Tag Archives: focus

Staying on track

13 May

3:21 pm

Like (probably) a lot (or at least some) of us, I am starting to feel the pressure of time to myself.  I am grateful for people who are working the front lines of this pandemic; and sometimes, I feel sort of guilty that I have free time that I could, if I wanted, use to do something to improve things.  But, I’ve only been furloughed for five weeks, and I am just trying to enjoy my free time…for now.

Speaking of time, I have a lot of “now that I have time, I should do this”-type of projects that have been on my radar for years; and, partly because these are pulling me in different directions, and partly because I am struggling to stay focused these days, I am starting to feel mentally overwhelmed.  How do I spend my time?  I know this not-working thing is not going to last–and, it’s a good opportunity to start planning for the future, in case I don’t get my job back in July–am I spending my free time well?

Out of necessity, I try to maintain a sense of structure to my days, which is a habit of having worked for myself for almost a decade.  What I’ve been practicing over the past eight years of working remotely–as in, alone all day, just me and my to-do list and my work–is staying on track.  What does that mean?  To me, it means, focusing only on what needs to be done, no matter how “small” it seems.

Getting what needs to be done, done, is easier if I make a to-do list.  It is especially important now, during this very freeform pandemic, where, if you’re not working or you’re working from home and not used to it, it SEEMS like you have no structure and all the time in the world–which can cause you to go crazy with panic, unable to focus on anything; before you know it, the day has passed, you’ve done laundry and snacked way too much, and, you are beating yourself up…giving you more anxiety.  And, if you’re someone like me, who has issues with control and perfectionism and anxiety and depression–well, it can start to feel VERY overwhelming when you want to get 15 things done, have gotten nothing done, and, should probably have expected to get only one or two things done in the first place!

I am here to tell you, staying on track is not a mandate to “get shit done.”  It’s more, for me anyway, stay focused and in the moment by getting only what needs to be done, done.  If you do the most important things today, what more can you ask for?  Honestly, some days, I don’t get anything done…but, I manage to journal and feel grateful (for, well, my sobriety, my “family” here, and then, my health).  On the days when my mind starts to wander to, let’s say, my long-form writing project(s), which take commitment that I may or may not have, EVER; or my passion projects/areas of career focus, which I’ve been neglecting for a long time (due to one, having had to prioritize earning a living and two, just being tired or burnt or lazy or just evolving away from said passions); when my head goes to the edge of the cliff and looks down and sees a huge, gaping hole of canyon needing to be filled with water…?  Well, I stay on track.  I take myself out of my head, stop thinking about all those other things I “should” or “need” to do, and focus on the task at hand.

These days, I don’t have a lot that I have to do–but, I have a lot of pre-projects; like, I am only just sort of thinking about a lot of things, and while I want to put them into project form, I can’t.  I mean, I am struggling with what to write about next, and how much time to further devote to this blog.  I am thinking about what to do next, as in, returning to a few passion areas of my life that I haven’t revisited since 2014–and, at the same time, feeling a sense of guilt, of dread over how much time I’ve been away from these things, that I let them go in the first place.  Why?  Can I catch up?  Do I want to?  What does it all mean?  And, then, of course, I’ll need to log some time looking into them to figure out where they might fit into my future, in a real sense (a job?  a volunteer assignment?  just read books about these things?).

On a different note, our dog took a turn for the worse last Friday.  One of her back legs gave out, and she can barely stand on her own anymore, let alone walk.  She keeps trying, though, and can still get up and down and go for short, stumbling jaunts; she even went on a walk yesterday, which overjoyed me!  Of course, we have to use a sling to help her hold herself up, which is awkward and kind of trips her up more than her lameness.  We wonder if she has “doggie ALS,” since she is part German Shepherd (that’s one of the breeds that is more genetically predisposed to a degenerative muscle disorder in dogs similar to some cases of ALS).  I think it could just be a break, maybe a joint that’s finally given out–she has a very bony protrusion on this leg around her knee area, and a part of me hopes that if we took her to the vet and got it set or whatever…?  Sigh.  Even if they could fix it, the rest of her spine and limbs will just keep getting worse.  So, we are at a new normal again.  We’re just taking it day by day.

And, of course, an update on Facebook:  it’s been a whole 30 days since I’ve been on Facebook!  Woo hoo!  Actually, I logged in for the first time in four weeks on Monday, with the sole intention of deactivating my account…but I just couldn’t do it.  I did end up starting to scroll/troll (is there a difference anymore these days?), and quickly realized that I needed to get off before I got swept back in.  It was a “slip,” let’s say; however, I had to log in to (try to) deactivate my account.  I’ll try again to extricate myself in another month, if I manage to not log in for 30 more days (which I intend to do)…

I can work without wine!

