Little Exhaustions

meh
/me,me,me/

INFORMAL

exclamation
expressing a lack of interest or enthusiasm.

Oxford Languages

The above is a great word to express an utter lack of greatness. A wonderful phrase, implying a complete absence of wonder. Perfect, in other words, for describing how I so often feel.

Do you ever feel like there are so many things to do in the world, if only you had the energy? Do you ever think to yourself that you might like to go for a hike, or write a song, only the draw of TV or a warm, comfortable bed is just too great? Or maybe you just feel like you need to get off the couch, but your cat won’t move off your lap.

I was talking to my therapist the other day, and of course at the start of each session she asks how I’m feeling. Every time I smile and say ‘fine’, even though it’s far from true (and she knows it). We do of course end up discussing how I’m really feeling, but to begin with there’s almost this sense of denial about that fact that, most days, I struggle to find the enthusiasm to simply get up. It’s strange, because if I was outright depressed I might be able to admit it, and if I was riding high on a bipolar manic phase I’d know it, but somehow the largely flat, emotionless in-between is much harder to admit – even to myself.

It feels like a constant struggle against little exhaustions, an endless stream of tiny efforts that, compounded one on top of the other, make life an overwhelming, unscalable mountain with no reward at the top. And yet you still get up in the morning, put your pants on one leg at a time, brush your teeth and go to work, even though you don’t know why you do it or what the point of all of it is. Like climbing that aforementioned mountain, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, minute after minute and day after day, without looking up because you don’t want to know how much further there is to go.

And what, really, is the point of it all? What happens when you get to the top of the mountain? Is is a false peak, another even higher summit to get to afterwards? Or is that just it – the end?

I was thinking the other day about this, and contemplating the idea that, if you knew when you were going to die, you might live your life differently. You might write that song, or take that hike, because each day that goes by wasted is another day closer to your end and you won’t ever get it back. The funny thing is that, even when you look at life this way – that every day gone by is a missed opportunity – it doesn’t seem to change how you feel. It doesn’t change the sense of exhaustion from all the little things that build up, pile up, collect in the dust, and end up never getting done.

I suppose, at the end of it all, you only have so much time in the world, and of course you’ll never really know when it’s all going to be over. And life itself is really just about getting through it, doing stuff, because otherwise you might as well just die now. And whether you write a song, go for a hike, or simply do the damn dishes, in the end, it’s really all the same. One day you’ll be long gone and forgotten, dust in the wind, and life isn’t about what you have to show for it at the end of it – it’s about what you experienced for yourself while you were alive.

And really, life is pretty ‘meh’. Most of it goes by in a blur, each day the same as the last, with no distinction between what was and what wasn’t wasted time. So maybe the way to feel better about it is to think not ‘what did I do’, but ‘how did I feel’. And even if you don’t have control over those feelings, the truth is that in a world of shit and lies, ‘meh’ isn’t really all that bad. It could be worse. And of course it could be better.

So if I felt ‘meh’ today, that’s fine. If I feel ‘meh’ on my last day on earth, I’m okay with that. I don’t have to be enthusiastic about everything – I can’t be. It’s exhausting. But I know I’m not going to be depressed all the time either, and that makes me feel better, too.

Meh.

Wild Mood Swings

I am getting tired. Tired of so much, in the world, in life, and in my thoughts; but most of all, I’m getting tired of not knowing where my head is going to be next month, next week, or even tomorrow. Frankly, living with bipolar is an exhausting experience, and although I’ve mostly just dealt with it until now, I have to admit that I’m running low on energy – not just energy to live and do things, but energy to cope.

It’s one of the reasons, if not the most prominent one, why I don’t attend to this blog like I did years ago. I feel bad about it, but feeling bad was never much of a motivator for me, so I continue to neglect my daily writing in favor of sleep, TV, and sleep.

Historically, long periods of low mood, energy and motivation have formed a large part of my life, from my teenage years through my adulthood and to present day; I’m no stranger to depression. Often this manifests as wanting to stay in bed, feeling hopeless, and an inability to cope with the most basic of daily functions (e.g. showering, brushing teeth, etc.). I’ll spend day after day not even watching TV, and just staring at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to take me to twisted dreamscapes where I can escape from reality – if not entirely pleasantly.

But more recently, I feel I’m struggling with a new level of exhaustion: one that wears my mind down from an excess of actual mood swings. If my normal depression is akin to the tiredness of a marathon runner nearing the end of the slog, my current state of mind is closer to that of a sprinter after a day’s worth of races: running full tilt, then stopping, then starting again, over and over with no end in sight.

It’s like being on a non-stop rollercoaster. It’s like falling endlessly. It’s like … well, there are likely dozens of metaphors I could choose from, but the point is that I feel like my brain is about to leak through my eyes and ears, a complete and total meltdown from being forced to cope with a rapid cycle of ups and downs in a very short period of time.

Only a month ago, I was suffering from one of the worst depressions I’ve known in recent years. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t play, I couldn’t get out of bed, and I was sorely tempted to begin self-harming again after over a decade clean. Last week, I finished the last pages of my new manuscript after several days of hours-long writing stints. I went from catatonic to manic within a period of only a few days.

I don’t think this is good for me. It’s left me with a whole new level of exhaustion that I’m entirely unused to, and I honestly don’t know how to cope. It was my birthday over the weekend, and I spent it mostly in the loft watching Lord of the Rings and writing emails to people I haven’t contacted in months, or even years. I don’t know what I’m doing.

