The writing challenge has begun!
I woke up at 2 a.m. from a very fitful sleep. I took D to one of his classmates' birthday party last evening at an indoor playground, and the constant noise and chatting with other parents kept a stream of background noise flowing between my ears all night. So much so that I had trouble falling asleep, and once I had fallen asleep I had trouble staying asleep.
Social interactions, unless they are with good friends, almost always leave me deflated and feeling terrible about myself. D's birthday parties are a mix of kind, heartfelt interactions on one hand but also small talk and snobbery on the other.
Yet, when I woke up at 2 a.m., instead of lying in bed, ruminating, I went to the manuscript and penned a few words down. Later in the morning, after I had cooked lunch and D had set off for his skating lessons, I wrote some more.
It was suddenly amazing, how I could take 15 precious minutes of time and pen a few words down instead of waiting for a long, uninterrupted stretch of time to show up.
Nevertheless, I was all set to go to the library this afternoon and spend a good 2–3 hours working on the manuscript but you know what they say about best-laid plans.
Shortly after D returned from his skating lessons, all hell broke loose at home. I was already in a fragile state of mind in the aftermath of the party and it took very little to tip me over.
The result being, I'm at home this afternoon, typing this post, shaking my head at how royally I've screwed up my life, and wondering ... what if this is it? What if this is how the rest of my days are going to be? Stuck in anxiety, with a bleak outlook for the future and a hard-to-get-rid-off conviction that I'm going to stay at rock bottom, no matter what I do.
Even re-reading the above words is terrifying me.
I look back at the past few years of my life and the patterns are there for everyone to see. It is hard to envisage something different.
As a believer in subconscious patterns, I'm now asking myself: how do these patterns serve me?
The very fact that I keep indulging in them makes it clear that they are helping me in some way, either by giving me some short-term benefit or by keeping me distracted from some deeper issue I need to address.
Yesterday, my therapist asked me to think long and hard about the kind of person I want to be. Since then, I've come up with a lot of adjectives to describe my future self.
But the one thing that is coming to mind today is this: I want to be the kind of person who is true to herself, the one who keeps her commitments to herself.
I don't like being the person who decides to go to the library on a Saturday afternoon to work but then doesn't follow through.
I don't like being the person who is paralyzed into inaction because her present reality is too terrifying for her to face up to.
I don't like being the person who comes up with grand plans but backs off at the first sight of trouble.
Maybe I should set down some ground rules to follow for the duration of the challenge.
1. Writing first thing in the morning, at 4 A.M.
I used to do this earlier, but often when I'd wake up this early, D would wake up too and would want me to play with him. He's older now and entertains himself for upwards of an hour by reading, drawing and many such activities. So I'm pretty certain I can go back to this. Only, this would mean ...
2. Lights off by 9 P.M.
I often get engrossed in a reading a book and I'd keep on reading until its 10 P.M. or later, which dashes any chances of getting an early start the following morning. It's a vicious cycle, one I engaged in only a few days ago as I read an utterly delightful book that I will write about soon.
So every time I am tempted by the short-term pleasure of reading just one more chapter in a book, I must remind myself of the long-term benefit of turning off the lights and getting up early the next morning to write my own books.
3. Writing before the day begins.
I've been trying to write during the morning hours when D is away at school, but when the world around me gets busy and noisy, I start to think of other things like going for a walk or running necessary errands.
And this has landed me in trouble very often. We have a bunch of paperwork to fill out, and neither KrA nor I have been arsed to do it. I don't wish to give up my precious writing time in the morning, and KrA's calendar gets filled with office meetings in the afternoons. Thus the days go by and nothing gets done.
This again brings me back to (1). The earlier I can wake up and get to the manuscript, the happier I'd be in life.
Not to mention that this is something I can do over the weekends too. Getting several words in earlier in the day.
4. Checking email and Whatsapp only at 2 P.M.
There is nothing, nothing at all in my emails and Whatsapp chat messages that help me write. But there are countless things therein that keep me from writing.
