As a young child, if there was a word that gave me the most terrible case of heebie-jeebies, it was “Routine.” If it wasn’t already bad enough to follow one at school, I was also instructed to make one at home.
Pre-decide when I am going to study, when to rest, and obliterate my free time by filling it with several activities. Being lazy was the worst crime I could commit, and yet whatever I did was never enough.
I made several attempts over the years but failed to adhere to them. At some point, I decided to take a stand and succumbed to the disorganized side of my personality. I accepted that I will get done what I can get done. If that’s less than another person, then so be it.
This served me all the way through college. But my adult life had several surprises in store, which would dismantle my sleepless — subtly holding it all together — procrastinating lifestyle.
When I started working for a startup, I learned that work-life balance is an oxymoron. When I got an adult apartment, I understood the amount of maintenance and upkeep a home requires.
When I committed to improving my physical and mental health, I realized how much time and persistent effort that demands.
And finally, I realized that I will never have the time to do all of this well.
I’ve tried to look at this optimistically, call it the art of balance, and still do on good days, but in reality, there’s only one word that fits the bill, and that word is “Grind.”
If I want to wake up, fight morning anxiety, cook all my meals, work, maintain my home, mental and physical health. Also, rest, engage in hobbies, socialize, actually scratch that last one, deal with insomnia, and process my childhood trauma that props up without warning in one day, then I am in an extreme race against time.
Every 24 hrs is a giant puzzle, where I have to somehow fit all of the above.
I have to allocate enough time to do one thing correctly—in the way it should be done and just enough time so that I have energy left for the next thing. Then I plan the second thing, third thing, and so on and on.
While attempting to adult, I have reluctantly realized that establishing a basic routine, which I can modify and update when needed, is helpful.
It doesn’t tell me what to do — no one can, but it does show me my day on a two-dimensional spreadsheet. It reveals how much time I have available every day and when.
Over a period, it has allowed me to observe what time is best suited for which task. If I discover that one slot is occupied, I plan to move something out as I now understand how much can realistically be done in one day. I can decide what can be postponed and what I should rush to complete today.
My routine has formed a backbone that the rest of my life stands on. If I had to do everything in my head, I would drive myself crazy by optimizing at every step, repeatedly—in a loop. I couldn’t get anything done.
Having a structure that I continually build and rebuild based on observations, feedback, and new information has given more meaning to my days. I honestly don’t know how I ever got by without one.
As useful as this system is, I still find it exceedingly hard.
Every day at multiple intersections, I can feel time slipping through my fingers. On the days that I can’t keep up, I have to assure myself, again and again, that it is okay; I am doing my best. On other days, I push myself hard and remind myself that it’s all worth it. My tired, exhausted body and most of my mind don’t agree, but I drag them along.
Every morning I try my very best to defeat Anxiety, which asks me to stay confined to my bed as I couldn’t possibly get everything done. I get started anyway and remind myself that I’ve taken the most crucial step. I’ve started.
My self-doubt tells me that I am blowing things out of proportion. Someone else, rather everyone else, is doing better. I shhh it and get on with my day because, over time, my routine has become my rock, and I have come to rely on it.
But what’s harder than keeping up with this grueling schedule is getting back to it after a break.
Whether coming back from a vacation, sick leave, or even a weekend, starting the routine again seems like an insurmountable feat, and I keep getting the feeling that I can’t do it. That even if I do it one day, I won’t be able to get through the next day. Every day is the same, the struggle remains, and I can’t keep up.
We’ve all seen the memes, the one where we want a vacation right after a break, an extra day between Saturday and Sunday, and all the ones about exhaustion and insomnia.
From a vantage point, my life is good. I do things only on my terms. I’ve designed it myself and always think about why I am doing something. It has taken me years to fit the pieces together, figure the “what, how, and when,” and I am finally in a content place.
I can’t put my finger on the pain point; why is it so hard?
On a good day, I would call my routine a harmonious orchestra. On bad days I want to hide from it. And on most days, which are “okay,” I find it overwhelming.
In the thick of things, I wonder if I can ever get over how hard this actually is. How it just doesn’t get easier with time. That no amount of completed ticks can give me a confidence boost or cement the belief that I am any good at this.
I stretch my time between feeling like a failure and pumping myself up to get things done. And then fit in extra time to quash doubts that cheekily tell me that I’ve just spent all my energy completing the bare minimum.
I feel exhausted — thoroughly exhausted.
I wish to run away from all this. But, where to?
