Oh I don’t know these buildings,
I think I am lost.
Fuck This Place – Frightened Rabbit
I feel weird ending the other blog the way I did. Worried I gave the impression that now I’m a full-time writer and I exercise that my depression is better or gone completely. I would hate to mislead people into thinking what I used to think: that once my situation changed, I would feel better. That once I had some validation, I would feel better. That once I had money, or could buy a house, or could work from home I would feel better.
In truth, the moment I was told I had won that competition I was relieved. The moment I found out I was a Sunday Times Bestseller I was actually asleep. I was so stressed my book wouldn’t sell well that I turned off my phone, drew all the curtains, got into bed and just passed out. I woke up to messages from my agent and publisher who were so, so happy for me and sounded confused and disappointed not to be able to tell me in person, didn’t understand why they couldn’t get in touch. When I found that out, I felt relief, followed by an immense sense of guilt I wasn’t happier for myself when all these wonderful people were so happy for me.
I am at the end of book three now and still my publisher and agent are so kind and so patient with me. I should have finished this a long time ago but have experienced so many mental setbacks and such insecurity that I’ve had long periods where I’ve withdrawn and not been able to even look at my computer. This is the reality of it all. And it’s not uncommon. You probably feel it too, maybe to the same degree, maybe to a lesser one, maybe even more so. Big achievements often feel like a relief rather than pure joy. After all the hard work you’ve put in and what’s at stake, this hardly seems irrational, does it?
But it really knocked me down when I realised that getting validation and having my literal dream job didn’t cure my depression. I remember taking that call confirming I won the competition and experiencing a very fleeting moment of pleasure before sinking into a pit of imposter syndrome and stress.
It took me two books to realise I was only ever going to be happy when I was actually writing and when I was writing for myself. There are lines in both my books which still make me happy when I think of them because they surprised me. I surprised me. I didn’t know I could write like that, the way I wanted to write, because so much of writing is getting it wrong.
And that’s where I’ve gone astray on this book. I’ve been pushing for the perfect first draft, though I know by now it’s impossible. So rather than risk writing badly, I’ve avoided writing at all.
It occurred to me that I used to avoid exercise in the same way but that I eventually managed to overcome it, with practice, and with techniques that maybe I could bullet point here and which work for both writing and exercise and pretty much anything you want to succeed at but are struggling with.
- Start with really small goals. Just do ten minutes. Just twenty minutes.
- Start even smaller if you have to. Just put on your workout stuff. Just get your equipment ready.
- Prepare the night before so that when you wake up everything is in place for the day. That way minor setbacks such as ‘I can’t find my sports bra’ or ‘my laptop isn’t fully charged’ can’t blossom into excuses not to do it.
- If you feel like shit, lower your expectations. Do something lighter like yoga or a short walk. Do some planning instead of writing.
- Just keep moving. If you need to drop some weight to keep up with the exercise then drop the weights and just do the squats or the lunges. If you need to drop a plot point for now just put some fucking brackets in saying what should happen at that point and then move past it to a bit that’s easier to write.
- You don’t need to do it every day. Just make it count when you do by doing your best. Sometimes I say to my personal trainer that I’m not feeling 100% but I will give him 100% of what I’ve got. Sometimes I think this to myself when I open my laptop for the day.
- You/I need to let go of our fear of failure. Nothing is fixed. One bad workout doesn’t mean it’s all bad. One bad day of writing doesn’t mean you’ve ‘lost it’ as I often tell myself. As if I ever had this ‘it’ and it was mine to lose. It’s bullshit. Shake it off and start again the next day.
- You know when you need to step back. Your body will tell you. But be honest and don’t stop for longer than you need because you make your life so much fucking harder if you take a long break. It’s harder to come back from, you will feel it in every muscle. It will feel scarier walking back into the gym or picking up your laptop.
- Ask for help. I am terrible at this. Awful. But if you need a friend to go running with, find that friend who likes running or skating or sexy dancing or spin class or anything. Ask someone who might be like you or me, who just doesn’t want to be alone in all this.
- Ask your doctor. Some GPs actually prescribe gym memberships through the National Exercise Referral Scheme. Here is a link to the Welsh page: https://www.wlga.wales/national-exercise-referral-scheme-ners
- If something isn’t working for you, drop it. If there’s a class that makes you feel like shit every time you take it then get rid of it from your life. If there’s a side plot in your book which is distracting and difficult and not working: drop it. I should have done this MONTHS ago by the way with book three. Once I had stopped trying to make this broken thing work I felt my mind relax again and now I am finally making steps forward.
- Deadlines are good but don’t crush yourself with them. Don’t tell yourself you’ll be deadlifting 60kg in three months and then hate yourself for failing. Don’t tell yourself you can write a book in six months when you’re in the grips of a serious depression. Be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot achieve and you will be happier and more productive for it.
- Whatever you do, make sure it’s for the right reasons. I started writing this book because I love it. I started exercising to help my mental health. When both these activities become unpleasurable I remind myself of why I started them and it helps me to carry on through the fog. If you start to exercise because you hate your body you won’t have any incentive to keep going when it’s tough. If you start writing a novel just to make money…sorry, I’ll try and finish this when I stop howling with laughter at the fucking idea of it. For money!!!! You kill me.
- No one is looking at you. Don’t compare yourself to other people. We know these things but depression breaks our sensible thought patterns and we forget. Just do you and forget everyone else or you will never get anywhere because there is always someone doing better and if you’re busy watching them you’re only wasting time.
- This is an old favourite: you never regret a workout. This is so infuriatingly true. No matter how bad that workout was (you were tired and sore, you were slow or you were wobbly and off balance) you will never regret doing it. You will pretty much always regret not working out, or writing, or going out with your friends like you arranged a week ago when you felt much better than you do now. What really sucks? You will always dismiss this sometimes when you wake up hurting and just want to stay in and not exist and then you will feel worse again, later, a rebound misery, because you know you would have felt better if you’d stuck to it.
- I have had to train myself to think of things as though they cannot be cancelled. If the thought flickers through my head I immediately shoot it down, like I’m playing Duck Hunt on my NES. Those duck thoughts come and I shoot them right back down before they can fly off screen and start gathering together, planning on how to make me quit that day. Be prepared for them. Eventually you get fewer and fewer because the ducks know not to fly there anymore. This was aa terrible metaphor but see? I stuck with it, even when the ducks were telling me to pack it in.
- Keep going. I know I’ve already said this but I mean it seriously this time. Keep going. You are worth fighting for, so fight for yourself.
Title taken from the lyrics to Woke Up Hurting – Frightened Rabbit.