How to get out of a rut
I’m pretty lucky. I’ve accomplished most of my goals. I have a great marriage and a successful business that we grew out of nothing. I have good health and incredible friends and family. I’m fairly happy just living my daily life. I also have the mental health demons that many creative people face. We just listened to Felicia Day’s book (so good. the creative process! dealing with mental health! the internet! gamer gate! World of Warcraft! it’s a story that touches so close to my own). Wil Wheaton talked about his struggles recently. Mike Monteiro had something to say on the subject.
Now, if you are in a deep cycle OCD spin, or your depression is eating chunks of your life, or your anxiety is whispering lies in your head there is help out there. I have a great therapist if you need a recommendation. When I haven’t slept in days it’s time for a little help from Lorazapam. A good combo of working through your shit and accepting a little pharma help is a journey, but well worth it. I’m lucky to be in a family that has started to openly talk about our mental health. We lost one of our rank a few years ago when he couldn’t take it any more. I wish the conversation had started sooner. It’s genetic for us. It’s hard to struggle with this stuff if you live a charmed life and a story-book ideal childhood. There is no reason for you to not be happy! Yeah, that’s how mental health bullshit works.
It can be hard to keep tabs on. I like really dark, industrial music. I have always gravitated towards the morbid and macabre. This is one way I keep tabs on things though. My favorite industrial artist has a lot of songs about anxiety and not sleeping and the demons. One song in particular I use as a litmus test. The closer I identify with the song, the more I know it’s time to focus on getting out of the darkness. There are times where it can play in the background and I barely notice it. There are other times where I hone in on every word and it speaks The Truth to me.
This article isn’t about those really dark times though. This article is about the blah, the meh, the hrumph times.
Let’s say that it’s just a random Saturday and you don’t want to do anything. But you want to do something. But…goddamn. I’ve been stuck in this gray spot for what seems like an eternity. We are working towards a pretty big project/goal in our lives. It requires patience, there is a 50% chance it won’t happen, and a 50% chance that we’ll need to pack up everything we own in a matter of weeks. The unknown and the instability is killing me. We’ve been in limbo for months, which means that my normal creative outlets are all on hiatus. I don’t want to spend any money or make any plans or get into anything. This gives my brain lots of extra time to spend on obsessive compulsive thoughts. Great. Fucking terrific.
It’s times likes these when I ask myself what I used to do with my time. The same way we all puzzle around how I lived alone, didn’t cook, and didn’t have the internet. How did I fill those days? More importantly, what did I eat?
So, during those times when you need a template to pull yourself out of rut, here is my working version:
- Read or listen to something that inspires you to get out of bed and do something. I like audio because I spend so much time staring at a screen and I need a break. Audio books and podcasts are perfect for doing chores and driving. I love fiction, but to get my ass in gear I like to listen to people’s stories about doing shit that matters. Try Tim Ferriss podcast. Read anything by James Altucher. The Felicia Day book was great.
- Get some exercise. I buy giant bottles of protein powder, so you’d think I have this in the bag (I also do intense weight-lifting workouts 4X a week, so the protein has a point). Even if you’ve already worked out or you aren’t a person that works out, get some exercise. Maybe you do 20 pushups. Maybe you go for a walk (while listening to a podcast! be efficient!). Go run sprints for 12 minutes. Anything that is tough enough to make your brain stop obsessing. Still obsessing? Go harder.
- Create something. I have a drive to create, to express, to brighten my world. That lets me do something with my brain and my hands. There is a firestorm all up in my synapses all the time, so letting that out and focusing it is really good for me. It’s why I love throwing parties, learned to cook, and do some pretty industrial crafts (40watt laser anyone?). I have several blogs, I wrote a book, I make up a lot of stories in my head. This is all in addition to being a UI/UX designer for a full time job. So, jump on Pinterest, find a new dish to shop for and cook, a little craft to make, or clean out a closet.
- Leave the house. I hate to leave the house. So much. I work from home and don’t see a reason to leave the Shire. But sometimes you need to deal with a little hate to feel better. Go visit some friends. No one ever said “it’s not a good time” if you text and ask if you can bring over a bottle of wine. Take a shopping bag, put some stuff in it that you aren’t using and drive it to a shelter.
- Do that one chore. We have had bars on our office windows since the house was purchased. We’re in a super safe neighborhood, but it was in vogue to install wrought iron bars in the 1960s, so there they were. I’ve hated them for years. Working behind bars isn’t great for the mental health. I borrowed an angle grinder and took those damn things off the windows. Finally. Took an hour. I’ve been talking about it for at least 5 years. It took an hour. Yes, I already said that, but I suffered for five years for something that took AN HOUR to remedy. You will have a chore that drives you nuts that will take less than an afternoon to actually finish. Go do that.
- Make a list. Damn, I love a list. Back to James Altucher, he takes the list making to a crazy level. Try it. Get it out of your head. Make a list of all the things you could do.
I’m going to take my own advice. I’m going to find some cool things to laser for my sister-in-law’s advent calendar. I’m going to go cut down some trees and screw them to a board and make it festive as shit all up in here. I’m going to spatchcock a chicken and make Tom Kha Gai soup. I’m going to listen to a podcast and then I might clean out some of the stuff I’ve saved in Instapaper.
Get to it. This is your life, even the gray moments.