On Being Overwhelmed – and Finding Perspective

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing my typical headless chicken act, heaping unnecessary pressure onto myself with an extra -large spoon and wondering why I’ve been feeling totally overwhelmed and unable to write a damn thing in what little free time I’ve managed to carve out for myself. The culmination of this stress was evident when I got around to submitting the one piece of recent writing I was really proud of to a competition on Monday – only to realise that the deadline was midnight the night before. Fortunately my super-pragmatic boyfriend was on hand to prevent me falling too far into a slough of despond over the incident, but nevertheless it made a further dent in my already damaged armour.

The truth is, whilst I established long ago I want to be ‘a writer,’ I grapple every day with what sort of writer I want to be. One day I’ll write a magazine feature pitch, the next I’ll plan a novel or start editing a previous story. Then I’ll turn my attention to short story competitions and try to churn something out for them.  On top of that I’ve recently completed an eight week sitcom writing course at the City Academy, and have this week embarked on a seven week crime writing course at the City Lit and signed up for a conference next weekend on how to get published – all this as well as holding down a job four days a week. Oh, and did I mention I’m also working on a screenplay idea with my writing mentor?

Just reading that last paragraph back makes me feel anxious, it’s no wonder I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. But what I’ve realised today, after having given myself a couple of days’ downtime (by which I mean no pressure to write anything, having impromptu catch ups with friends, sitting in the sun at lunch time instead of being hunched over my computer fretting about what to write and yet still not writing), is that when it starts to feel too much that’s generally because it is too much. It won’t help to try and force yourself to do more, the only thing that will work is to allow yourself to do less. Only then can you regain perspective and control over your situation. And, in my case, only then can I remove the creative block that undue amounts of pressure create. This realisation has made me feel instantly calmer, and you know what? I can feel the ideas start trickling back into my brain just like a tap that was turned off has been turned on again. Perspective isn’t always easy to find when you’re mired in the mud, but when you do find it again it’s both a joy and a relief. Phew.

Advertisements

The Wonder Years (or why ageing maybe isn’t so terrible after all-maybe)

Today I was listening to Radio 1 Xtra (I know what you’re thinking – isn’t she a bit old to be listening to that?) when the dj, an enthusiastic chap with a penchant for substituting every other word with “cuz” (yup, definitely too old) began bemoaning the speeding up of time as people get older. “I mean cuz,” he said, “I’m only twenty six and already it feels like a week goes by in a day. Imagine being, like, fifty! How bad would it be then?” How bad indeed.

When it comes to whining about ageing I’m hardly one to talk. Until I reached my current age of *coughs* thirty two I’d always enjoyed lavish birthday celebrations, but as my thirty third hurtles towards me at alarming speed (that dj was right, dagnamit) I must confess I’m feeling hugely (and that’s an understatement) underwhelmed (I am also aware, at this point in proceedings, that older readers may well be gnashing their teeth and branding metaphorical claw hammers positioned directly above my skull). The logical part of my brain is constantly telling me that there’s nothing I can do to stop the process so I may as well accept it, yet I can’t stop fixating on my frown lines long enough to listen to it.

If it’s true that you’re only as old as the man you feel then I’m twenty seven all over again. Though, in all seriousness and as great as it is, being a woman who is five years older than her partner is not without its challenges. Fortunately I’ve always been young for my years in both spirit and looks (an old soul I most certainly am not) and so, for the time being at least, it suits me to be living a youthful and relatively unencumbered lifestyle. But that’s not to say I don’t continually worry whether what I do is age appropriate, or draw constant comparisons with my peer group, many of whom are now playing out the traditional marriage and 2.4 children scenario with aplomb. Don’t get me wrong, I want that myself desperately, and not in the TOO distant future either (cover your ears darling), but right now the thought of sleepless nights, snotty noses and nappies is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. I want to go on more adventures before I settle down, to live a bit more and eke out just a bit more time for being selfish. But what about convention and my biological clock? Wahhhh!

Then, in the midst of all these brain-churning thoughts, I stop. And a realisation dawns on me. No matter how old we get, those of us who do keep ageing are the lucky ones. So many people’s lives are tragically cut short before they have a chance to worry about worry lines, or contemplate the future of their relationship or career. As the Buddhist way of thinking goes, when all is said, done and worried about (I made that last bit up), all we have is this very moment – so what’s the point of worrying about a future that we cannot guarantee?

And so, in light of the above (and ignoring the current agony I’m in with no doubt age-related back issues) maybe it isn’t quite my time to switch over to Radio 2 after all. Isn’t that right, Cuz?

image

The planner

It’s at times like this – when I’m simultaneously juggling a house move (and all the stressful admin and hard physical labour that involves) with the organisation of two birthday parties (only one of which is mine, I might add-I’m not that much of an egotist. Though having said that my party does involve a 48 person entourage at a Bavarian beer festival..)- that I wonder why I have this strange compulsion to always over stretch myself.

I’ve always been a planner – often to the point of anally retentive amounts of attention to detail – and in the main I think that is a positive thing. The earlier you book a holiday, for example, the more choice you’ll have on where to go and the cheaper prices of flights and accommodation are likely to be. The same applies to parties; plan ahead and you will find that the world of entertainment venues is your oyster.

Another reason it’s vital to plan events early is because in this day and age people’s diaries get booked up months in advance. If you want to avoid standing alone at the bar on your birthday or sharing the entire wedding breakfast with your husband and in-laws, therefore, you have to get ahead of the game.