This is the life that I wanted, have always wanted deep down, and yet somehow, I’m unable to come to terms with it.
Last week, I had to take a few sick days courtesy of a heavy period, courtesy of my PCOS. My cycle is unpredictable, and at times, I have a monstrous period that chains me to my bed. It feels like my uterus is trying to kill me, slowly but methodically.
I prefer to rest during this time and conserve my energy. Trying to do a few things while furiously bleeding out has proven to be a disaster, both physically and psychologically. I have learned to focus on the silver lining, yay vacation time!
You would think that a few days of hugging my hot water bag, Netflix, and chocolates would be nice and calm. Mentally I could check out and let it all go — relax for a bit. But, no, not this time.
I caught a case of what I call “low-anxiety.” This is not a medical term. I’ve created it for myself to define what I go through succinctly and adequately.
When my body rests, my mind tries to as well. But it’s often unable to shut the parts that it absolutely needs to for this to work. It’s like going on vacation and being unable to remember if you’ve locked the front door.
Did I switch off all the appliances? Have I packed enough sunscreen? Shit, I’m bloated and can’t use the outfit I had meticulously planned to wear today. Why does nothing ever work out for me in the exact way I want it to?
There’s this nagging feeling at the back of my head, a low throbbing, if you will, that something is wrong. It’s like forgetting something but not knowing what it is. But, you are sure that it’s something rather important. It is not your passport, because you would have triple checked that, more like swimsuits for a beach vacation.
This was my mental state for 4 days — a headache along with my cramps and body ache, and a low humming noise that refuses to shut up. My critical inner voice made a rare appearance and told me that I am so bad at everything that I can’t even rest properly.
Shit, I thought I was done with this.
Before the next week started, I already knew that I wanted to get back to my routine in full swing. I was mentally preparing myself for it all this time.
I was planning what I would do at work, how to work more, and also adjust some goals so that I can get back to a manageable space. I made a list of things that needed to be done at home. I was starting exercising again and also decided the day on which I absolutely would fit in a workout.
I tried my best to replace the nagging feeling with this detailed plan to have something constructive to focus on for the time being. It did go away eventually, but the thing that came next was worse. It was emptiness.
The thing is, I get little fulfillment from following the routine. I spend so much time doubting myself and mentally catching up to my day that at the end, when it’s over, and the dust has settled, I am left wondering, did it have to be this way?
Do people who don’t have to carry this weight around get a lot more done without breaking a sweat?
It is times like these when I find myself in a freefall. Not one with a parachute, but an unexpected drop into a bottomless pit. I am unharmed, but I don’t have a place to rest or stand or sit on. I start to question everything and have immense trouble in finding satisfactory answers.
Everything just seems so meaningless right now. Like nothing really matters. I want to give up, sleep and never get back up. I want to accept failure and deal with that instead of futilely trying to get back up again. I am tired — so damn tired, that I need a vacation, one that never ends.
What eventually stops me from giving up is that I’ve been here before.
I have let go and removed any and every expectation from myself. Do you know what that led to? More emptiness, vast unruly empty expanses where I feared losing myself, forever.
I realized then, and many times over, that I need a purpose in my life. I need to believe in things. As cynical as I am, I can’t get through life thinking that nothing matters. I have to make things count.
Cooking a healthy meal for myself matters to me. So does caring for myself; keeping track of my mental health. I want clean surroundings and like creating a nice, orderly space for myself. Writing this article matters.
Thus, I need to keep trying.
As it turns out, I know what I have to do. I just don’t know, how.
A part of me wanted to end this piece right here. I couldn’t bring myself to share my learnings and realizations because, at this moment, I am falling short and am unable to follow them. Then is there a point of publishing them for someone else — for you?
Are any of them worth sharing, reading, following?
Then another part of me made a case I couldn’t deny. I will be doing myself a colossal disservice if I don’t acknowledge all the progress I’ve made through the hardest of times. Just because I am stuck doesn’t mean I have lost everything I’ve gained until now.
This is a phase; it will pass, as have all of them so far. I will look back at it as a minor hiccup, although right now, it seems like an end — the end.
I am not going to think about my current state for a while and discuss this problem objectively. On some level, I do know what I am doing and what I am saying.
I have made it this far, haven’t I? This is my 45th piece on this platform, and my critical inner voice told me that I couldn’t get one published. Well, clearly, it has been wrong before, and possibly now, it is wrong as well.
The first step for me in any problem-solving mission is checking the status of my mind. Asking it how it’s doing, if there’s a known issue floating around its surface or if it needs some rest. All problems are mental to some extent, and they are so to a large extent for me.