17 Nov

1:04 pm

I’ve had a lot of thoughts lately, but I’m just checking in today. Still here, still plugging away. I had two big weeks the past few, and today will be a big day, and then five more big days–all work, no wine. And, I am doing it.

It’s been tiring, and I still have to figure out the work-life (I have none to speak of yet) balance, but I’m actually really proud to say that I have three pieces coming out, have made my bills for October and November, and am *hopefully* going to make my bills for December (working up some pitches now, and waiting on some editing work to come through). This freelance life is pretty stressful, I must admit, and the day I go back to a 9-to-5 will be the last day I ever complain about working a 9-to-5; but, yeah, I’m proud to say that I’m not only doing it–I am doing it sober.

Honestly, it’s taken me over a year–almost a year and a half–to get my motivation and concentration levels back to where I can work. Well, to where I can work without the “reward” that was so wired into my brain. I can work without the reward of wine, and I can rest and get ready to work again without the reward of wine. There were a few times this week when I was so nervous anticipating not only my first interviews in a while, but my first interviews about things like cloud computing and SSRIs, and my first editorial feedback from a major magazine (ouch); so nervous that I couldn’t eat and all I could think about was, Why can’t I have my wine? I NEED IT. But, they were just thoughts, and as I tossed them around, I realized that I have SO been down that road: all wine will do is take away everything I’ve worked the past 18 months to get back, including my motivation and focus. I can’t imagine having to go through that getting-back process again, it was so tedious and hard-won. Plus, um, waking up hung over is something I cannot imagine doing right now, with deadlines to meet and a schedule to maintain–I’m my own boss, no one is hounding me here. In fact, it’s like I’m walking down a straight path now, and I simply cannot veer off. I’m not sure if I’d be able to handle keeping up, mentally, with my pieces and such if I distracted myself even for a few hours with wine.

So, it’s been stressful, but the important thing is that I’m managing it, and that I’m doing it without the crutch of wine. I can always drink after these stories are done, right? Right. But, then there’ll be something else, like another pitch, the personal writing, the long-term commitment that involves staying focused on a book’s breadth of research. In fact, it seems to me that there will always be a good reason NOT to drink. Or, there will never be a good time to waste being drunk or hung over.

And, honestly, after years of drinking precisely because I didn’t have projects, or the courage to start OR follow through on these writing dreams of mine–those two ideas are relief, cool water, opening clouds, a big wide sky. God-send-type stuff. I get it. I really do. No, there will never be a good time to waste being drunk in my life again. Who knew that would be a comfort to me, rather than a sentence, or a diagnosis?

So, on to my work (yes, I took on a bit too much and now have to punch in this afternoon), and a renewed resolve to make it AT LEAST another few weeks (300 days, my next goal, is right around the corner, and then there’s 365…and, it goes on, and on, and on).

Don’t give up before your motivation returns

5 Nov

2:46 pm

So, in getting sober, I’ve realized that there are things about myself that I know. Things that simply make me “me,” that are neither things that I have to accept nor things that I have to change. They are things that just ARE, and these things are OK.

Like, I’ve always been an overachiever. Some of this behavior was maladaptive, but to a certain degree, I was just born this way. I THRIVE off stress, off getting things done. A LOT of people do, I’m not saying I’m special. In fact, I’ve been wondering about this ever since I got sober. Why have I been struggling so much this past year? Well, I’ve been lacking in motivation because I don’t have wine anymore, that’s true, but I’ve also been going against my grain. Why do I need to go, go, go? Why do I like big cities, with all their ambitious people and innovative ideas and commotion and conflict? I don’t know! I just DO. That’s me.

The past few days have been awesome–large to-do lists, lots of information and sources to research, too much to do, all of it competing for my time. I got off on working in environments like this–for years I worked in the startup industry, and when I went back to corporate America, I can look back now and say that’s when I became depressed. When I went back to graduate school and was once again stretched to my limit, I was on top of the world again! Too bad I didn’t know how to manage my stress and my expectations–my “workaholism,” I suppose I could call it.

It’s always been a fine line for me, but in re-reading my journal from this year last night, I can say this much: I was my most enthusiastic after returning from a weekend visit back to NYC; and, I have never been more vexed, in general, than this past year struggling with too little to do and no motivation to do it.

No motivation was a daily thing in my journal, from about March until, well, now. It’s seriously been a theme in my getting sober. It was a constant struggle, and I blogged about it quite a bit. Now? I feel like there’s been some movement, something’s changed. My brain is healing, for real. Chemicals and circuits are getting back in shape. And, I can honestly say that it’s been like a missile landing in my lap, this return of my motivation levels. What a relief.