So, having established planning in advance is a good thing I’ll admit the bit I’m really struggling with: My inner control freak. Once an idea has been mooted -whether a concert, a mini break or a full blown holiday-I can’t help but take the reins and steer. It’s not because I want to make all the decisions (far from it, we Librans are rather averse to making decisions of any kind) it’s more because I hate when things are left to drift. The uncertainty of not knowing if a plan will come to fruition or not causes my stress levels to rise, so to combat that I go into planning overdrive, getting everyone to commit to the plan and therefore taking the stress out of the situation altogether (aside from the stress it takes me to organise said event, which is often not insignificant).

When all is said and done we are who we are, and we can either choose to embrace the slightly more kooky parts of our personalities and learn to work with them, or turn our backs on them only to find they keep on coming back to haunt us. And so on that note I acknowledge my inner planner, my inner control freak and my inner indecision, and I also acknowledge my not-so-inner exhaustion and take my leave to bed.

Dilemma

I’m currently struggling with a dilemma. It’s of both a personal and financial nature, because I’m trying to decide whether to spend money that I don’t currently have on my personal development. In other words, the big question is whether it’s worth getting further into debt for.

There are pros and cons to both of the options on the table, and I intend to weigh them up very carefully. For the first time in my life – rather embarrassingly, given I’m now 31 years of age – I’m starting to think about my financial future. I have no savings to speak of but am fortunate not to be in an unmanageable amount of debt either.

If I don’t take the plunge with the personal development option I’ll be out of debt and saving for my future within a year (providing I buck the longstanding trend of frittering money away on holidays as soon as my finances are looking vaguely under control). But I will always wonder if I should have gone down that route, and where it might have led me.

If I do take the plunge, the goal of saving within a year will be pushed back. Realistically it could be quite some time (and by this I mean a very long time) before I’m in a position to put down a deposit on a house anyway, but in doing this I’ll have to accept it will be even longer. And yet…I might have gained something that money can’t buy which will help me for the rest of my life.

I don’t believe that money can buy happiness, which is really just as well considering the sector I work in and the salary I’m currently on. That said, I’m fully aware what money can buy is security – and the ability to splurge on the occasional weekend away, which those who know me will attest to my being rather partial to.

I’ve always struggled to balance my desire to ‘make a difference’ with my desire to enjoy life to the full and it’s a struggle that’s getting harder as time passes. But something’s telling me that now’s the time to take responsibility for my actions, to make a plan and stick to it, whatever sacrifices that entails. Because there will be sacrifice with either option, of that I’m sure.

I’ve always gone with my heart over my head but now I have to decide whether to keep doing that or buck the trend and be ‘sensible’ to the detriment of my own personal development. It’s a quandary, but one I am determined to solve, and which I’m certain I’ll come out the other side of stronger.

The runner

She closed the door behind her and began to run, her feet pounding the pavement with reassuring clarity. As every second passed she felt the muscles in her chest relax. She breathed air deep into her lungs and expelled it forcefully. In, out, in, out, as if she was on autopilot. He couldn’t hurt her here, the streets were her domain. They whispered all their secrets in her ears. They knew she was like them; sleepless, never alone and yet lonely beyond words.

Nobody knew what she was going through, she was too ashamed to admit it – sometimes even to herself. She’d known from that first time it would be silenced, swallowed somewhere deep within her like Jonah in the whale; too far down for her screams to ever find release. He’d apologised, of course, begged for forgiveness and wormed his way back into her affections. Like a maggot in the core of an apple he’d corroded her from the inside out. She still looked the same on the outside, but inside she was empty, a gaping, hollow chasm of pain and despair.

Still she ran, as the sky began to darken and fat rain drops plopped onto her cheeks and mingled with her tears. How could she leave him? Where would she go? He’d severed all her ties, there was nobody left to save her. Her bruised skin slid like water over the weary mountains of her bones. Each step sent shooting spears of pain up through her veins like bolts of lightning. But she didn’t care. She would run on, she knew that now. Until her body was as tired as her mind and she began to stumble on the cold, hard ground beneath her. Until the night turned into day and the birds began to sing their morning song. She would run on.

Nothing ventured, nothing lost?

The old adage, “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” might just as easily (slash negatively) be “nothing ventured, nothing lost.”

At least when one does not seek to rock the equilibrium in their life they can be relatively assured that nothing will change for the worse – right? I used to think so, but since joining the ever-growing ranks of the redundant (well, nearly-redundant – I got out just in time) I no longer agree.

Why? Because there’s no such thing as equilibrium in life, it’s a fallacy. Everything is shifting and changing all the time. Anyone who thinks they are immune to change is most likely in for a nasty shock at some time or other, whether personally or professionally. We humans are hardy creatures, but we’ve evolved over millions of years to be this way. If we hadn’t adapted to change we would no longer exist. Just like the dinosaurs – and HMV.

What I’m trying to say in a roundabout way is that it’s far better to seek out change than to wait for it to be thrust upon us. At least that’s the argument I’m currently using to make me feel less panicky about the particular path I’ve sought out; that of the part time PR professional/part time freelancer.

Last night I sat down and took a long, hard look at my finances. And it wasn’t pretty. If I was scared to go part time before, right now it wouldn’t be far off the mark to say I’m petrified. But as I’ve already said, there are no guarantees of constancy in life, and who’s to say I won’t make millions from my leap into the unknown once the initial (and sadly inevitable) period of poverty has passed?

Today, in reaction to the rising sense of panic about my impending part-time-dom [sic], I’ve been updating my online biographies and tidying up my website in preparation for my ‘official’ launch as a freelancer. I’ve also emailed a couple of agencies about getting on their books. Already I’m enjoying this feeling of being in control of my career. Long may it continue.

163002_10150362425295057_6093858_n

This pic makes me laugh – it was taken during a pub quiz a couple of years ago where the quizmaster gave each team two pots of play doh and challenged them to make something. I forget the exact theme, but I was clearly feeling similarly worried about money – or lack thereof – as I am now if what I made was anything to go by!