Sunday, 15 March 2009

All better now

I think I'm more or less over the latest depressive episode. I've stopped sleeping 10-12 hours (back to my normal 8) and I'm fairly resigned to the drop in income (read: none) that will occur at the end of this month as a result of Creative New Zealand's response to my last grant application. I've prepared the introduction for tonight's Poetry Society guest, Richard Langston, and I'm really looking forward to the reading. For the rest of the week I'll try and get on top of the competition work, of which I have yet to do any.
I still need to visit my Dad once a week, and that'll be Wednesday this week. My sister reports he is increasingly frail, and I noticed that when I went to lunch with him 2 weeks ago. She described him as "fading", and he's certainly been winding down physically for the last year and a half. However, he's going off to indoor bowls tonight. He hates being so physically weak after a lifetime of activity, and he's summoning up every tiny bit of energy he can find to do the things he enjoys.
Sylvia starts a modelling course tonight. She's well-settled into university, and she and Ben share a class, which means he stays here on Wednesday nights, as well as the weekends, because they have a Classics tutorial first thing on Thursday morning that he would have to get up at 6am for if he were at home in Mana (aw, diddums!) She's also just got word that she's got a job at Te Papa, which she was desperately hoping to get so she wouldn't have to resort to retail, supermarkets, or cafes, the usual haunts of cash-strapped students. That Ursula did the same job, and was popular, didn't hurt her cause, though she still had to front up and present well at the hour-long interview.
Ursula is teaching full-time, loving it, and exhausted! I think our Sunday family dinners are going to be consigned to happy memories. Jennifer has 2 weekend jobs and hasn't come for the last few weeks. I could call it the empty nest syndrome, but I refuse to have my life labelled that way. After all, I'm one of the few people in the world who doesn't put their pants on one leg at a time (though I'm having trouble figuring out how to do that with socks and shoes).
Wally and I played Yahtzee for the first time in a zillion years on Saturday afternoon. I won, which was for the best really.
I've just finished reading 'The Constant Gardener', by John Le Carre. Not sure how much I liked it overall, though I found it compelling reading. The ending was largely unsatisfying, if fairly realistic, and I suppose I had hoped that the 'little people' would win. Now I'm back to Michael Connolly (again). For a complete change of pace, I recently read 'The Bell Jar' for the first time. Now I get it. Such exquisite writing, and I doubt if I have anything new to add to what anyone thinks about it. I've got Sylvia Plath's letters out from the library, but it's obviously not a read from beginning to end kind of a book. Might have to rethink my approach.
Might even read a poem in the open mic tonight, if I can be bothered choosing one. Must get on and submit to JAAM.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

three weeks from hell

I expected a downturn after completing the Iowa Poetry Workshop. I used to counsel art school students, and there was always a period of yuckiness after an exhibition, when the artist lost the momentum of feverishly preparing for something important, was generally exhausted from working (with pleasure) at a high pitch, and completely lost sight of the larger picture. I expect it's the same for poets after a book launch, when the work comes to an end and the main goal is achieved (there is, of course, promotion to do, but it's not the same thing).

So I knew I would come to a standstill after my portfolio was handed in, and was prepared for it. After all, last time I worked that intensively, when I did a similar IIML workshop with Greg O'Brien in 2003, I found I couldn't write anything new for about 3 months. This time was different, though, as I went straight from the workshop to preparing the March issue of a fine line. I had made a start on it during the workshop, so I wouldn't be coming to it from scratch, but it still turned into a major headache. I was working just as hard as I was on study leave, the lead article was a bitch to format, not helped by the writer wanting me to post him a proof before publishing it (he eventually relented when I told him it had to get to the printer, like, yesterday). And then I got a disappointed email from another organisation for inadvertently leaving something out of the magazine that I'd promised to include. I'm old-fashioned enough that I don't make promises that I can't keep, so this was purely a sign of stress.

I came back from study leave to about 120 emails; this was after dealing with the most urgent ones as they came in. At the point at which I started working on them, the post-performance yuckiness set in. It was going to bring me to a standstill, whether I was ready for it or not! Let's face it, we all know there's no good time to get sick, cliche though it is. Physically, I'm in fine shape. I started the year determined to spend an hour a day in the garden, rain or shine, as my way of looking after my physical, emotional and spiritual needs, and I've managed that. But my mind decided it needed a holiday Those 120 emails looked like Mt Everest at that point, and they were continuing to burgeon, as emails do. Oh, and that was just the NZPS ones - my personal email inbox looks like a virtual landfill (I'm up to over 600 unread, and counting).

So learned helplessness kicked in. "I can't do this." "Why am I even bothering to get up in the morning?" "This job is too big for one person." "I'll never have any time to myself again." (Mental distress is irrational - I'm still doing that hour a day in the garden!) "I don't have time to fundraise and I'll never get paid again." And the worst one of all: "I can't cope." Learned helplessness, unchecked, leads directly to the Black Dog, who likes nothing better than to reinforce the generalisations, extreme thinking (always-never), awfulising and low frustration tolerance that I learned about in Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy training.

The obvious answer was to put my training into practice, and start challenging my own irrational beliefs, yada yada yada. How does a stressed person take time out from seemingly insurmountable work demands (I've done almost no promotion of the competition this year yet, and 2 Creative New Zealand deadlines have passed unapplied for already) to work with herself? Well, I have the remedy, and it's getting me slowly back on track - increase my medication! It's a wonderful shortcut (though it doesn't obviate the need to do something about the work load), and I'm feeling better already. You see, anti-depressants don't make the problem go away, but they do boost the mental strength to approach it with something like equanimity.

So now I can get up in the morning unworried about the amount of work I have yet to catch up on. I can enjoy my hour outside without thinking about what awaits me inside, and I can sit down at the computer, make a short list of what I most want to achieve by day's end, and get started. Anything I do beyond that list is a bonus, and I'm no longer immobilised by the thought that by choosing one thing to do I'm leaving out something equally important. It's crisis control - eventually I will catch up, and the world won't blow up if I don't. And then I can go back to my normal maintenance dose.

Ah, Amitriptyline, you are truly my friend.