Someone sitting in a park with a notepad and pen

Stop procrastinating, start writing

I’m pleased to report that I’m continuing to write almost daily, though the amount I get through before it becomes a battle to remain focused is still much less than it was earlier this year, when writing was an established part of my daily routine.

There are some skills, like cycling, that I can put down and pick up again as if I’d never spent a day out of the saddle; others, like knitting, require a conscious retraining of my mind and my muscles if it’s been too long since I last picked up the needles. Writing as a practice – sitting down to do it every day, without procrastination, and, having sat down, being able to keep my fingers moving even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired – is a skill it’s all to easy for me to lose.

After four months of writing not very much at all (a combination of going on holiday, coming back and looking for work, and then dealing with starting a new job), it’s taking a lot of conscious work to get back to place where writing is something I just sit down and do, not something that requires me to wrestle myself into the chair.

Experience tells me that the key here is practice – just keeping going until I build the habit again. But since I can’t just fast forward to the point where habit is enough, here are some tricks I’m using in the meantime to help me sneak past the desire to procrastinate:

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Typewriter with a blank page on a dark background

Rejecting success

Earlier this month, I resigned as Senior Ranger and departed the organisation and the field in which I’ve worked for the last decade of my life. “Park ranger” is no longer a key part of my identity. I’ll have to update my profile here – and elsewhere – once I can actually figure out what my identity looks like now.

I’ve started work at a customer service call centre, on casual hours. I’ll have the chance to move to part-time – and a more stable routine – once I’ve been there a few months.

The complete rejiggering of my life has been greeted by friends, family, and workmates with all kinds of supportiveness, and for the most part I’m really appreciating it. But I want to talk about one particular sentiment that’s been cropping up a lot in certain people’s words of support:

You’ll have so much time now to focus on your writing.

It’s great that you’re taking the next step on your writing journey.

Congratulations – I can’t wait to see your name on the cover of a book!

Here’s the thing, though: since handing in my resignation – blog posts aside – I’ve barely written a word of fiction.

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A white carnival mask covered in musical symbols and extravagant feathers sits in front of a more subdued, black carnival mask.

Does mental health treatment change who you are?

I’ve been getting some really lovely, thoughtful comments recently on my brain weasels post. One comment particularly struck me, from someone who is being treated for their own brain weasels for the first time in their life. I’m scared, they said. I don’t remember ever being any other way.

I recognise that fear. When I began taking medication for my mental health, I was nervous too about how it might change me. What if I became a completely different person?

It wasn’t just concern about side effects, although that was part of it. But on a fundamental level, it was acknowledging that this person with all her worries, her relentless thinking and planning for possible outcomes, her bursts of intense creative energy and her inevitable burn-out – this was the person I saw as me.

This was the person I was used to being, the only person I had any experience of being. How much could I change without becoming essentially someone else?

The answer to that, as it turns out, is both more complicated and simpler than I could have imagined.

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A half-formed sandcastle

Inspiration paralysis and how to get past it

I’ve been in a writing drought for the last week or two. Not through lack of inspiration, much to my relief, but simply through lack of time and – which is just as important thought less often discussed – lack of mental and emotional resources to spare for it.

This week, though, I’m finally back in the saddle with plans for a brand new story. I have themes and characters and a general shape, and it’s all brimming with potential. And so I find myself confronting the single most hair-tearingly difficult challenge of writing: actually putting words down.

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Rescue worker airlifting someone into a helicopter

OK

One of the books recommended to me as part of my fiction-writing journey was Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a book I have mixed feelings about (though I think that’s less of a reflection on the book, and more on the lessons I need/ed to learn not being the ones it was trying to teach me), but one moment in it that got me thinking was a short diatribe about the word “OK”.

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This is my brain on anxiety… and this is my brain on drugs (pt. 2)

Quick recap from last week: my psychiatrist has put me on clonazepam, a benzodiazepine-class tranquilliser, while I ramp up the dosage on my new SNRI.

The clonazepam has created an immediate and very measurable transformation – enough so that, for the first time, I feel like I’m in a position to observe the differences in my patterns of thought and behaviour with and without anxiety.

So I’m recording my observations. If you’ve never had anxiety (or if you don’t know if you have it), I hope this helps you understand what the world feels like to someone who does.

Part one was about the “obvious” (in hindsight) effects of anxiety; this week is about the rest of it. Before clonazepam, I would have said that anxiety was just one of a suite of problems my brain had in functioning. It turns out they were a lot more related than I’d realised.

Continue reading “This is my brain on anxiety… and this is my brain on drugs (pt. 2)”

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Black and white diver inspecting a brain coral

This is my brain on anxiety… and this is my brain on drugs (pt. 1)

Brain weasel update: I’m lucky enough to have found a psychiatrist who really seems to listen to me and to have good ideas about what I need (it only took two tries – would that everyone in the mental health care system could be so fortunate).

After concluding fairly definitively that my major (perhaps only) weasels are variations on anxiety, he’s put me on an SNRI antidepressant to try out (SNRIs can also be effective in treating anxiety) – and since this style of antidepressants take effect only after four to six weeks, and since we’re ramping my dosage up slowly to see what happens (therefore requiring even longer), in the meantime he’s also put me on clonazepam, a benzodiazepine-class tranquilliser.

Continue reading “This is my brain on anxiety… and this is my brain on drugs (pt. 1)”

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Tiny figure lost at sea

Brain weasels; or, high-functioning mental illness and what happens when you don’t trust your own head

I’ve had a couple of people ask me about the descriptor I use for myself at the top of this page: “brain weasel wrangler”. So I figure it’s time to explain a bit about the weasels, and to talk about my journey from denial to acceptance.

This is a longer post than my usual, but I hope it will give some of you something to think about when facing your own brain weasels. Warning: discussion ahead of mental illness, brief mention of suicide.

Continue reading “Brain weasels; or, high-functioning mental illness and what happens when you don’t trust your own head”

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