My focus, my desire to work, and my ability to manage my time–it’s all back, so it seems. I can “parse” information even better than I remember I could. For example, I seem to have learned how to say “Fuck it” to my perfectionist tendency to get lost in the details when reporting, and instead, focus on the bigger picture, the gist of it. What I need to know is who to contact; what I don’t need to know is their field of expertise (that’s why I’m interviewing them), OR–and this is key–whether or not they’re going to think I’m stupid or ill-prepared. That’s none of my business, what they think of me. (And, they simply don’t think of me, is the point. When I was drinking, I was always so concerned with what others were supposedly thinking about me. Ugh.)

It really does seem that it’s happened only within the past several weeks, maybe a month or two at most–along with motivation, I find myself focusing less on the “what if’s” and trying to perfect the outcome, and more on the “why not?” and “just do it.”

I almost gave up. I was so frustrated that I was going to be “brain-dead” forever. It’s been almost 17 months since I started getting sober, so, seeing my focus and motivation needing that long to come back is DEFINITELY a deterrent to me starting to drink again (even in moderation, whatever that means).

These past few weeks, I feel new. Renewed. A version 3.0 of myself. (I was going to say 2.0, but I think at 39, I’ve already had at least one major upgrade, right?)

The point of this post is, don’t give up! It will come. As Carol said on “Walking Dead” on Sunday’s episode (because you never know where you’re going to find sober inspiration!):

How do you not feel afraid? You just fight it and fight it and fight it and then one day, you’re not afraid anymore. We all change.

Baby steps, or faith in…? Something, at least

10 Oct

10:43 pm

And, sound the trumpets! I pitched my first “real” science story today. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I’m hoping anyway.

For some reason, I’ve stopped worrying about money this week–the making of it, I mean–and have had a surge of story ideas. The kind of surge I used to have, back when my brain was working, fluid, and open to anything and everything being a possible “story.” I had forgotten about the “fun” part of this job because I’d been so busy killing any and every idea I had before I even gave it a chance. Ideas, any and all, plus the ability to pitch them and then, not care if you’re rejected–that’s the heart of this profession. It’s been a while, as you know.

Drinking. Man. Drinking. What good is it? It fucks with your motivation, your reward system. It messes with your ability to learn. It ruins your powers of concentration, of focus. It zaps your energy, so you feel lacking in determination, in initiative. That “oomph” that I thought was gone for good? That I was SO SURE was never coming back, months and months into my sobriety? It is slowly but surely coming back.

And so is the reality of work. Of sitting down and reading and researching–for hours, days if need be–to at least tease out an idea enough to be able to say, this is (or is not) a story idea that I could research and pitch. Did I not know this was part of a journalist’s job? Sure, I did, but I guess I “forgot.” Conveniently, when it was much easier to drink wine than it was to follow through on any of my ideas with sustained effort. Did I just spend too much time at the recovery fair, so to speak (Joan Didion reference!), that I lost sight of the fact that I am not exempt from hard work? From actual effort? Did I expect it to be handed to me, or was that the byproduct of all the thought-wrangling involved in quitting drinking? Because I’ve spent SO much time figuring out this sobriety thing, don’t I deserve everything else to be easy from here on out? NOT.

I don’t know. But it’s coming back and it feels damn good. Good to actually WANT something again. Friends, it’s been SO long, and I’ve been feeling my way through the dark, existing on hope and dare I say, faith. Faith, yes. Faith that somehow, this shit would improve. Somehow, I would mine an ounce of authentic (as in, not forced) motivation and interest. I’ve been reading lots of science magazines and combing through scientific articles this week, not only being interested, but remaining interested after hours of work. Who is this new person? (I have to say, the sciatica has subsided a lot lately, and that is a huge relief; I really don’t acknowledge just how much my back pain has interfered with my life, do I? Of course, I don’t; this alcoholic loves to think she is supposed to be in pain all day, pretending that it’s not affecting her mood and focus. Sigh.)

I also seem to have some distance now, in the form of a MUCH more solid foundation of self-appraisal as well as perspective on what it means to “succeed” and “fail” in this business–and to take little of it that seriously. To have some fun with this. And, to learn to see when I’m becoming too tunnel-visioned and say, OK, deep breath, it’s not that big of a deal, take a break, think about something else. There’s just…balance here now, in my life. I never had any sort of “balance.” I’d heard a LOT of people talk and read and write about that elusive “balance,” but I could never pin it down and define it for myself.

So, maybe this post is about balance. And baby steps. Being OK with the baby steps, taking them even when I’m afraid or am CONVINCED that they’re too small/going to lead to nowhere fast.