I wake up every day before 6 AM, but I want to pass out by 7 PM. This is also new; I normally sleep in like crazy, and stay up late.

I wonder if it’s to do with the new medication my psychiatrist started me on; I wonder if it’s to do with the strange weather (70°F in November, what’s with that?). I wonder if it’s … I don’t know anymore.

In any case, I’m done writing young adult/new adult for the time being, which means maybe – just maybe – I’ll find some time to return to The Redemption of Erâth for you all, as I started on book four almost eighteen months ago and never really got too far into it. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can start posting here a little more regularly, as I always want (and always fail) to do.

Many thanks!

Where to Focus Attention (?)

There are a lot – and I mean a lot – of things in the world that vie for our attention on a daily basis. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep (if we’re lucky enough to be able to sleep, what with everything grabbing for our attention), there are a million and one different foci demanding we consider them first, and if I’m honest, it can feel incredibly overwhelming at times.

For example, right now I’m writing a blog post, having spent around an hour pre-scheduling photo posts for the next couple of months. But here are a few of the things I could/should/would have been doing instead:

  • Clean the back yard
  • Go shopping
  • Write more of my novel
  • Finish the symphony I started four months ago
  • Spend time with my wife
  • Eat lunch
  • Have a shower
  • Read about racism
  • Read other blog posts
  • Read a book of any kind

And I could go on. There never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done, and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ll likely spend the rest of your life not doing things that you could have been doing instead of whatever you are doing at the moment.

This becomes an overwhelming mental burden, and comes with a great deal of guilt associated with the things you don’t actually manage to get done. When I was younger, I used to break down and often actually collapse in a pile on the floor, unable to cope with the demands of life, and totally incapacitated from the pressure of trying to decide what to do next. In fact, I’ve ended up building a life around the concept of actually just doing whatever I want to do, rather than worrying about what I might have to do, just to avoid this sense of crushing turmoil.

I don’t necessarily think this is a healthy way to look at life, but it’s the only way I can often make it through the day. I actually had a conversation about this (closer to an argument, if I’m being honest) with my son the other day, with respect to the different views my wife (his mother) and I have on this subject. My wife is the kind of person that just does; if something needs doing she’ll just get it done, regardless of whether there are things she might rather do instead. Perhaps to a fault herself – sometimes she’ll get so caught up in getting one thing done that she lets other things slide out of focus, even if they might have needed doing, too.

On the one hand, this mentality of doing what I want to do is what’s allowed me to write three fantasy novels and a YA novel whilst working a full-time job and dealing with depression, bipolar breaks and general mental ill-health; I’ve often spent a great deal of time writing that I could have been doing dishes, working in the yard, or any number of other inane – but important – tasks. On the other hand, it’s what’s led me to still not understand how to do my taxes, or keep my car clean and well-serviced, or check the sump pump in the basement before a storm.

And this is all relating to the little things in life – the things that we all have to do just to survive each and every day. Never mind the big things, like tackling social injustice and racism and misogyny and poverty in third-world countries; how can I possibly find a way to commit to acting on these kinds of things, when I can’t even remember to brush my teeth in the morning? There are things in the world – great big things – that give me great cause for concern, such as climate change and the deaths of hundreds of thousands from COVID-19, but dwelling on them seems a fruitless endeavor when I struggle to find clean socks because I never got around to doing my laundry. All that happens is I once again get overwhelmed, depressed, and end up wanting to sleep it all away.

I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to finding balance in this respect; after all, if we all spent our lives only doing what had to be done, we’d want to shoot ourselves out of tedium. Yet if everyone only ever did what that wanted to do, none of the actual important things in the world would ever get accomplished – like finding a vaccine for COVID-19, or putting a human being on Mars. (The US president seems to do what he wants all the time, and look where that got us.)

Of course, there are days that I feel better than others, where I can put aside the wants in favor of the musts; at the start of quarantine, I think I might have been going through a manic phase and was cooking every night, cleaning up after myself, getting my work done, blogging at the same time, and actually managing to balance all the things in life that I wanted and needed to do. But those phases never last (at least for me), and eventually I come around to a point again where I either just want to write or play video games, or else watch South Park and drink myself into oblivion.

Perhaps finding more a structure in life would help some; I know there are people who set aside time for their passions and hobbies, but after that time is up they return to the grindstone of work and chores. Something in me – something childish, perhaps – rebels against that notion, arguing that creative pursuits can’t be contained or boxed in; that when the inspiration strikes, you have to attend to it no matter what. In reality, of course, I recognize that most of the time inspiration doesn’t strike, and I end up just twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to come to me; wasted time that could’ve been spent productively, if not enjoyably.

Maybe the problem is that, after two-plus decades, I still don’t really want to be an adult. Adulting is hard, filled with inane tasks and boring, challenging responsibilities, and I’d much rather spend what time I might have on this earth enjoying life (ironic, I know, for someone plagued with depression). Whether that be writing, listening to good music, or just dozing in the middle of the day, I just can’t face the idea that if I did all the boring, important stuff, I wouldn’t have time left for the stupid, fun stuff.

How do you cope? How do you make time for what you enjoy doing, without it coming at the expense of what you know must get done? Or, like me, do you kind of just … not care?