As I’ve blogged about a few weeks ago, I’m really hitting a wall these days. The lack of social release has been messing up my brain, as has my continued impersonation of a rabbit living in a subterranean burrow. The physical health stuff for my leg wound is behind me, thankfully. We have no financial pressures. Nothing looming on the horizon, at least nothing we aren’t prepared for already mostly.
Yet I’m struggling.
I have always prided myself on my ability to carry a fairly high degree of stress. No matter what, I can get most jobs done if I’m physically, emotionally and mentally capable of doing them. Build a house? No. Rewire the basement? No. Write a guide to astronomy? Sure. And most of the time I am pretty clear about my limitations. I don’t usually take on something that I can’t handle. Occasionally, I overcommit on some stuff, scheduling things as an introvert that I really shouldn’t, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m thinking more like a taking on a project.
Like biweekly trivia, for example. I started running a game back in the late winter / early spring, and it was an opportunity for 10-12 people to play online trivia against each other, mainly for my wife and son plus friends and family. I expected the crew to grow, and it has slightly, but also waxed and waned. I like trivia, it seemed like a good social connector, and I was happy to do it. Until I wasn’t. It’s actual “work” for me to organize the questions, and as much fun as the initial part can be in some ways, the actual running of the game was producing very little payoff for me. The people playing would go off to their breakout rooms, joke, guess, compare answers, submit answers and come back to the main room, while I sat in the main room by myself and waited. It’s not fun doing that part as I’m not interacting with anyone much, unlike previous iterations I’ve done as trivia master. I didn’t expect that, I confess.
And it was getting to feel like a chore. One that I couldn’t emotionally or mentally commit to consistently. I found myself realizing on Tuesday night that I hadn’t prepared the questions, and trivia was set for Wednesday. Or I would go to host the game on Wed and suddenly realize I hadn’t created the draft answer sheets yet (it’s only a few minutes work, but it IS work that I had to do at the last minute before the game started). I found myself regretting running it or more pointedly, regretting having committed to it.
So I did something I almost never do. I backed out of my commitment. I announced no more trivia until at least September. That was REALLY hard for me to do. Yet it was also self-care. Letting myself off the hook with the same advice I would give a friend if they were in the same boat. “Heal thyself first, everyone will understand, and it isn’t a ‘must do’, it’s a ‘nice to do’ at most”. I feel like I let Jacob and Andrea down, but I couldn’t carry the load.
Dropping another major ball
Today I dropped another major ball. I am part of a local astronomy group, and an idea came up for a project. It is something I had considered doing in part for some time, potentially on my own, potentially as PolyWogg or with the astronomy group, or even another astronomy org. It came up, I volunteered to do it with someone else, and I even signed out some materials from one of our partners to do it. That was February.
Since then, I’ve worked on it piecemeal here and there. Writing, testing, researching. I tried some setup previously, worked okay, I thought I was good to go. Timing was an issue, as was the weather, but I thought, “No problem, by the end of March”. Then April. May.
I’ve been getting super stressed. Stuff I tried wasn’t working the way it should have. The editing wasn’t coming together. But I stuck with it, I’m stubborn.
But then I hit another wall yesterday. I tried to assemble the telescope to get the last bit down, and two of the things I needed to do, I couldn’t remember how to do them or figure it out. It was like I’d never seen a telescope before. Yet I need the steps to work to complete the filming. It was a no-go. And in the current COVID world, it’s not like I can have someone simply pop over and help me over whatever mental block is happening.
It has been feeling like a weight around my neck pulling me down. No longer a project I was excited about but one I’ve been dreading. And as I said, some of the pieces were done, but when I went to assemble them as a draft, the video quality is not up to standards. It looks terrible. Almost like image stabilization wasn’t on (comes standard) or my quality settings were at the minimum (they weren’t).
In a different world, I would blast through. I might even take time off work to just “get ‘er done”.
Except I don’t actually feel right now like I CAN get ‘er done. I have no gas in the tank, emotionally, physically or mentally.
As unprofessional as I feel having to tell the organization I can’t do what I started to do, and that most of what I created so far is unusable, it would be even more unprofessional of me to continue trying to make it work when I have no confidence it will.
So I returned all the materials today and wrote my organizers to say “Sorry, I’m out.” I feel more ashamed than relieved. Maybe relief will come later. For now, I feel like I let myself down, as much as them. Sure, they’ll say “We understand”, and say all the right things about mental health, etc. But it doesn’t change the reality for me which is I committed to something that I feel I should normally be able to deliver. And instead? I’m flaking out. More like tapping out, but it feels like flaking out.
