cycle. Instead, I almost never start anything new. I don’t pick up new hobbies, because even when something looks intriguing I assume I’ll start it, drop it, and never look at it again. I certainly don’t spend money on new hobbies; if I do try something new, it’s only if it’s free or very, very cheap. And of course, there’s the anxiety I mentioned earlier: that if I let a habit falter for even a day, it’l be gone forever. That if I stop pushing forward however briefly, I’ll be back at square one and never take another step forward again. Even if it’s something I’ve been doing for years. Even if it’s something I enjoy.
I love and miss my mother very much, but I live in absolute terror of falling into her patterns. Even though I never have, even though I don’t share her disorder, even though there are many, many ways in which I’d love to be more like her. My anxiety is irrational, but to be honest, I have no idea how to work through it. I don’t always recognize it in the moment, and even when I do, I still feel the dread when I miss a day of yoga, and when I do sit down to write it’s motivated by shame and fear and a feeling that I have to or I never will again. That’s not a good headspace for writing! But I don’t know how to flip the switch so when sit down at my desk because I want to, because I love writing and I’m excited to finish this project.
My hope is that now that I’ve identified this I can start to cut off the thought cycle. I’ve done a ton of work on other anxieties and training my brain to recognize when it’s being irrational (yay therapy). I want to be able to try new things when they look fun, and I want to be able to take a break when I’m overwhelmed without a shame spiral. So I guess all I can do is keep recognizing it for what it is — irrational — and try to be kind to myself when I catch it. We’ll see how that goes, I guess.
Unrelated note: if you’re new to working from home or doing it much more than usual, I’ve got one major tip for you. Make sure you’ve got lumbar support. Roll up a towel or fold over a pillow and put it behind the small of your back while you sit, and you will feel way, way better at the end of the day.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Here’s hoping for a better month in April for all of us.