Hello Blog, I Missed You!

Hello, hello! Last time we saw each other,* I was making plans for August. Short update: my big task for August was Permanent Residency, but when I realised how hard it was going to be… I applied for Settled Status instead. So the big task finished very quickly, and as I haven’t had other plans laid out, I wound up doing lots of… cleaning.

My motivation to do work went down very quickly.

Noting against cleaning, but things just got boring! So the month of August ended up in a frustrating manner, because my plans for cleaning were more concrete than my creative to-dos – a lesson here. I did manage to do yoga 5 days a week, so that was cool.

Now it’s October and I have Other Things. Specifically:

I’m participating in a conference at University of Birmingham about East European artists and need to create my presentation;

I signed up to join a union and kind of have to ring them up to talk about my workplace;

Oh yeah – my workplace has new exciting plans to do more with less. Specifically for me to do all I do in less paid time and with a shorter lunch. Which is stupid. Which I said to them in an email except in 1500 words, so we will see how this goes.

I’ve played a drag gig and an improv gig this week and I’m feeling pretty good.

And I want to go back to writing but am struggling to get the time. Something about the fact that I spend most Sundays chained to the kitchen table, batch cooking for the week. I haven’t worked on my play since early August and I miss it.

Maybe I can buy some Sainsbury’s soup just for a week. Something’s gotta give.

Anyone have recommendations what to see in Birmingham? I’ll be in town for the conference…

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*metaphorically….

New month, new plans!

I waited, and waited, and AUGUST IS FINALLY HERE AND I HAVE IT OFF OMG.

As you might remember, historically time off is something that I struggle with. And this time I have an entire month, rather than a week of half-term which I can spend by burying myself in YouTube. I simultaneously want to rest and Do All The Things and because of that – I will do a bit of both.

Here is the plan: I wake up, drink water and take vitamins. I do a bit of yoga from a 30 Days of Yoga by Adriene. I eat porridge and have an hour of work on a Long Term Benefit Task (primarily my settled status in the UK); then 20 minutes of not-screen-time (walk?) and then another hour on Immediate Benefit/Current Task (this week cleaning and also lots of rehearsals for a gig in Bradford next Sunday!). After that revision of goals (hello, bullet journal, I’m enjoying you!) and LUNCH.

After lunch it’s time to have fun things – OR work, but with a clear understanding that it’s extra. I will also do a freewrite + gratitude journal (about 20 minutes). Tomorrow I will try and get into a pilates class, just to test the local gym, and maybe, just maybe, take a look at the local cinema!

Will this work? I don’t know. I’ll attempt 5 days, except Friday might be a bit different as I swim in the mornings. Weekends are a different beast, if only because I have some gigs planned that will require prep and potentially some rest after. I mean to revise things and change week to week if necessary, so I can adapt if I figure out a better way to do it.

But in general the plan is to do lots of work and have lots of fun in a semi-structured way – enough that I don’t get lost, but not enough to choke on it. A little test-drive of freelancing – can I work if I plan to, rather than when my job tells me to? If nothing else, I should get some stuff done and do some yoga, so can’t really go wrong here. I’m looking forward to the results. Wish me luck! 🙂

How To (Not) Get Stuff Done

So I wrote this dramatic blogpost about feeling dissatisfied with my career and frustrated (this is not a surprise, frustrated is my middle name, but I’m trying to change that….). And it’s been a couple of days. And I’m still thinking about it.

Truthfully, I feel safer being employed for any number of reasons. (cough… Brexit… cough…. but not only that).

1. When I finally became employed a year ago, a huge mountain of financial stress just… fell off me. I’m in no hurry to pick it up again. My mental health likes a steady paycheck.

2. While I may complain about not being able to do stand-up and socialise as much as I’d like, early morning and regular hours are a huge boost to, you guessed it, my mental health.

3. I regularly experience a “grass is greener” moment, like: oh look, here are all these amazing things I used to do that I can’t do anymore, like… songwriting! and…. stand-up comedy! and open mics! And…. yes. I’m not doing those things, or have to really fight to do them on monthly, rather than weekly basis. And yes, the frustration and feeling unable to commit to my career are also a drain on my mental health, since I keep mentioning it.

