Revving In Neutral

Sometimes I fall into a vicious cycle where I’m mentally and emotionally frustrated and cannot manage to channel that energy into productive avenues. In the old days, this would lead to drinking or drugs, but I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I try to go about my day, generally fail to complete mundane tasks, and end up feeling ‘stuck.’ This progresses into a cycle of mild depression, feelings of inertia, guilt over said inertia, and on and on it goes until something snaps me out of it.

It feels like I’m seated in a car stuck in neutral yet compelled to rev the engine until it screams.

I’ve talked about effects of this before, as it’s almost always linked to sexual frustration. Circumstances do not excuse avoidable behavior, so I really do need to figure out strategies for snapping out of the cycle. And what makes the need for such strategies more pressing is this: without the masking effect of booze or some kind of euphoria binge, this cycle and the resulting spiral seem to become more acute with each occurrence.

I’m going to do some reading on the subject and think it through. However, if any of you have experienced similar patterns and come up with effective ways to avoid them, please share.

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One thought on “Revving In Neutral

  1. I get this way regularly. I have a couple of go-to tricks that help. Maybe they’ll help others too.

    Having someone come over and join you in whatever is needing done is a big help. I have even told friends, hey guys, I need to declutter my house, I don’t need help cleaning or anything but can you just come keep me company?

    For me, just having other people there, people who know what I am supposed to be doing, provides some accountability to get me motivated, and also some focus.

    Next trick: Do the smallest possible thing that still feels like progress.

    When you have depression & ADHD & chronic pain, as I do, that can literally sometimes be “I got out of bed and put on comfortable clothes.”
    And that’s ok. Sometimes all you need is to get moving.

    (I actually got this from a goal-setting workshop, but it works for me.)

    Next: Self care. Your body is the vehicle you move around in and the tool you use to accomplish tasks. It is dirty, damaged, or just plain out of fuel, you can’t get anything done very effectively.

    Sometimes this is very practical, like going down a maintenance checklist for a vehicle. Have you eaten something recently.

    Do you need to take a break. Or a nap.

    Have you taken care of mental and emotional needs, such as watch some stand-up comedy or read a funny webcomic lately.

    Have you reached out to a friend, even if it’s just text or email or chat.

    How is your body doing. Have you gotten your heart rate up above resting today, even if it is literally just taking a walk around your yard or apartment complex.

    Are you in any physical pain or discomfort, and if you are, is there anything you can do about it like stretch, take a hot bath, or take some ibuprofen or any other painkiller your body can tolerate.

    Are you sexually frustrated, and is there anything that you can do about it if so. Such as, some porn or erotica that you find kinky and emotionally fulfilling also, or if you have a regular partner, see if they would be willing to help.

    My final trick, if I am having a hard time getting moving at all, is to start asking myself questions about the things I know I need to do.

    If I could snap my fingers and have the task done, would I? If so, maybe the process is too long or complicated or difficult, and I need to see if there’s a way I can cut corners.

    If somebody would pay me $5,000 to do that task right now, would I suddenly find some motivation? If so, maybe the problem is that I haven’t found a way to make the task result in a reward that is meaningful or worth it to me.

    If I could push a magic button and never have to do that type of task again – but the only catch is that I would never be allowed to do that type of task again for myself, would I do it?

    If so, maybe it is a task that I am just not mentally or emotionally suited for, and I need to find a way to delegate it or to rearrange my life so that I don’t need to do that type of tasks very often or at all anymore.

    ( That sounds difficult or impractical, but seriously, if you would rather be shot than ever do another sink full of dishes, and you can’t trade that chore with someone else in the house or can’t afford to install a dishwasher, then really there is nothing stopping you from saying the heck with it and eating off of paper plates.)

    Is there another task that I feel like “needs” done before I can do the task that I am really needing or wanting to do right now?

    If so, does that task really truly need to be done? Is it physically preventing me from doing the other tasks? For example, I have a hard time sitting down and letting myself write or work on art, if the house is dirty, cluttered, or disorganized.

    There is nothing about a cluttered house that is physically stopping me from writing.

    But I have a mental and emotional bias that my art and writing is a frivolous recreational activity, even though I’ve actually been paid to do those things before.