Sitting down and allowing my thoughts to complete, to let them take as much time as they need to arrive at an end, helps me untangle the mess. I begin to see them as straight lines. Granted, there are many of them, but now I can pick one, look at it closely and brainstorm solutions.
Sometimes I look stuff up on Google to find out if there’s a term for what I am going through. I read “Psychology Today” articles, link it back to my own study of it, and try to decipher what I’ve been going through. More often than not, the results are pleasant and validating.
For example, more than a year ago, I entered the terms “Anxiety” and “Exhaustion” in the search bar and got a surplus of hits. They talked about the problem in detail, describing precisely what I was going through, and it was immensely gratifying.
I felt a sense of relief by merely saving these articles for future reading. Someone knows what I am talking about. And now, I can research the hell out of it.
On other occasions, I contrast my current mess with past events, thought, and action loops and try to find answers.
These things have a tendency to repeat themselves, sneak up on me in one way or the other, and I am going to detect them. Next time, I will take less time to identify a connection. Maybe I will already have a solution for it.
Often, patterns present themselves if you look closely enough. The stray thoughts, unwarranted emotional responses, worries, and nagging feelings start to make sense bit by bit. Turns out, they were all connected and desperately trying to tell me something.
If they are a creation of my self-doubt and now weaker critical inner voice, once identified, they disappear in a cloud of smoke. Doubt has met its opponent, you see, and a worthy one at that. Her name is Awareness.
I’ve begun to look at this process as an investment. A place where I can pour my time and energy because it helps me make sense of things.
It may seem like most of the work is still ahead of me, that I’ve just identified the issues after all this time. But that’s not how I see it.
The unknown is my worst enemy, not feeling things, not knowing what is happening inside my own mind. I choose to believe that the work is already half done because now all that’s left is figuring out solutions/fixes for individual bits of issues.
I can do that, one at a time. I can try again.
My main problem, at the moment, is challenging and simple at the same time. When I am behind or perceive that I am behind, my Anxiety goes in overdrive. It wants to make up for time lost and fit everything that I didn’t do and desire to do in a short span.
It wants for this period of abject failure to be over, to get things done as fast as possible, and for me to come out of it on the other side. Then, it tells me I will have everything under control and can start working at a normal pace.
Some days I may even do more and exceed my expectations. My life will be good; it will be perfect.
I’ve been burned by this false promise so many times that now I can say, with surety, that such a day will never come. I am not saying this because I don’t believe in myself; it’s because the game is rigged.
My hyperactive mind thinks of every single detail in advance. It optimizes, continuously deals with indecisiveness, tries, again and again, to make things right. It makes elaborate plans with drawings and schematics, measures everything down to five minutes, and wishes to make the impossible possible.
Today is the day it says that I become superhuman.
This exhausts me to such an extent that I often fail even before I’ve started. I am a flawed human being, dealing with doubt, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues, struggling to get through the day, and my mind is crippling itself.
I find this to be a freefall because I am so overwhelmed all the time. I can feel my heartbeat rising, my skin getting warmer, my eyes strain, and my head bursting from ache.
I feel as if I am in a car without brakes, driving in the dark. My body is continuously moving, dropping from side to side due to uneven roads, sharp turns, and deep potholes. I can’t stop, can’t pause, and can’t jump out. I am on a never-ending topsy turvy road, which leaves me nauseated from all the sudden movements and noises, and I can’t seem to get off it.
Just describing what I feel in detail gave me a head rush. It also brought me back to the drawing board, my usual starting point for all problem-solving missions, Acceptance.
Here I was right in this article, describing this issue as a mild nagging feeling. Well, now both you and I can see that it’s far from it. My situation is extremely challenging, and I need to accept it wholly.
Not acknowledging my predicament for what it is, is not doing anyone any favors. And if the past has taught me anything, it is that the problem won’t go away by itself.
Denial doesn’t work, neither does pushing things to the background. I need to drop something, make some room, and deal with this problem with the time and attention it demands.
The second thing I need to exercise is patience. The problem gets resolved when it gets resolved, and this process is a vital part of my life.
Bad patches come and go. We fail often and are unable to keep up with the high standards we set for ourselves. Still, most of us pretend like we don’t and want our lives to seem perfect. But, to what end?
A predictable life wherein every single day goes exactly as planned will be extremely tedious. I don’t know about you, but my mind will conspire that I am living in an artificial reality.