HOWEVER. Having all my time free and unencumbered would NOT mean that I’d be doing all the things. And there are other things that I am able to do now that I was never able to achieve, such as: regular exercise! (great for, uh, mental health? and physical health, wherein I’m having some problems!); regular writing! (I do occasionally skip a week, but I AM WRITING MY PLAY – it may take me ages at my current pace, but still doing it!); regular sleep! (I’ve never been insomniac, but it does help to have habits). So:

4. I have a tendency to blame my job for being too emotionally and physically draining. But there is nothing to blame. I like my job, and I chose it from the ones I felt available to me. The things that recommend it (gratifying, all-encompassing, engrossing) are also the things that detract from my ability to do artistic things. Take it or leave it, but it is a choice.

5. It’s not a question of whether I should leave my job, as much as it is a question of: can I sustain myself financially and emotionally if I do that?

Therein lies the problem.

PROCRASTINATION AND OTHER FUN WORDS

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I achieve and don’t achieve things. The nemesis of my life has been, simply put, my inability to follow through with plans I make. And while a lot of the time, the plans I’d create were unrealistic and perfectionist, i.e. accounting for every minute and not scheduling any breaks, sometimes even when the plan is good, my day can go completely off the rails.

A lot of it is to do with how I feel.

For example:

  • I respond well to an immediate, external deadline. No deadline = hard.
  • Accountability is helpful and so are other people. Doing things by myself = hard. Even if I need to spend meaningful time with myself to recharge. I don’t always know how.
  • I often tell myself I “should” do thing A, while I secretely need thing B. Example: this morning I should have cleaned. I needed to watch some videos for a bunch of time and cry. Now I need to write, but I’m writing a blogpost, because I need to think, not my play (that will come later). And I’m late to a picnic. So.
  • I often don’t know how to rest or don’t recognise that I’m out of energy. And sometimes I will consciously push myself past it (especially on a deadline) and pay for it later (and be frustrated with my perceived inability to do things).
  • I have a lot of projects. I mean, A LOT OF PROJECTS. I have wide interests, I’m unwilling to drop any of them and specialise, but on the flip-side I get very, VERY overwhelmed.
  • There are things that I need to do that cause me discomfort and fear. A lot of the time I don’t do these things until I absolutely have to. I postpone certain job applications, I’m terrified of making certain decisions, I can’t touch certain topics with a footlong pole. I used to wind up reading fanfic, and nowadays I just watch a looooot of YouTube videos and eat sweets. (if you know me or have been reading this blog for a bit, you’ll know that I’ve gone off sugar at times, or off internet for that matter. These things are not necessarily feasible in the long-term for me, i.e. staying offline all the time won’t work for any number of ways. So for now I recognise that internet + sweets are my imperfect coping mechanisms for when I’m Not Dealing With Stuff).
  • The things I fear and procrastinate about don’t all come with deadlines. For example, I’m getting much better at managing my finances and doing tax return. But there are things to do with managing my career that intimidate the holy hell out of me, such as, oh: participating in comedy heats! Designing a website! Starting and promoting a functioning Patreon! These things don’t have deadlines, but not doing them is cheating me out of progress.
  • I really struggle to bring myself out of certain moods. I rarely go really low anymore, but if and when I do, I very much struggle with asking for help.

THOUGHTS ON POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

So this is hard. And pretty long-term, far as both problems and potential solutions go. Much as I’d love to just quit my job and run off into an artistic sunset, I’ve done that twice before and these were two hard landings – I’ve not been able to sustain the confidence and high energy and commitment to my plans for long enough to launch a career and more importantly, keep it going – and I’m saying that as a person who has had successes in her chosen fields and regularly does paid artistic work.

I’m not going to quit my job or having a job until I 1. have savings that are explicitly for the first 3 6 months of freelance life 2. I can commit to plans and fullfil them in a way that doesn’t self-sabotage my future self. 3. I am generally in a place where I can trust my mental health to sustain itself in the hardships that freelance life (or any life) is sure to bring. These are some lofty goals, but they are goals.