    So, I struggle not to feel guilty when there are other “important” tasks waiting around for me to get writing done.

    Sometimes I can get out of the environment and physically away from the snags or distractions that are stopping me from starting on my actual priority task.

    Other times, I find I can throw a bone to my sense of guilt or obligation, by setting a 30 minute timer and working on the task I’m feeling guilty or bothered about, and that will let me feel ok to say “good enough for today, now I can work on the thing that really mentally and emotionally matters to me.”

    If somebody gave you an exact checklist of how to get this task done, step by tiny step, would that help?

    If so, the problem may be that you have not broken the task down into small enough pieces to actually accomplish. If each step of a task doesn’t feel manageable and accomplishable, it can be far too discouraging to even start.

    Or, it can be a gordian knot problem. As if you have a complicated knot to untie step by step, but you can’t even find one end of the rope. Sometimes you’re not starting on a task because you literally don’t even know where to begin.

    Thankfully, we have the internet and the magical power of Google now, which means that somebody else out there has had the same problem as you, and also been so frustrated by it that they have posted a tutorial on how to do it yourself when they were finished.

    Or, do you know exactly where to start on the task, but unfortunately the very first step is something that you have been dreading?

    If so, think about whether or not there might be any way that you could delegate the part of the task you dread, or trade it to somebody else in return for taking care of a different problem for them.

    Or, is there a different way to do the dreaded part of the task?

    Yes, breaking up with someone or firing an employee via email is definitely a dick move…

    But if you are somebody that currently does not feel up to handling that type of conflict and confrontation in person, and it’s been causing you to delay doing something you need to do, then that may be just how you have to do it this time.

    Similarly, if you hate going to an actual physical office or store location and standing in line, some parts of the task you might be able to do online.

    Even if you don’t have a lot of money, you might be surprised also, how cheap it can be to have people from services like TaskRabbit do things.

    Are you being a perfectionist about the task or about some part of the task? Learn the gentle art of “fukkit, good enough.” Also known as “if at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards and try again.”

    I know that sounds terrible, but there are many occasions in life when “half-assed done well enough that it will do for now” still beats “not done at all, never even started.”

    Otherwise known as the principle that even the slowest chubby asthmatic waddling around the track is still lapping everyone who stayed at home to sit on the couch.

    If you are needing to get up and leave the house and go do errands, but procrastinating getting started because you normally dress extremely well, hair done nicely, accessories all coordinated with your outfit, and that just sounds like too much work today, then this is a good day to say heck with it, and leave the house in shorts and a t-shirt.

    Have you tried explaining your problem getting started, in detail, to a rubber duck?

    I first read about this when I heard about software programmers using the “rubber duck debugging” method of fixing errors in program code they are writing.

    There is a weird quirk of how the human brain works, that often times when we can’t figure the problem out for ourselves, nonetheless when we try to explain it to somebody else, step by step, we think of things that we didn’t think of before.

    It’s part of why therapy can actually help.

    So, programmers will literally sit a rubber duck on their desk and explain in detail to the duck, what the program is supposed to do, what is actually doing instead, and then explain what each line of program code does.

    It’s surprising to me how much this can actually work with day-to-day problems in life.

    Whatever little figurine or stuffed animal or kids toy you have around, designate it your brainstorming and troubleshooting buddy, sit it on your desk or pillow or coffee table, and tell it in detail what is wrong and why you can’t seem to get moving and get started on doing things right now.

    A lot of times, problems that seem huge and insurmountable, are emotionally huge andinsurmountable – but on a practical, material, physical level they’re actually quite a small and easy thing to overcome – or they would be, if only I had the moral and energy to actually do them.

    For me that is one of the most frustrating things about having depression.

    It is so hard to explain to the average person that I would really like to do XYZ crucially important task but unfortunately I would first have to put on pants and leave my house. To them that is nothing.

    And to me, physically, that is also nothing.

    But mentally and emotionally, it feels like I’m trying to tell them, well I would love to come out and join you guys tonight, but unfortunately someone has built a 60 foot high wall around my house with electrified barbed wire on top and I will have to figure out how to climb over the wall first.

    Fortunately, that is something that the rubber duck method of debugging my brain can actually help with.

