Thursday, November 06, 2014

This Writing Life 15: Getting Through The Bad Days


This article does not deal with mental health issues. Mental health issues are a whole other kettle of fish.  If you think you suffer from a mental health issue, the Health Information Page on the CAMH website has good information. Read it and visit your doctor.

If you are in crisis, if feel you want to kill or hurt yourself or someone else, please call 911, or your local emergency number.

I like you and want you to stick around. Get help.

That Being Said…

Everyone has days where things don’t get done and goals don’t get met. Where they stare at their computer/tool bench/blank canvas/empty notebook/whatever, and bemoan their art, their job, their family and their existence. I’ve had several of them recently, and they’re what inspired this post.

Fortunately, here at Erik Buchanan Writing and Communications, we have come up with an effective solution:

Suck It Up, Buttercup

Yeah. Seriously. Suck it up.

As soon as you finished reading this post and have out of sheer gratitude purchased my books, Small Magics and Cold Magics, get off your couch/chair/self-made cross and do something productive.

Anything productive.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing; it just has to be something. Because even the tiniest accomplishment makes the difference.

That last sentence is so important it’s worth repeating, rephrasing, expanding and putting in bold and italics:

When you are having a bad day, do something productive because even the smallest accomplishment makes a difference, and can motivate you to accomplish other things.

So suck it up, Buttercup, and go do something. And if you need help getting started, here’s a process:

Step 1: Make a list

Get something to write with and something to write on, and make a list of things that need doing.  Not things that you want to do, or things that you like to do, things that need doing.

Don’t number the list, because numbers give a false sense of priorities. Put little checkboxes beside each one.

Step 2: Do the simplest thing on your list

It may be taking out the trash. It may be deleting the spam in your email account. It may be putting on pants (no, seriously, it may well be that on a bad day).  Whatever the simplest, easiest thing to do is on your list do that.

Congratulations! You have accomplished something! Celebrate it! Pat yourself on the back and….

Step 3: Do the next simplest thing on your list

You can see where this is going, right?

Each task that you accomplish reinforces your perception of yourself as a person who gets things done.  Even if you only get one little thing done today, that means you know you’re capable of getting at least one thing done in a day.  Tomorrow, shoot for two.

But What if There’s Nothing Simple on My List?

Then you are thinking too big. Take the big tasks and break them down into small tasks. Example: Do the dishes.

Doing the dishes is not one action, it’s several actions:

  • Finish your coffee
  • Take the dirty dishes from the dining room (if you have one)
  • Take the dirty dishes from the bedroom (hey, don’t judge)
  • Pile the dishes on the counter
  • Take the dirty dishes out of the sink
  • Rinse out the sink.
  • Put in the plug
  • Fill the sink with water
  • Wash a glass
  • Repeat until all glasses are done
  • Wash a plate
  • Etc., etc., etc.

You may not manage to get all the dishes done, but each step brings you closer.

So suck it up, Buttercup, and get stuff done. Because you and I both know that you can. You just need to get started.

Next Week: Writer’s Block Doesn’t Exist And How I Overcome It


Lizabeth Rivera said...

It really depends on people, I have taken bad experiences, sad emotions and negative feelings in a way to make it into art. I either write it or paint.


Erik Buchanan said...

You are quite right, Lizabeth! You can do a lot with negative emotions.

The key is to get started, and hopefully this will help folks who are stuck :-).

Anonymous said...

I 110% agree, I suffer from Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS and ive had to try (its not always easy to not beat my self up about not being able to do anything on my bad days, some days just sitting up in bed is a struggle, but i try to tell myself that sitting up in bed is an acheavment how ever small and to feel happy i managed it not upset it was all i could do. Today ive managed to get casserole in the oven, i started to feel angry at myself that i couldnt carry on and prepare a desert, but then i thought "think positive" I managed to get the casserole done, thats a big thing especially as yesterday the big thing was sitting up. :-) xx

Erik Buchanan said...

Well done!

A friend of mine who suffers from depression once gave me this metaphor, which helped me understand:

Imagine that everyone starts the day with a certain number of spoons. And every action that you take requires you to give away a certain number of spoons.

Drink your coffee, that's a spoon.

Make breakfast, that's a spoon.

And so on.

When you have no more left, you can do nothing more that day.

For a person not suffering for depression or something similar, when they wake up in the morning, to decide to get up, sit up, stand up and start walking toward the bathroom, that's a spoon.

For a person suffering, each of those steps - decision, sit up, stand up, walk - costs a spoon.

And to make matters more difficult, on the bad days they get less spoons to work with.

This really helped me understand why folks suffering from depression of ME/CFS have so much difficulty.

So on the bad days, remember that it takes a lot more spoons to get things done, and celebrate everything you manage to accomplish.

Keep on keeping on!

Free Blog Counter