So. Here is what I’m going to do.

Step 1: ongoing – Pursuing mental health help. I am, and have been, looking into getting some help in a low-cost way. It’s not easy – NHS is underfunded, queues are long etc. – but I will keep trying and hopefully can get some support.

Step 2: ongoing – I will continue to refine and test methods of planning, organisation and self-motivation. I just started a bullet journal, I have my token system –  and am officially designing my August, so it will great to see 1. if it works and 2. if I can stick to my own plans this month!

Step 3: NEW! I will work on designing a supportive community. I have some fantastic friends and family whom I can ring up and I couldn’t be more grateful. However, I live in London, my friends are busy and so am I and my family is in another country. I’ve been pondering ways to get support on a more regular basis – I really feel a need to get a creative team. More on that later, when I get things going.

Step 4: ongoing + new – Health and exercise! I finally went to see a GP again and am working on being more regular about it. Exercise-wise, I’m still swimming, but some other things I’ve been doing, I had to temporarily drop. This August I will make the time to visit a bunch of classes, to decide whether I want to do anything local (pilates, yoga, DANCE) or stick with the things my workplace provides. I am VERY excited about this (DANCE) because I love dance and I haven’t done it in ages and DANCE.

Step 5: ongoing – Keep on creating new routines that will hopefully contribute to better mental health and artistic activity. I recently discovered Yoga with Adriene, which I enjoy; I’d like to go back to songwriting if I can; I write poetry whenever Rhymes With Orange have something on… plus I blog here whenever I manage. That’s in addition to batch cooking with Oddbox vegetables and trying to keep to cleaning routines I set up with my flatmate and, and, and…. you get the gist.

Step 6: NEW! I will work on getting past my fears. I’m currently writing down a list of things that I’m scared to do, so I can plan in more detail how to get past them. This will have a separate blogpost(s?).

FINAL THOUGHTS

Wow, that was a long blogpost, which I meant to only write as a draft to get my thoughts together. I definitely earned some tokens for that! It cheers me up to see that a lot of solutions I’ve come up with are ongoing, which means that I’m already in the process of changing things up, even if the results are not always readily apparent. Onwards and upwards. Let’s go!

 

Am I Staring At The Sun

When I was in middle school, I listened to Offspring’s Americana.

Welcome! To! Ameri. Cana.

Please. Make. Your. Selection. Followed. By. The. Pound. Sign. Now?

It was a time when I relished heavy guitar music. It was the perfect soundtrack to light teenage angst, slightly more serious burgeoning depression and assorted problems that came with my territory.

I only got into that one Offspring album, mainly to understand the “Give it to me baby… – uh huh, uh huh!” chorus that showed up in parties. (One day I’ll talk more about growing up in peripheral Poland with American culture, but it will have to wait). To my surprise, I loved it. I loved it not for the acknowledged hits, such as Why Don’t You Get A Job. Two songs captured perfectly my sense of alienation: Have You Ever and As You’re Staring At The Sun.

I wrote alternative lyrics in Polish for As You’re Staring At The Sun. I scribbled its lyrics in journals, I sang it under my breath, longing for the full breadth of rock abandon. I wanted somebody to give me a microphone and allow me to sing it, not realising that a rebel scream is never, ever permitted.

Time has passed. I have mellowed. My voice may well be more suited to jazz than it is to rock or punk; I may secretly (or not secretly…) be very sensitive and afraid of offending people, rather than screaming hard-ass rebel I’d dreamed of becoming. I dreamed of being unafraid. Thats a dream that did not come true.

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Have you ever been an artist with a dayjob? Have you ever hated your dayjob? Have you ever found a dayjob that was fulfilling? Have you ever felt like you were cheating on your art? Have you ever got caught up in a paradox? Have you ever felt that there was more?

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I have a dayjob and I’m good at it.

I am a performer. Autistic children are a hard, hard audience. And to a point, I am thriving. Instant gratificaion, being off media, lots of running, changing landscapes. I’m loving it, I’m extremely organised, I’m incrementally… dying? Dramatic. But I do keep realising that I re-organised my life for this work to an extreme extent, with discipline that I was unable to execute as a freelancer. And that bothers me. Bothers me a lot.