Our reality is hard as hell, we never know what’s happening one moment to the next, and if we don’t really have the privilege to disappoint ourselves, make mistakes and learn from them, then we have nothing.
I am not stopping my life, just accepting that things are not going according to plan for a while. On three days, I ordered takeout instead of making dinner. One of the days, I worked half of what I intended to. On another, I did a bit of work and home tasks and couldn’t complete either.
Things are working, just not the way I want them to. The rest of the time, I am resolving the problems, tunneling my way through the vast tangled mess. One by one, little by little, I am trying to get to the center of it.
A long term solution that I have been working on for a while applies to this scenario. I’ve been developing a sense of judgment about when to go hard and when to go gentle on myself.
Some situations demand going slow, taking a pause, reflecting, and caring for myself. At other times I need to push myself hard, pump up the adrenaline and bring things to the finish line, which I want to accomplish.
Initially, with my work, I wanted to achieve a state which I termed as “Flow.” At times I am ordinary, and at other times I am racing; these dual states should exist together in a land of perennial awareness, seamlessly flowing from one to another, so that I can get things done, predictably and appropriately without disturbance and distractions.
Later, I realized that this is more of an “Ebb and Flow.” My mental state, the problems that emerge within, physical health, and overall life itself is not so much in my control. I can’t predict things, manage expectations, make reality happen, and adapt to surprises asap all the time.
At times things don’t work out despite my best attempts. Other times I am too tired to try. There can be a third or fourth set that I haven’t figured out yet.
And there’s no way that I can be adequately prepared for all of this, in advance.
Developing this judgment will allow me to pick a situation, label it to one or the other category and deploy the appropriate response. Then I can work on dissecting the problem, understanding it, and solving it eventually. I will be preventing the initial shock, time wasted from going down the wrong road, and overwhelming myself from the freefall.
Right now, I am thinking about what this sense actually means, observing myself across different situations, collecting and saving data, and identifying micro behaviors and thoughts that represent a particular state of mind.
Honestly, even with the hiccups, I do feel like I am making some progress every day. I am choosing to look at this point as a milestone in the long journey of actually reaching the end, wherever that may be.
Another solution came from a trend that has been floating around the internet for a while. Construct small achievable goals for yourself, such as “make your bed” and strike them off your to-do list. This will make you feel productive. I don’t know why, but I could never bring myself to do this.
The to-do list is my most used weapon against Anxiety, yet I would rather throw it away than put imaginary items on it. I do make my bed, coffee, breakfast, do my skincare routine, water plants, and tidy my house in the morning. It doesn’t make me feel anything, though.
I wrote this idea off and moved on from it. Then, recently, I came back to it and realized that what I needed to do was customize it. The goals that really matter to me and have the power to make me believe that I can do something are the ones related to my work.
Modifying my writing goals or rearranging them to move shorter items first worked wonders for me in the past week.
The original plan was to write two articles, a short one (1000 words) and a long one (3500 words). I modified it to write the short one first, inserted a poem in between, and then do half of the long one, which I intend to publish late on Monday or early Tuesday.
By grouping two easily achievable goals in the first three days of the week, I allowed myself to feel a sense of accomplishment, overcoming, and closure. I also stretched to complete 2/3 rds of the last one, finishing up the most challenging parts, i.e., writing and initial editing, so that’s something, as well.
And I was calling this a “bad” week. Well, in a way, it was, and in other ways, it also wasn’t. Amidst the ebbs and flows, life happened, and I am still here, standing.
That right there is the real why — why it is hard to get back to the grind. Because of the mental picture we build, the perfect routines we aim to display, the pretty little bullet journals we just have to draw in. We set high expectations, fail, and feel shitty about ourselves. Then we stop tracking our day, as we feel ashamed about the constant edits.
Our version of a routine, a day or a month, would be different for each of us. In fact, we should create custom versions for ourselves, suited to our unique needs. But this time, let’s make room to fail as well.
We all know what a good day looks like, but do we know what a bad one is?
Do we think we are never going to have one?
Let’s make room for good, average, and bad days, draw them out, look at them in detail. If we can accept this, then we can also take the crap life throws at us because expectations won’t contrast so harshly with our reality.
Think about it, why don’t we spend more time preparing for an average day when things don’t go according to plan?
Because they are very likely to occur, and getting through them without mentally breaking down would be a significant achievement, well, for me at least.
Maybe it’s time we change the definition of the Grind, taking the perfection down a couple of notches. Let’s search for a better word, a more accommodating one, that’s actually reflective of the imperfect, unpredictable, and yet attainable combination that is life.