No, this is about another seasonal malady...
The last few weeks have been sort of hard on me. I’ve been blue.
First came the fun and frustration of our family gathering, and the subsequent letdown of returning home and driving my cousin to the airport so he could fly back to London. We had a wonderful time in Montana, but I felt myself getting prickly and withdrawn that final Sunday morning, the chaos and chatter causing a sort of sensory overload that short-circuited my empathic tendencies, and it was all I could do not to shut down completely in my own personal shell of serenity.
Of course, once we were home, I missed my family immediately — the hugs, the love, the warmth. So it was a potent and conflicted process of recovery.
And, after a full year of intention, I finished my second young adult novel. It’s 450+ pages of, well, good stuff, as far as I can tell. I gave it a third chapter-by-chapter read-through last week, and was surprised at how rich and funny and exciting it turned out to be. I’ve created a world populated with unique and lovable characters, and a deep mythology that will make writing subsequent books a joyful experience. I’m so happy with my progress, but I also have a mixed-up sense of letdown and anticipation that is overpowering my everyday motivation — I’m done with this first book in the trilogy (for now, until I get to sit down with an editor and work through ways to make it even better), but all I can really do at this point is wait to hear who’s going to pick it up and run with it.
It’s pretty much all I can think about day-to-day. I’m like the little kid who orders X-ray glasses off the back of a comic book (ships in 4-6 weeks!) and runs home every day to check the mailbox. Will a literary agent or publisher love the book as much as I do?
Then...work has been a challenge, and not for the usual reasons. We are busier than we’ve been in some time — enough that I’m bringing in extra help. But I’ve noticed a distinct softening of motivation and performance within the team, and though we’re all going through our own stuff, I also know that my own struggles to stay on-point and focused have a real effect in the office.
And, finally, I’ve been dealing with a weird brew of romantic challenges that have left me feeling unsettled and disappointed, with the occasional bit o’ sweetness mixed in. I’ve felt especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the heart, hurt out of proportion over things that should have left just a minor ache.
Any of these experiences alone wouldn’t be enough to make it difficult for me to drag myself out of bed in the morning. In fact, I’m generally able to power my way through my own low ebbs of motivation and outlook when necessary.
So I’ve been wondering why I’m struggling so.
And then, just this week, it hit me.
All of my student life, my grades (never particularly stellar in the best of times) would take a precipitate dive from January through March. My parents would wring their hands, set extreme consequences ("You are SO grounded!"), insist on a new regime to ensure I’d get my homework done (two hours at the kitchen table after school every day), and we’d all agree that things would get better.
They always did, mostly, even though we’d all forget about the two hours at the kitchen table thing within a couple of weeks. My study habits wouldn’t magically improve, but as the weather warmed and the sun took longer and longer to make its way across the sky, my test scores would head back up into the stratosphere, and I’d miss fewer homework assignments. My grades would gradually inch their way up to passing, and all would be forgiven. It was my annual academic doldrums.
So, right now, I’m in that same space.
How could I forget until now that this time of year is almost always hard on me? How could I forget about the doldrums?
Well, duh. I was so deep in my own stuff that it didn’t even occur to me that my low-level sense of desolation could come from a deeper place. But as I sorted through my laundry list of the last few weeks’ miscellaneous challenges, I suddenly awoke to the sensation that I’d missed an important detail.
And what a relief that is.
Knowing I’m slogging my way through the doldrums doesn’t make the little things that hurt more than they should any less painful. But the perspective itself makes me less hopeless about it all. I know what to expect from the doldrums — I know that they’re time-limited, predictable, and they always end. I know that this hazy sadness over everything and nothing will clear up all on its own, without any rash efforts on my part. I know that I’m generally a happy person, which means I don’t need to beat myself up when, in this rare instance, I’m less than what I expect of myself. And it means I have some good self-talk to dial up when I get snippy with Simone (and to watch for the doldrums in her, too).
Knowing I’m in the doldrums also means that I need to find ways to keep myself productive and in good cheer. It means indulging myself in ways that keep me moving forward, but not indulging in self-sabotaging behavior.
So, sure, I can have a night alone on the couch with some good scotch and a bad movie, but I can’t spend the weekend that way. I can take a walk from the office to the coffee shop late morning and buy myself a pick-me-up, but I can’t take the rest of the day off because I don’t feel like doing anything on my list. I can take Simone out to dinner because I’m not motivated to cook anything, but only one night per week.
I also know that I need to force myself outside more often when the weather is gorgeous — more time snowboarding, walking around my city, and not hesitating to hop a plane to someplace warm and beachy for a weekend escape.
In other words, I’m lining up ways to keep myself comfortable and happy, to be gentle with myself, but I’m not letting myself off the hook from getting stuff done. And, hey, look at me — I’m actually sharing that I’m feeling less than stellar right now...that’s a pretty big deal, too.
We’re almost halfway through February. The days are slowly, incrementally, getting longer. We’ll still get plenty of snow and cold in the coming weeks, but the end isn’t all that far off. I love snowy fireplace days, alone or otherwise, and I still have some fresh powder to enjoy. Before too long, it’ll be springtime, someone will have picked up my novel, and my team and I will be crushing our deadlines and thrilling our clients.
And the best part is this: no report cards for me.