So what’s the problem? I like my kids and my team, I am part of the school’s community, I occasionally check out other jobs but don’t make serious plans. I rarely manage to apply for artistic jobs of any kind: I either have no availability or no juice. The job is taking the majority of my energy; if I manage to do anything at all, it’s a surgical strike, maybe three hours a week that I can afford to spend on art. And that bothers me. Bothers me a lot.

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Why do I work harder for a company than for myself? Well, it’s much easier to believe an established entity that hires others. I am motivated by other people’s presence – a lot easier to do work with immediate reward and impact that work for possible future gain. But also I keep noticing this thing of working AROUND my dreams rather than towards them. Like, I’d written songs, but god forbid I honestly pursue getting paid for that, I was just tinkering (i.e. wrote/improvised over a 100 songs, semantics); I wrote three shows, but forget about touring; I love singing, but THAT’S terrifying; I play the piano, but practicing that would trigger my primary school trauma or whatever.

I’m scared. I keep doing things that are slightly AROUND my fears. I’m a good comic with decent timing, but forget about doing heats – nevermind that with my job open mics are all but impossible, because I need to sleep. I can do drag, but not drag improv. I can do improv, but not burlesque. I can do stand-up, but not clown. I haven’t sung for months. I’m losing myself a little.

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I need a new metaphor. Is pursuing my art really staring at the sun, an impossible endeavour? There are still the small things that I do while I wait, like writing this blog, rehearsing twoprov every two weeks, my weekly playwriting sessions and monthly poem-writing courtesy of Rhymes with Orange. These are the real things, things that will count and be beautiful. But I strongly dislike feeling marinated in fear – it’s an emotion I live with and maybe can’t imagine life without.

Perhaps it is time to make a list of things I stopped doing and consequently started fearing. A sum of all fears, to be conquered in small installments. Because aside from the universal fears that we all share now – the rise of fascism; the fall of environment – my personal fear-demons have been kicking my behind for longer than I care to count. And maybe there is no perfect fearless Rita that I dreamed of – just the one willing to face herself, and keep doing it rather than getting comfortable.

Happy Pride: A Love Letter To Fanfiction

It is Pride Weekend. My Facebook is full of glitter and my nails are rainbow. But my mind strays from more straightforward (hah) celebrations to a road less travelled. Here is my quiet love story with fanfiction, which I started reading around age sixteen, became obsessed with at nineteen, to the point of writing my Master’s thesis on it back in 2011.

The beginnings

As a kid I read Everything (and some of it twice). I was pretty obsessed with novels (hello, Three Musketeers and everything Dumas ever wrote!) and about age thirteen I stumbled into the world of Harry Potter. Thirteen is, of course, the age that the Polish translation came out and was heavily promoted. I got myself a free copy of the book and from then onwards, I was lost. Around book four, I gave up on waiting for the translation to happen and got my greedy little hands on the English-language Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. At the launch of book seven I was actually in the US, queuing up at Borders around midnight; I remember getting up at 7 am next day and being done with the book around 2 pm. I devoured Harry Potter and at a certain time, I ran out of it.

Enter fanfiction. In fact, history repeated: I found a Polish language fanfic forum, read most of it, found an ongoing translation of a fic I Really Liked (which I can’t link to, as the author has long gone to the published side of the Force….!) and clicked through to the English version. My story of fanfiction is, in many ways the story of me mastering the English language. I have done it mostly through reading romances about wizards. You’re welcome.

What is fanfiction?

Technically, it’s any fictional writing that is viewed in the context of an “original” or “canon”. In this sense, POV books such as The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, could be regarded as such. To many people, fanfiction means lack of quality and literary merit: those people don’t know where to look for good fanfiction. Oh, for sure, bad fics exist; but like any literary society, fanfiction has developed recommendation systems (recs), that help you locate where the good stuff lives. Final definition could be that fanfic lives on the internet, for free, whereas Real Literature you get paid for. Aside from a furious mime pointing towards the Fifty Shades of Grey books (their literary merit is a separate discussion), that definition mostly covers it.

