At the beginning of the year, I committed to posting in a blog at least once a week for a year. A couple months ago, however, as I wrote about in Finding Joy Amidst The Grief, my brother died and my writing skidded off the rails. I’ve found it hard to return, partly because I haven’t been able to think of much to write about besides his death. I started a post about how I was handling it, but grief is up and down and every time I put something down on paper, I would face yet another new emotion. So I kept editing, then putting it aside, then getting absorbed in other tasks, all the while beating myself up for not writing and not posting.
A couple weeks ago, I found it difficult to do much besides watch t.v. I had just finished travelling across the country for the better part of three weeks — to my 25th college reunion in Tacoma, WA, to my brother’s memorial in Minnesota, and then to a friend’s wedding in New York, visiting family and friends along the way. When I returned to D.C., I had an almost all day going away get together for a friend on a boat. And then, my niece and nephew were out of school and leaving for Puerto Rico for the summer in a week so I spent every evening and weekend day with them. By the end of all this, as joyful as all of it was, I was exhausted and addicted to the show Jane The Virgin. So I let myself spend a gratuitous day in bed watching t.v.
A day is okay, but I found the next day and the next, it was still all I seemed able to motivate myself to do. I criticized myself. How am I ever going to get paid as a writer if I’m not actually writing? I promised myself I’d blog once a week and I haven’t posted anything in two months. I’m a failure and I should just start looking for a job. As much as I love writing, I’m not disciplined enough.
A few days into my binge, I contemplated what it truly meant to be compassionate to and loving of myself within this self-criticism and inability to move forward with my writing. I also wanted to shake things up. I wanted my life to change. I was tired of feeling sad, tired of being single, tired of criticizing myself. I felt like I was becoming trapped in t.v. watching and couldn’t seem to escape it and it was no way to achieve all of my goals.
A friend sent me an invitation to spend New Year’s in Algeria and I thought, an adventure, that’s what I need! I need to get away from my day-to-day life and shake things up. But the truth is, I have had many adventures in my life. I’ve moved many times to new cities on new continents, taken unusual trips where I hung out with nomadic camel herders and ate goat’s brain; made entirely new sets of friends. I’ve changed careers from international development, to law, and now writing. I’ve tried learning something completely new — drawing and painting. And yet, I have never been able to escape myself. So I realized that an adventure in Algeria, while it could be fun, wasn’t the answer as to what I could do to shake things up.
Instead, I realized the radically different thing would be to take the advice I would give to anyone else in my situation. I asked myself what I would tell a friend whose brother had just killed himself and she had been occupied with setting up two memorials for him, helping her sister-in-law with kids and various other business related to her brother’s death, and for the first time in two months she had a little time to herself. I would tell her to let herself be. That when it was time to start writing again she’d get there. To enjoy this period of downtime because she’ll become busy again.
So, I decided to take that advice. I spent a couple more days watching television before I slowly started adding in other activities, like weeding the garden and fixing things around the house, returning to my prayer, meditation and journaling routine. And, almost a week later, I watched no television at all. It helped that I finished Jane the Virgin, but on that day, I tried watching something else and it just didn’t interest me. I finally started writing again.
My new goal is to keep taking my own advice until the end of the year and see where it leads. I have no doubt that I will disregard my advice on a regular basis. That my fear mongering self-critic will have many rational seeming arguments as to why I’m not on the right path. But I’ve written the goal down. I’m going to physically give myself a gold star each day that I listen to myself and I’ll see what happens. But if the last week is any indication, it’s pretty awesome. I’m feeling far more at peace than I have in a while. No doubt there are other reasons for it than just taking my advice, but just allowing myself to be where I’m at has felt completely different. Whether I will manage to become a paid writer in this trajectory, I have no idea, but it will be an interesting experiment nonetheless and perhaps that’s all that matters.
When have you followed your own advice contrary to your normal reaction?
Also published on Medium.