I find that any interaction with the outside world is loaded with emotion for me. If I hear from someone I trust and love, it makes my heart sing with glee. If I hear from someone I don't much care for, it causes me to fret and worry endlessly. Sometimes hearing from certain people triggers past trauma, and then the day very easily slips past in a molasses of messy emotions.
So I will check email and Whatsapp only at 2 P.M. And that shall be the only time of the day when I check it.
I've noticed though, that often I check email and Whatsapp out of loneliness, much like I used to frequent FaceBook to assuage that sense of isolation.
5. Fulfilling my deeper need for companionship
OK, so given this deeper need for companionship, there are other things I can do to address this. I had been considering volunteering in the local community for a while, so that's something I'm going to engage in once or twice a week.
Earlier I'd have worried about such an activity being a time sink, but now that I've gotten rid of the true time-wasters, such as hanging out on social media, or frequently checking email and Whatsapp, I definitely have the time and enthusiasm to engage in offline activities. Activities in the real world!
Another excuse I give myself to not volunteer over the weekends is that we may have plans to go out. But the truth is, weekends are taking up by Dhruv's activities/lessons, so we rarely ever go anywhere other than to his lessons or any of his classmates' birthday parties. So I might as well stop fooling myself on this front and sign up for a volunteer program instead.
I can also meet up with a friend every other week for coffee in the afternoons before school pick-up time.
There are also some things that I find are very detrimental to my sanity. Sometimes, when I'm in a good mood, I allow for these to happen, but those self-inflicted transgressions of boundaries take their toll on me in the long run.
1. Being in the same room as KrA when he's engaged on a device
Boy, this one causes me endless agony. So the best thing for me to do is to keep myself out of the path of this trigger.
2. Being in the same room as D when he's listening to Harry Potter audiobooks
This is another significant trigger for me. The Prisoner of Azkaban has been playing on repeat for the last few months, and it really gets on my nerves.
I think this has got less to do with the audiobook itself and more to do with sound in general. I've become strongly sound-intolerant these past few years, which is why attending a birthday party at an indoor playground leaves with restless and sleepless, with residual noising buzzing between my ears for hours thereafter.
3. No chocolates/snacks
While I haven't been snacking per se, I've taken to eating chocolate for stress relief.
Naturally, that gives me short-term delight but costs me a whole lot in terms of long-term health, not to mention the crash in mood and energy I suffer an hour or two later. So, goodbye chocolate-y treats!
4. Not honouring the schedule commitments I've made to myself above
I love making plans, but after two wonderful days of everything going well, I find myself clicking on email or whatsapp first thing in the morning, perhaps eager to see someone's response to my message or worried about receiving bad news from India about my parents' health.
It is as if all the anxieties that would have abated in two joyful days of writing come roaring loudly and with great power on the third day, forcing me to buckle.
As if in some warped, twisted way, I have to punish myself for two days of pure writing pleasure with a day of self-inflicted misery.
It is a very unhealthy pattern to be in.
I have to admit to myself that I've reached a point in life where I love being a writer more than I love being a mother. And I reckon I am finally OK with this.
Earlier, I used to feel terribly guilty about wanting to write if that meant not spending time with D.
The truth is, when I have my words down, I am a happier person, one that can spend more meaningful and quality time with D in a much more relaxed manner.
On the contrary, if I haven't written my words, I go through the day feeling as though something is amiss, something terribly important is missing. Like a limb. Or my heart.
I better acknowledge this as an indisputable fact of my life, as an inevitable part of my life. Because this is who I am. Trying to change this or thwart it in some way only leaves me frustrated and angry with life and everyone in it, including myself.
But most importantly, I wish to approach writing from a place of joy. Not from a place of angst or frustration, not from the objective of seeking to escape my current reality by writing my way out of it. Bringing that kind of angst and desperation to my writing only stifles it.
I reckon these next few months are going to form an intense period of reckoning. Of realizing that the way I've been going about life and writing, with an angry determination, is not sustainable in the long run.
What I need to cultivate, instead, is the softness of patience, the tenderness of understanding, and the gentleness of trust in the unknown.
Trust that no matter what happens, I will be OK.