Why fanfiction?

To be honest, my first reason to read fanfic was to get Moar Harry Potter Content. The proliferations of a Canon are infinite – what if we genderswap everyone? What if we put these characters in a rock band and have them tour the world? Some of the variations are almost scientific: take character A, character B, a dash of universe U and… wait for an explosion. In fact, many writers cut their teeth on fanfiction and it’s easy to see why: you get to practice controlling the plot when the characters are already created; you get to play in somebody else’s sandbox, decorating a pre-existing sandcastle. You get to, interestingly, find the holes of the original – to go back to the Harry Potter example, its mythical quality (some houses are Inherently Bad, etc.) lends itself very well to a meditation on the nature of prejudice. I have read many a fic in which the Slytherin perspective has been told, in which the original rejection of Draco Malfoy by Harry Potter never happens, changing the course of war and history for the better. The very nature of fanfiction is looking for a different narrative, much like jazz music meanders around a melody that’s being improvised on. So you’ll find alternative universes where being gay and trans is so normal nobody remarks on it, the authors trying to figure out those perfect societies; conversely you will find “Man in High Castle” meditations on the nature of authoritarianism as well.

Hello, porn!

The discovery of slash (gay male) porn was something of a revelation of my late teens (those who were around when I was writing Girlfag in 2015, know). And while you may laugh at that, fanfic has given me a representation of my own erotic imagination – something that Pornhub regularly fails to do. Writing fanfiction tends to be, roughly, a female pursuit, although it’s been years since I’ve seen any stats on that. In pre-internet times, when Kirk and Spock  fans congregated and put their K/S (hence: slash) love stories in fanzines, it was mooostly older women writing it: perhaps the ‘net has changed this. These older statistics wouldn’t reflect gender diversity, anyway; rather, let’s say that fics represents a form of desire that veers away from the male gaze and mainstream narrative – and that’s pretty important when it comes to, well, sex scenes! I’ve read a lot of fairly idealised romantic sex in fanfic, but what draws me in these days is the representation of stuff that I literally never find in mainstream. Sex after trauma; kinky sex; transgender characters figuring out their true selves; exhaustive conversations on consent and boundaries; it all lives there on the internet. Fic gave me a broader understanding of humanity in general, as well as my own desire – because as well as fantasies of perfect sexual encounters, you’ll find the full breadth of human insecurity, awkwardness and the inherent humorousness of sex, as well.

What draws me to fanfic?

To this day, I read fanfic, although it is rarely Harry Potter. I made several lateral moves over the years, reading all and any fandoms regardless of knowing the original texts. I’ve been mostly guided by good authors: people who write amazing Harry Potter fic have written great Stargate Atantis, Due South or Avengers fic and therefore introduced me to those fandoms. The combination of non-male-gaze perspective, the structural lens with which the authors tend to view society and a good sex scene here and there is pretty irresistible! I have also followed the published authors who had to delete their fics once they got published – because I knew their writing to be good back when nobody was paying. I love fanfiction, because it’s a supportive community; because it offers a new writer some training wheels with which they can learn to ride through the peaks and valleys of plot; because it’s a place to meditate on favourite characters, their backstories and motivation. And finally, because at its best, fanfic is a way to change the world – one Harry-Potter-is-gay-and-proud story at a time. And don’t get me started on Captain America….!

Café Writer: A Moment In Time

Here I am: sitting in Beaconsfield café, having borrowed Manbear’s noise-cancelling earphones, trying to write. About to write. Almost writing.

Finishing coffee and my half of weird-but-tasty rose-nut cake. Looking around for Cat (actual name) whom I met on my previous visit. About to set the timer for a chunk of twenty, so that I can kid myself that twenty minutes is all the writing I’ll do. So that I can start.

Previous visit when I met Cat (actual name).