This morning, I was thinking about how things have changed since this time last year. I sat down at my computer and noticed the line of folders stacked up along the left side of my screen–all of them are personal projects. I’ve had so many ideas for so long, but none of my personal writing projects ever got started, let alone worked on enough to even be labeled a project worthy of its own folder on my computer. I drank away my time, out of fear–fear which is with me even as we speak–how on Earth could I ever make any of these things happen?

Now? Lo and behold, I have projects. Some just begun, others being quietly plugged away at. And, I’ve realized that this “getting projects started” thing is very similar to quitting drinking. It’s baby steps, little by little, and it hurts and it feels awkward and painful and “I just can’t do this shit…” And then, you’re doing this shit, and it stops being shit and starts being something that you’re doing, that you CAN do and you WANT to do. For example, freelance writing: initially, for me, lots of blunders, lots of fear. But, every day, that fear goes away, I pitch more, my projects are slowly but surely increasing; the fear of being “found out” for the alcoholic fraud that I am (think I am) is going away. I am no longer a fraud; I am no longer hiding behind a bottle of wine (or inside one, more like it). I am doing the shit now, and the car keeps rolling down the hill. I’ve realized in all this healing and navel-gazing that “failing” is part of the process of moving forward. Failure is not the end. Failure is a node, and things happen at nodes.

I want to be where things are happening.

Is it me, or is sobriety actually making me a better writer?

6 Sep

5:18 pm

First of all, thanks to everyone who commented on my post the other day about getting hammered as a reward for, um, not getting hammered. I truly appreciate each and every piece of advice, insight, experience, and warning. It’s helped me to see that yes, this is a form of denial, and no, I sure don’t know much about sobriety or what might be in store for me at day 90. All I know is right now, I don’t want to get drunk, black out, and have a crippling hangover. And, that’s all I need to know for now.

Anyway, I’ve got two things going on, both of which I don’t think would be happening — honestly — if I hadn’t quit drinkin’…going on 21 days ago this Friday (well, it would have been 90 this coming Monday if I hadn’t messed up three weeks ago!). Like I mentioned briefly in another post, I finally pulled the trigger and gave notice on my studio apartment. YES. I am in the process of selling my furniture as we speak in preparation for my move OUT OF HERE at the end of the month.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to be moving on; and while I still catch my breath sometimes when I think, Wow, I’m actually leaving, nostalgia for what was and what may be can only take you so far. This place fucked me up once — I was literally driving around in circles; I began to drink heavily and smash things HERE, in [cold west coast city] — and it did it to me again, even worse, a second time when I moved back. (YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN, no, sir. If anything has ever been bored into someone’s skull, it’s that lesson, in mine, here, and about my time here — coming of age in my late 20s during the dot-com boom in [cold west coast city].) I had never drunk all night and into the next day. I did that here, during the past couple of years. I had never drunk all night and into the next day, and then on the train to work and throughout the day at work. I did that here. I had never drunk and then thrown up and continued drinking, until it hurt; and then kept drinking until I wasn’t conscious. I did that here. I had never OPENED a bottle of wine at 3:30 am and consumed it before getting out of bed and going to work. I did that here. I had never blacked out drunk at work. I did that here. More than once. It gets uglier, but I’ll stop now before I go too far down. It’s done, over with. I choose light, not dark, right?

It’s not that I blame the city per se, but it has had a hand in contributing to life circumstances that yes, I chose, but that also ended up driving me to drink, literally. As a friend just emailed me (and I paraphrase): That city has left you with jobs you’ve hated and people who have hurt you. It’s time to cut your ties, emotionally and tangibly, and start over. YES, YES, YES.

I’m glad, though, I quit drinking so that I could come back here and be sober. I am living in [cold west coast city], sober. It is not the city that is causing me to drink, is what I needed to see for my own sanity. I can be and stay sober anywhere, even here.

But, I digress. The second thing is I’ve got some paid editing work on a project about global warming for a science magazine, which is a nice baby step back into science journalism.

Like I said, I believe both have been made possible not by my tenacity and general obsessive nature, but by my SOBRIETY. Who would’ve thought, when 6 years ago the defining shared characteristic of my circle of friends at journalism school was how close we could make happy hour to the actual length of our school day?

I’m gaining a much improved focus, coupled with a subtle-yet-meaningfully improved mood. I feel braver and more willing to commit to things. In a word, accountable, and unafraid of making and keeping appointments, deadlines, and commitments. Not that I missed them regularly before, but some I did and the ones I did were big ones, like, Make your life happen by the end of the month. It feels immensely empowering, but in a subtle way. Strange, how these things work…

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