Keeping out of the slump

Gotta keep from getting pulled down.
Gotta keep from getting pulled down.

December is upon us.

Days are getting shorter — and colder. Nights are getting longer — and colder.

This is actually an excellent time of the year for me, when I can focus in and really think about where I want my life to go, and how I want to live it.

So long as I can keep out of the slump, which invariably comes with the end of the year.

Like many people, I look back on the past year and measure myself against my intentions of 12 months ago. Last year, this time, I was pretty sure how things were going to go. I had a 2-3 year contract, I was getting up to speed with my job. I was adjusting and fitting in pretty well. And things were looking up.

Till they weren’t. And then they were, again. My contract changed – cut short by a change in business plans that nobody really told me about. That freed me up to go looking around for What Else I wanted to do. And I found a fantastic opportunity doing the kind of work I wanted to do.

Now that may be changing, as well. I really don’t know. Because just like last year, they’re not telling us anything. And people at work are getting down and depressed. Nobody is wishing each other happiness in the holiday season. I wished everyone Happy Thanksgiving in an email before I left, last week, and only one person responded. Some would say, “Rude”. I say, “Existential crisis”.

So, I’m a little down in the dumps, these days. I’m drifting in and out of depression.

Fortunately, I’m not depressed as frequently as I used to be. I used to really battle depression on a regular basis, especially during the holidays. Some years, I actually wanted to bring my life to an abrupt end. Clearly, I didn’t, but in years past, I wouldn’t have complained if I’d had my life cut short.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt that low, and that’s helped me just get on with my life.

But in a way, it’s more problematic now, because I’m out of practice, dealing with that stuff. And now when I fall prey to depression, it feels abnormal. Disorienting. Like there’s something wrong with me… When really, it’s just the time of year, and my schedule and routine are both out of whack.

I’ve been having headaches again. Probably because I haven’t been exercising like I should. Or drinking enough water. I need to get back to that. I walked the stairs a few extra times yesterday — three long, steep flights — so that’s progress. I’m also recovering from a week of being off my schedule, not having ample down-time, being over-social, and dealing with people’s “stuff” that I usually don’t have to mess with.

And things feel like they are dissolving around me. Job changes — who knows what will happen after they start the “business transformation” in earnest, at the end of next week? Personal changes — not having a doctor, and needing to find a new neuropsychologist. Money challenges. Marriage challenges — as my spouse continues their downward spiral that was arrested for a week, and now is back to the usual. And all the political stupidity that goes on, with everyone running their mouths and apparently making no effort whatsoever to try to understand others, or amend their own behavior to make a positive difference… or avoid war (of every kind).

Sigh.

I guess I’ll just take it day-by-day. Just handle what’s in front of me, and take as good care of myself as I can. I’m kind of losing track of what I’m doing at work, and it’s bothering me. I’m very scattered… partly because I’m anxious about what’s to come, and I’m tired. I have my notebook with my items I’m tracking and focusing on, and I need to fall back to that again, just keep it simple, and focus on the essentials.

And move. I don’t move enough at work. I work in a big building. I could take long walks to clear my head. I think I’ll do that today.

I also need to break up my day, when I have long periods of uninterrupted time. If I let myself just zone out, it’s not good. I need to keep myself moving, keep myself on track. It’s a mistake to let myself just zone. I need to really keep discipline in my life – go to bed earlier and let myself catch up with myself. It was a really long week, on the road, and I still need to recover.

So, there it is. I need to get back to my routine. Keep up the house. Do the chores, take care of business. I feel better, when I get things done. I also need to do things in shorter spurts — intervals of activity, interspersed with rest. Just use my head — and make a point of keeping disciplined through it all.

I have plenty of reasons to be depressed. And I know that there are biochemical reasons that people are depressed, including myself. But I know how to deal with them. I know how it happens with me. And I know what to do about it.  I know what turns it around and gets me out of my slump. For me, biochemistry explains things, but it also shows me the way out. And the way out, is to keep to a schedule, really think about what I’m going to do for my days, be present in the moments, and stay steady. Stay clear. And know my limits, so when I need to take a break, I do just that.