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. As I mentioned in the previous post, I massively overscheduled, and my dayjob (working with autistic children) wound up being very stressful as well; the heat didn’t help. I finished my work week in tears on Thursday, hanging out in Primark with a wonderful if long-suffering friend. I spent Friday getting it together a.k.a. going to a massage and swimming class and not doing a blessed thing otherwise. I spent yesterday lying on a blanket in the park, being handfed and handfeeding Manbear olives. And here is today.

Today I woke up anxious. Today I was able to meditate (!). Today I slowed down enough to get stuff done and not be angry with myself. Today I cleaned up a bit, because mess stresses me out. Today I forgave myself and stopped striving for insane speed. Today is today, and I’m still sitting in Beaconsfield cafe, with vague echoes of reggae hidden by noise-cancelling earphones.

Today I’m writing my play. Today I’ve shown up for myself. Today is a moment in time. And I’m feeling love.

 

 

Do All The Things One At A Time

Here is a quickblog: I have been entirely absent while trying to Live Life, also known as: having gigs during the week and at the weekend. Since my last post on 31st of May I performed in drag, as Your Polish Boyfriend, twice (at London Improv Theatre and in Dina, Sheffield, during Migration Matters Festival – there are bits on my Instagram, @rita_vision). I also did a poetry gig at Rhymes With Orange and an improv jam at Thursday Nights Live (The Nursery). I had a long break from writing my play and the blog; I haven’t rested much; I have been so tired and so overwhelmed. And now I’m here.

This is not going to be a fully-fledged post. But just to signal: yesterday I had an actual cry about how many things I had to do. I’d hit a wall! There is a point when too much stuff seems important and you end up doing none of it… because you’re too overwhelmed.

Probably doesn’t help that my brain automatically dumps everything into one category of “Important!!!!!1!”. I actually had a pen-and-paper planning session in the end, deciding which things I would have to drop. As my inclination is to Do All The Things, this was painful. Bu necessary.

Have I learnt from this? Not quite. I’m still massively overscheduled for the upcoming week. I tend to feed myself well and sleep decently – am pretty resilient – so I can push those limits a bit. But soon enough I’ll have to have that conversation where I reconcile the list of my creative projects and habits – list that counts upwards of twenty – and make decisions about what fits my energy levels and existing schedule. Painful. Necessary. I am indeed learning to Do All The Things. Learning to do them One At A Time. Next: perhaps learning to finish projects. But that’s a story for another post.

On Motivation: How To Get Yourself To Do Things

Hello, hello, hello! I skipped a week, but fear not, it was for a good cause! It is half term, after all, and after having written here and here about how I struggle to rest, I actually… you know… rested.

Not that the week has been work- and stress-free. But I managed to go out dancing, hang out with friends and watch some stuff, as well as catching up on tasks. So, aside from my suddenly developed habit of going to sleep at 2 am, I would cautiously call this week a win.

One thing that I have achieved that has been brewing for a while is the beautiful token board that you’ll have seen featured in this post. “What is a token board, Rita”, you will ask, “and why are you arts and crafts skills so awesome?”. As for second, natural talent. But about the first.

As some of you know, I work with autistic children. It’s been about a year since I started in this line of work, and challenging though it may be, I also love it. I’ve been learning a lot about attention and motivation, because, quite frankly, to help my students I often have to strive to be the most interesting person around! I have to be fun to hang out with, as well as implement correct methodology while motivating my primary-school-age students to focus and do small bits of work. So it got me to think about the nature of motivation quite a bit.

When I’m motivating a student to do work, I will frequently use tokens – such as stickers, lines on the paper, stars, what-have-you. Anything will do, as long as the pupil and I share an understanding that after a finite amount of tokens – say, five – we can go Do Something Else That Is Not Work. Pupils will complete their work and then choose their own reward, whether it’s playground time, spending time with their favourite toys or playing a computer game. Getting tokens means practicing patience; it helps associate the feeling of achievement and reward with doing work-related things; it allows to track how much work we have done. In fact, when I was in training on the topic, one of the token systems we frequently mentioned was money: a thing that we perform a lot of work for, a reward that most of us are chasing to exchange it for other things. And even though we want the things that money can buy, money itself generates a satisfied feeling… because at some point the token gives you the same feeling as the real thing that it stands for. I digress.