Feeling lost as I turn 53
On a larger scale, I’m feeling lost. Confused. Languishing as they say in the New York Times and elsewhere. Overall, mentally, I like the newer metaphor that we have a preset limit for our mental bandwidth. We can put through only so much, and as the noise of COVID and isolation grows, it reduces the usable bandwidth further.
Mine feels like I’m operating at 50%. I’ve had some recent social outings, one to some friends for an afternoon by the water, one on the weekend with Jacob and Andrea to Pinhey’s Point and then eating on a local patio. But it’s not replenishing me, not filling up my bucket as rapidly as previously, nor diminishing the noise that reduces mental bandwidth. It’s refreshing, but it doesn’t feel sustaining.
As an analytical introvert, I get an energy boost from reading, and I am binging like crazy this month. I read about 20 books a year over the last few years, plus or minus 10 or so, mostly fiction. Since June 1st? I’ve finished 21 already and half-way through my 22nd. It’s keeping me going, but it ain’t replenishing things either.
I have huge projects outstanding, and I have a way forward, to rebuild what I have lost, to find myself so to speak, but that is a post for another day. What has been interesting to me is a combination of three feelings.
First and foremost, I’ve been wondering about the nature of being lost. If you think of being “physically lost”, say in the woods, when exactly do you reach the stage of “lost”? Most people think of metaphorical “lost” as being without a destination or more aptly a plan to get there, while physical “lost” as being more about not knowing where you are or how to get anywhere necessarily. For me, I think it is a combination of not knowing where you are, not having a plan to get you somewhere else, and not necessarily having a “somewhere else” in mind as your destination.
But at what stage, as you lose your location, your route or your destination, do you become officially lost? I have always had a pretty good idea of my current location, the “id” as my sense of self and my capabilities. As my mental bandwidth takes a beating, I don’t know that I know my current capabilities exactly. I don’t know that my destination has changed much, I feel relatively confident on that, but I have no confidence that my previous “route” so to speak would get me there. I have doubts.
Secondly, one of the series’ I’ve been binging is the Jane Whitefield series. The premise is simple…she’s a one-person Witness Relocation Service to help someone disappear when people are trying to kill or hurt them. While I don’t want to disappear, the series does bring up lots of questions about the relationship between “self” and “identity”, “habit” and “character”. For example, her primary advice to her clients in the stories is that everything is about simple incrementalism. If people know you like to read, don’t go to the local library in your new life. You can read, but altering your habits slightly will make it harder for them to find you. Small steps that move you from your “old life” to your “new life”. Equally, there is a lot of discussion of how much of “you” is from your “nature” side and how much is learned from your “nurture” side over the course of your life. What can you easily change, what can’t you change?
Finally, I’m also binging the Robert B. Parker series called Spenser for Hire (or at least on TV, that is what it was called). In it, Spenser is the intrepid private detective. He has a best friend, Hawk, who is a top-level thug, a mercenary free-lancer doing whatever he is paid to do and not worrying about the metaphysical nature of it all. Spenser, by contrast, thinks all the time. It is not uncommon in the books for other characters to treat him a bit like he’s some wannabe throwback to the Knights of the Roundtable, rescuing fair maidens and young men in distress, including his brilliant psychologist girlfriend. He lives by a code, he does what he says he’ll do and never quits even if it hurts him; he’s quite thoughtful in general, neighbouring on philosophical; thuggish in his physical behaviour; and the renaissance man who likes to cook good meals, drink good spirits, and read voraciously. While he sounds impossible, he’s also rather down to earth in his wants and desires, eschewing dress up clothes, etc.
Yet what entices me to the series of late is the sense of “completeness” that he has created. Like most characters, you can see the “self-reliance”, that’s inherit in most protagonists I think. But what sets Spenser apart to a great deal is much of his life is also relatively “autonomous”. He knows what “completes” him. And in the early days of the series, what completes him is simply him. I’ll come back to this in a later post, as it seems misleading and disingenuous to try and discuss it in detail here.
But between the feeling of being lost, wondering about identity, and the ideas of autonomy vs. self-reliance, I feel somewhere in there is a nugget of wisdom I need to find.
Each year, on New Year’s and my birthday in June, I take stock of where I’m at, where I’m going, and how I’m doing at getting there. This birthday seems more like a crapfest, not feeling like I’m in control at the moment. I’ve got some ideas of how to get back on track, but I’m not there yet.
Tune in tomorrow for another episode of the weird mind of PolyWogg…