Yes, things are a bit depressing, right now. I just don’t think sinking into depression is the best use of my time.

Not by a long shot.

So, that being said… Onward.

Advertisements

Hardship benefit #1 – unparallelled focus

Being able to block it all out can be good.

Hardship isn’t always a bad thing. Obviously, it’s not pleasant — that’s why we call it “hardship”. Yet sometimes it can bring good things with it. It always brings something — and it’s up to us to determine what we’re going to make of it.

One of the things all my difficulties have taught me, is how to focus and keep my attention so intently on what is in front of me, that other things can’t intrude. I am often so inundated by stimuli around me — too much light, too much sound, too much confusion… all the details, details, details — that I cannot concentrate on what’s in front of me.

It can be a huge problem. The distraction, the stress of having to keep up with everything… The exhaustion that comes from blocking out and/or processing all the input… The sheer overwhelm… It’s not always fun. Sometimes it feels like a gauntlet.

And I’ve learned to deal with it — with a focus so intent, that very little around me can intrude.

I am reminded of that fact right now, with my current work environment. It’s more open than the old office was, and I’m also seated right next to the copier/printer. So, periodically throughout the day, I hear the printer kick off, and people come over to get their printouts. It’s not optimal, obviously, but it’s also not throwing me.

There are also other groups around who talk and laugh and have bursts of conversation that I find distracting. And then there’s the regular interruptions from emails and instant messages and people showing up in my cube.

It certainly helps to have at least some separation between myself and everyone else, in the form of a wall that rises above my eye-and-ear-level. But there’s still a fair amount of interruption in the course of each day.

But it’s been worse, in the past.

I used to have a job where I sat at a desk that was just a folding table right set up beside a printer. I was a contractor, so I didn’t warrant an actual cubicle. The people in that office did a lot more printing than the people I work with now. There was constant movement around me, constant distraction. But I loved my job so intently that it didn’t bother me. I was locked on. It was a 6-month contract that was going to be over soon, anyway. And even though they took pity on me and gave me a desk in a cubicle before long, it didn’t make any difference to me. I did damn’ good work at that folding table out in the open.

The interesting thing is, that was a couple of years after my last TBI, when everything was crazy and nuts and a huge-ass problem for me. I was incredibly stressed on many levels — mentally, physically, emotionally.

At the same time, though, when I was at that job, I was AT that job. I WAS the job, as they say. And when I think about it, it seems like I was really using the stress of that location at that job to block out a lot of crap going on around me.

Analgesic stress, you know…

Plus, it was mitigated by the fact that I was working just 20 minutes down the road from where I lived, and it was a contract, and I was sprung free from the overwhelming stress of my former life. The crush of my daily workaday life was balanced by the short commute, my ability to come and go pretty much as I pleased, and even though a lot of really challenging things happened at that time, I handled some of them extremely well and I improved in certain respects. (Although, when I went back to a hellish commute, that all changed and the downward slide picked up.)

Thinking back on my life of regular overwhelm and one problem after another, I realize that I’ve learned how to block out the crap around me and focus in on what is RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME RIGHT NOW.

Nothing else exists. No problems, no troubles, no complications. There is only the moment at hand, nothing else.

That doesn’t always work in my favor, as I tend to forget things that aren’t in front of me, if I don’t take steps to remind myself. I forget to mention important things to people I’m talking to. I forget to do important things that need doing (like paying certain bills or getting my car checked out). I tend to talk about things at that very moment, rather than things that have happened recently, because outside the current moment, nothing else seems to matter. So, I need to write notes and also send people messages to remind them to remind me to mention certain things.

But for the sake of getting things done, I’ve gotta say that getting kicked around a bit has helped me quite a bit. As long as I have ample time for recovering and recouperating, I can adapt and adjust. Take away the recovery time, and things become very different, very quickly. But if I have time to “integrate” and let it all sink in, it’s good. It’s all really good.

It might not seem like it at the time, but ultimately — again, with rest and proper integration of what I learn along the way — what doesn’t kill me, makes me a heck of a lot stronger.

Onward.