    Since a lot of what is stopping me from doing an important task, many times, is more of a mental and emotional block than any kind of physical or practical problem, sometimes venting to an imaginary role model or literally to a stuffed animal or action figure around the house, can’t get enough of the emotional energy drained off that now I feel able to actually tackle the pactical physical part of the past.

    And, explaining in detail exactly why I’m having such a hard time getting something done, can also cause me to challenge my assumptions and preconceptions about the situation.

    For example, I found myself ranting in frustration in the shower about me trying to get a short story first draft edited to a ridiculously high standard for spelling, grammar, proofreading, format, & word choice before bringing it to my riding partner.

    Because, if I didn’t bring a polished enough story to my writing and editing partner, she tended to work more on the copyediting and proofreading aspects, than on the structure, characterization, and continuity of the story.

    Anyhow, I was ranting to myself in the shower about how frustrating it was that she kept giving me feedback on spelling, grammar, and specific word choice in a few paragraphs that might end up being cut entirely anyway.

    And I realized the dumbest, simplest, most obvious thing. I had never actually ASKED her to focus more on “does this behavior sound in character for this particular character, and should this story event even happen this way?”

    And yes, that sounds completely obvious. It sounds like the very first thing that somebody would say when they first realize they are getting editing advice that is not useful for where they are in the first draft re-writing process.

    But, somehow I had skipped a few steps and gone straight to being stressed about it. So, only when I went back over the details of my problem step-by-step, did I end up realizing what my mistaken assumption had been.

    Anyway, I hope that some of these ideas are helpful to others. The problem of being stuck and feeling like you can’t get moving or can’t even get started, is one that I know personally that many of my friends can also empathize with.

    And you are absolutely right. That creates a really tough downward spiral; you can’t get yourself moving because you are too depressed and anxious and beating yourself up for not getting anything done.

    But then, the stress and depression of your worry and the negative things you are telling yourself, stress you out more and lower your moral to the point that you have an even harder time getting yourself focused and moving.

    Final thought on all of this. Somebody once told me, you have permission to start your day over at any point during your day, as many times as you need to.

    In practice, what that usually ends up looking like, is taking a 20-minute break, maybe leaving the house or work and going for a quick walk, getting a cup of coffee or a smoothie, looking at a TED talk or videos of puppies tripping and falling on their faces or a favorite webcomic or something that makes you laugh and inspires you.

    And then coming back and pretending that nothing that happened in the past several hours actually happened or actually counts.

    I have no idea why phrasing it as “start your day over, anytime you need to, as many times a day as you need to” sounds so much more inspiring, relaxing, and freeing to me. Maybe it is a part of being a member of the gamer generation. I remember doctor for it was even possible to save console games. Even some computer games didn’t really have save points.

    So, a few years later, when you started being able to save your progress, and have multiple saves so you could go back to a spot in the game where you were in a better place then you found yourself later on, that was like a huge stressful weight being lifted, that I hadn’t even realized was slightly stressing me out.

    Real life doesn’t work like that of course. But then, it also doesn’t exactly not work like that either.

    You can’t truly erase your own memory or other people’s memories.

    But, you can go do whatever you have to do to try to get yourself in a slightly better mindset, and then come back and try again.

    And if other people are involved, don’t worry about that being weird or awkward or embarrassing.

    If they are mature and reasonable people themselves, they will probably find it inspiring and brave – maybe even start emulating you.

    And if they can’t wrap their heads around what you are trying to do, maybe they are not quite mature enough.

    It seems like we don’t always break things up into reasonable chunks, and that includes time. We think of each 24 hour rotation of our planet as ” a day” – and then our brain thinks of a day as one discreet chunk of time. So, if we feel like we are “wasting our day” or that “the day is just ruined,” we tend to think of the whole 24 hours being a complete wash.

    But, that is a fallacy based on a cognitive bias that has to do with how our brain breaks up tasks and periods of time into chunks.

    In fact, if someone is a complete dick to you, or you’re having a really stuck morning and not getting started doing what you need to do, then sure, you could say that the four hours you have been awake is a total wash and has been “ruined” or “wasted.”

    But, there are still 20 more hours in that day, yet to come. So “okay, that sucked, taking a break, then starting my day over” can sometimes provide the cognitive reset needed to break out of the stuckness.

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