As part of my homework I had to write down an idea of my own token board. Nobody asked me to actually implement it: the goal was to understand the things I was asking my students to do, to engender empathy. But I was intrigued: collecting points and measuring achievements is such a human thing to do – could I leverage this to do tasks that I struggle with? As I have recently done a test that was meant to measure how I form habits, based on my personality type, I knew I was what they call an Obliger: a person mostly reinforced by other people’s company. I tend to do well with outside-the-house employment, accountability, things like that: if I want to exercise, I will sign up to a class rather than try to do it on my own. Every time I try doing things when alone, it takes much more psychic energy and I fail much quicker.

Long story short: I combined the idea of reinforcing good habits, the token board and a bit of pomodorro technique/Unf*ck Your Habitat time management. I perform difficult tasks (often the lonely kind, of “this is so boring, but future Rita will thank me” kind) in chunks of twenty minutes, with roughly ten minute breaks. I reward each twenty minute chunk with a token (or more, if it’s particularly difficult) and every token is worth £1. I am rewarding myself with buying things that I really want to buy – the kind of shopping that I can’t really justify on a budget. I literally earn my own money back from myself at well under a minimum wage and you know what, you can laugh if you like. I don’t care.

It works.

I’ve been trialling this system for a while, but this week I actually created the board and started tracking what I do. I am well over twenty tokens at present. I have done writing (a solitary activity that I love, but struggle to get going), cleaning (something I struggle with, but also a thing that helps my mental health a lot), meditation, exercise (yes, there was a solo trip to the swimming pool for good forty five minutes!). I am trying to be cautious and not do everything at once, but I also can’t deny it. I. AM. SO. EXCITED!!!

This might not always work. I am relatively well, psychologically, and I need to be pretty organised to keep this going. But quite frankly, I’m a bit relieved. I have spent literal years conversing with my brain – trying to convince it to Do Things and being met with a blanket “I DON’T WANNA”. Add to it that often the things you most want to do are the things that terrify and paralyse you the most – also known as the concept of resistance (hugely recommend “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield on the topic) and you have one confused Rita, who really wants to Make Things, but is wondering why she can’t get anything going. Apparently the answers are either “call a friend (and set up some accountability)” or “hack your brain (and set up some sweet, sweet rewards)”. Anyway, I dearly hope this will continue to help me out in keeping my Creative Cave clean and my Creative Brain well exercised.

If you need me, I’ll just be here, associating putting a pin in a cork board with feeling of satisfaction and a fresh Amazon purchase….

Coping Mechanisms And How To Change Them

Hi everyone. Here is me, writing this blogpost while a voice in my head keeps insisting that it makes no sense to do that and it isn’t worth it.

Charming, huh.

I attended a workshop recently and the facilitator said something very interesting. She said “I really respect people, who have addictions and vices, like alcoholics. These things are coping mechanisms. And if you want to take them away, you need to put something in their place”. It stuck with me. I, too, have coping mechanisms – behaviours that get activated when I’m not well. I’m very aware that they are not helpful… and I’m not sure what to put in their place.

My coping mechanisms would be broadly classified as Media Intake.I binge-watch youtube (rarely films, it feels like too much of a commitment). I read fanfiction and random articles on politics, social justice, literary things. Advice blogs. Friends’ blogs. Whatever happens to interest me that day. I almost always have 50 windows open in my phone browser.

then

It started as reading, when I was a kid – I literally never put a book down. I was a weekly visitor to the library and got an adult library card as a teen. The librarians knew me, and they’d realised that I ran out of things to read. I would bring stacks of books home and attack them with relish. My brother complained (we shared a room) that I would wake him up on Saturday morning with rustling of the pages.

It’s hard to say at which point “I love reading” became “I read to not deal with life”. My dad certainly noticed it and tried to read what I read, just to monitor the content a little. I was bullied at school and had little in a way of social life, and music school that I attended had a pretty busy schedule. So instead of sneaking around with friends, I would put a book on the piano and try to read and play at the same time, so that my parents would hear me practice. I’d shove a book under the piano when checked on. At that point it was maybe a compulsive behaviour. But even so, to a certain point I did pretty well in school – my reading habit helped with general literacy and understanding and gave me lots of extra information, so it wasn’t all bad.

