Self Sabotage

I’m noticing the ways I trick myself.

It’s twenty-five past ten and I’m getting to work. My rule with this notebook is to post something by midnight. Yesterday I started at ten, Wednesday at nine thirty.

There’s a pattern I tend to fall into. (Other people do it as well, but I’m a chronic case.) If you’d flipped through my school exercise books, most of all maths, you’d have seen a steady decline in neatness from the first week of each term, until the last entry was a crumpled pencilstubbed mess. I’m like that with everything that involves effort, and particularly with timekeeping. A lot of academics say they’re procrastinators, but my habit at university to put things off later every week. The first essay for any given tutor was sent a day, perhaps two, before we met, the second the evening before and the third late at night. By Hilary of fourth year I was sitting down to type with an hour to go.

It turns out this is known as executive dysfunction. I stumbled through Oxford with severe undiagnosed mental illness: the upper second I left with could easily have been a first if I’d known what was wrong. I don’t particularly remember my three years there; what anecdotes I have are lampposts in low-hanging fog. Oxford is notoriously brutal on mental health—in second year, I got used to being woken at 4am by my own hands shaking—and several friends were formally punished for succumbing to stress and self-harming. In my first year, after a bout of depression culminated with me dropping a grade, a disciplinary meeting placed me on probation. (‘Other options’ were hinted at in ominous passing.) To my embarrassment, I still nurse a quiet grudge against that tutor. Then again, I suppose I hid things well. During the year I lived in a block of college-owned flats, the site manager said I’d impressed him: ‘I’ve never had you on suicide watch.’ There was, as I recall, an Excel sheet.

In the years since, I’ve learnt how to deal with being depressed. The new thing is anxiety. Since starting out with this journal, I’m noticing how often I’m anxious—particularly about work, or what passes for it. On Tuesday I was anxious about whether I’d write a first post; on Wednesday, about burning out. Yesterday’s post, about getting into the groove of things, wasn’t anxious, but now I’m worrying about letting the schedule slip. Noticing progressive lateness never helped remedy it in the past. I’d like to believe I’m invested enough by now to stick the month out—I certainly mean to—but I’ve given up second-guessing my own brain. At least I’m noticing the fear now. There’s a cliché about realising you have a problem, and on that front, I already feel somewhat better.

Ten to midnight. Phew.

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