Showing up imperfectly
An update after a brief hiatus. On being gentle, patient and taking your time.
Before I begin, I’d like to note that I’m going to change my format for the newsletter moving forward, because I work full time and was struggling with my overly ambitious plans at the beginning of the year. I will do two instalments a month, alternating between a combination of personal writing, interviews and recommendations. I am removing the paid tier because I don’t currently have the bandwidth to guarantee I can write multiple instalments a month. If you paid annually, email me (email@example.com) and we can figure out a refund. You can also email me with anything else you’d like to see from the newsletter - I’m interested in exploring the advice column angle, so if you ever have any questions you’d like answered anonymously, reply to this email or contact me directly as above. Thank you for being here! It’s good to be back.
If you want a flower to grow - first, you have to take care of the soil. I’m not sure of the technicalities of this, but I am definitely sure I don’t mind because the point of this is to paint a picture rather than give you advice on gardening (I can assure you, I am ill-equipped to help you in that regard). It helps, I hope, to explain something I have been struggling with lately, or since I last wrote to you.
I took a break from writing for a while because I realised that I was depressed. I say realised because I suspect I had started to feel depressed for a while before I could clock it - this, I think, is common. It’s sometimes difficult, particularly if you are partial to the intellectualising your emotions rather than feeling them, to be able to notice when questions that you might categorise under existentialism (what gives your life meaning, why you are here etc) slip down the scale into a depressive episode or way of thinking. I am not a doctor, so it’s not for me to define (even loosely) what depression ‘is’ - that is a sort of existential question in and of itself - but for me it manifested in seeing life through a melancholy lens, an inability to believe things could and likely would get better. Again, I’m a sucker for images: I found myself saying that I was unable to see the wood from the trees. The questions I was asking and the things that I was thinking about, became a source of despair, rather than of curiosity or an attempt to ponder an interesting topic. I lacked motivation, felt exhausted all the time, couldn’t concentrate, was desperate to numb, and thinking about the future overwhelmed me in waves of anxiety, panic, and sometimes sadness. This last part in particular was an issue, particularly when I know there will be some big changes ahead of me in the coming months. Especially because some of my unhappiness was circumstantial (a lot has changed in the last 6 months for me, including what I want and need). Action would be required to make changes for the better, but even thinking about it sent me into a spiral it was hard to find my way out of.
I called the doctor, and said I wanted to go back on my antidepressants. She agreed this seemed like a good idea, and noted that it was progress that I’d reached out to her to help before things had gotten worse (which I think was inevitable). I found this irritating at the time, which I suspect was a symptom of the depression more than anything else, because it definitely didn’t feel like progress. It felt…well, like, depression; which made it hard to feel anything else. Regardless, we proceeded with the return to medication, and I am proud of myself not only for making that decision, but for staying true to my values on its place in my life - it is a neutral decision, that works for me well, currently. Within a few weeks, the fog started to lift. I felt lighter, more possible, more able to take care of myself properly, more like myself again. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I soon found myself complaining that I wasn’t “getting better quick enough”, which is soooo me lol. I recall being on the phone to my parents, who graciously noted that I had fallen victim to tunnel vision paired with impatience. It had only been a few weeks since I couldn’t talk about the future without crying, and on that same call I was complaining about slow progress I had been talking about my plans for the rest of the year, trying to figure out and strategise. It was very business bitch of me though! I’m grateful for those closest to me who in these recent months have kept me grounded, kept me afloat with their hope when I had none, and enveloped me in their love and care. Those moments are reminders of why it matters so much to me to show up for people. We do need each other, and if you let people in, allow them to help you, even the hardest edges can soften slightly. I am often very moved by how people will show up for you, when they know you well enough to know not only that you need a little help, but how you like to be helped. So I try to let these moments teach me too - how to be a better friend and comrade, through the bad times as well as the good.
It is not easy for me to take it easy. I am fiercely ambitious, know how to get things done, and am energised by being a hot homosexual around town! These parts of me hinder me as much as they help. I wouldn’t change them, but I do need to work on keeping them in check. My over-achieving ass struggles with not giving it 100% all the time. However, as you can imagine, that hasn’t been possible in these last few months. My resources had to be reshuffled to prioritise some of the necessary (but ultimately mundane) parts of getting better. Things that I am lucky to usually not have to think about too much. The basics had to take priority - eating well, sleeping enough, resting, managing screen time, balancing socialising with doing nothing (still not figured this out). I panicked a lot because I wasn’t writing, scared that I would never write again (dramatic). And then when I started thinking about it, I noticed perfectionism had crept in to my mind again. A familiar, although paralysing and unhelpful conviction, obsessing too much about getting it right was stopping me from doing it at all. Like a tale as old as time, I indulged in my favourite coping mechanism of choice: avoidance. The loop went something like this: think about an idea, crucify it before giving it a chance or even putting words down, abandon, avoid thinking about it at all costs. Sound fun to you?!
So, it is with tentative tenderness towards myself that I returned to my laptop tonight. I have felt these fears before, and I will feel them again. I remember I have the tools and wisdom to help me navigate them - to stop them from holding me back.
Notes to self:
Despite what you may have been taught, you will do your best work when you are gentle with yourself. Talking to yourself in a cruel voice doesn’t help you get anything done. It is the enemy of curiosity.
Perfectionism is paralysing. Keep showing up imperfectly and trust that you will find your way. It is better than not showing up at all.
You think you are afraid of failing, but what is more frightening is not trying at all, because of that fear. Remember, too, we write our own definitions of failure.
Not knowing can be scary, but it can be exciting too (Thank you Abbie for always reminding me of this)
I guess this is my roundabout way of telling you all that recently, I have been tending to my soil and earth, safe in the knowledge that it is there that I must begin, to grow some new beautiful flowers. I look forward to writing about them, and lots of other things, in the months to come.