A lot of the time I read things that would have been broadly classified as “trash”. Okay, that’s snobbish. I am a Lit graduate, after all, but things that I read As Coping Mechanisms were fantasy, sci-fi (anyone read Star Wars before watching it, or just me? and all the published fanfiction?), romance and mystery books. Oh, and adventure books – travel, cowboy-and-noble-Native-Americans genre, three musketeers and anything else that Dumas ever wrote. Books “for girls” and books “for boys”, if it had a plot, I was on it.

Then Internet happened.

Around my A-levels and in the beginning of university I was having a bad time. It was then that my fanfiction addiction has truly blossomed. I discovered fanfic in middle school, age 14, but it was in high school that I switched to reading it in English. As a result, I graduated from the limited puddle of Polish-language Harry Potter fanfic to the limitless ocean of English-language, any-fandom-you-want fanfic that the Internet offered. I was able to mainline fanfic for sixteen hours a day if there was nothing else to do. My family were worried, but there was little they could do at the time. I still went to school, but I spent every other minute inside the computer screen. In the end,  I managed to graduate high school and pass A-levels despite not having studied; to no one’s surprise my highest scores were languages and writing, Polish and English. (I actually scored higher in English than in Polish, although that’s a different story altogether).

My parents finally divorced when I was 20 and at university (and if you think this is a non-sequitur, let’s just say that there were Reasons why I’d not been able to deal with life well), and I went and got myself 3 years of therapy, so I managed to graduate my MA levels and get back to halfway functional. But my media intake coping mechanism remained.

now

Fast forward to today. This weekend. I recently attended a workshop that gave me a lot of Feelings. I have work tonight and tomorrow and a lot of things to do and to plan. And I haven’t been able to do a goddamn thing – not clean my room, or the kitchen (my turn); not cook the week’s lunches, not take my vitamins, go to the swimming pool, do a bit of yoga. Not learn the quiz, which I will lead in 5 hours time. No nothing. I’ve eaten random foods and watched everything by Try Guys, and read a bunch of fanfic.

I realise that there are things that would help me right now. Meditation would help. So would exercise. Even cleaning would give me back a feeling of control and impact over my life. But frankly, I keep having a feeling of despair instead, of failure. I failed. I didn’t do All The Things that need to be done. I have a deadline (a.k.a. quiz and work tomorrow), so however imperfectly, I will be forced to deal with stuff. In general, deadlines help. Social commitments help, unless I am deep enough in the funk that I start avoiding people, which can also be part of the pattern. I don’t want to deal with life, so doing things that I “should” do is a no-go, but doing anything else is also a no-go, because I “should” be doing The Things That I Need To Do.

Even writing this blog is difficult, because I promised myself that I would blog weekly, so this is a “should” activity. But writing this down helps a little. So here is the thing: I am locked up in a room inside of my head, and the way it works is that being stuck seems to be the best option (don’t want to do a “should” activity! should not do a “not-should” activity! best stay and watch another video!). I know about things that help – literally anything that breaks the stalemate in my brain – a conversation, a shower sometimes (other times I’ll go straight back to watching after the shower).

I haven’t had an episode this bad in a while.

The kicker is, this, right here, is the reason why I can’t be a freelancer. This is why I’m not a full-time actor or writer. Because my brain gets me stuck in places. Much as I don’t always like having a Muggle day-job, if things get really bad, it gets me unstuck and also pays regular money.

The thing is that reading and watching videos are things I do to chill. To rest and enjoy myself. So it’s hard to distinguish between having a bit of a rest and sinking into a funk. Not until I’m already deep under. And there is no resolution to this blogpost. I hope that I can run a semi-decent quiz tonight. I hope that I don’t hate myself for wasting all this time. I hope I can clean the kitchen at some point.

I hope I can break free. But that’s a tall order right now. Maybe I could start with a shower.

 

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