Man vs. Self

A couple of months ago, I had this Weirdly Productive Day. I woke up with my alarm (i.e., I didn’t hit snooze eight times), pulled out a notebook, and planned out my day by the half hour. And here’s the really weird part: I stuck to the schedule. In those ten or so hours, I got dressed, went to a counseling appointment, made two meals, juggled three projects, and the day passed in a surreal haze of efficiency. For a short but shining time, I was a woman possessed, a magical person brimming with purpose and motion. Sure, my plan fell apart at 6:30 pm with the item “do yoga,” since half an hour of light exercise meant I had to pass out until ten, but overall I’d gotten more done that day than I do in the average week.

Big deal, pal, says the imaginary reader I just made up. So you behaved the way any reasonably functional member of society might be expected to on a workday — for less than twelve hours. If that’s supposed to be impressive, your average week has got to be shit.

Yes, I reply dejectedly. It is.

How do I explain myself here? If I’ve got a task to do, I will find a way to put it off. It doesn’t matter what it is, I’ll put it off somehow. I want to believe that it’s more than just me being lazy. I think it’s more like me being lazy on top of me being anxious, a closet perfectionist, and a textbook avoidant. At a very basic level, I am a deeply fearful person. I hate starting projects because I’m worried they won’t turn out well. So, when it comes to deadlines, I wait, fingers trembling over the keyboard, until my fear of turning in a subpar product is overpowered by my fear of turning in a non-existent one. This used to be a somewhat sustainable way of living; I had some sad degree of confidence in my ability to clutch things in the end, to snatch victory (or an adequate approximation) from the jaws of defeat. So I’d make excuses like, I work best under pressure, or I’m waiting for the perfect idea. But sitting around waiting for a stroke of inspiration is like waiting for a plain old stroke: dumb as hell.

The thing is, my habits have gotten worse and worse over the years. I’ve become desensitized to my own anxiety. I put things off until the last minute and then some, and I can no longer count on future me to get it together in time. And it’s not just schoolwork. I mean, it’ll be 11:40 am and I’ll think, hey, it’s getting close to brunch time. (Obviously, I missed breakfast in this scenario.) Then it’ll be 4:17 pm and I still won’t have eaten. Or I’ll think, hey, since I have to get up early tomorrow, I should sleep early tonight. And then I’ll stay up especially late, as if to spite myself. As a person who is uncomfortably self-aware, I’ve known and hated these things about myself for a long time. And yet no matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself try, at all, to change.

So, you understand, when I had that Weirdly Productive Day, it was surreal. It was like a Bigfoot sighting. Even now, it hangs hazily in my mind like a blurry Polaroid of something that defies natural explanation. I haven’t had a day like that ever since, and whenever I think back on the me from November 23, 2016, I’m like, Who is she? How’d she do that? I mean, Bigfoot is real. I’ve seen him that one time. And yet still he eludes me, like a hairy Moby-Dick.

People who care about me have asked me questions like, Why don’t you just make food if you’re hungry? Why don’t you just sleep if you’re tired? Why don’t you just do your work if not doing it makes you so miserable? All good questions. All ones I have asked myself, repeatedly, to no avail. There’s this one episode of “The Office,” in which Michael’s talking to Toby and he asks, “Why are you the way that you are? Honestly, every time I try to do something fun, or exciting, you make it not … that way. I hate … so much about the things that you choose to be.” Well, I’m my own Toby.

That day, November 23, was as if I was briefly possessed by the ghost of a functional adult, but it’s passed on, leaving me an empty vessel. And every day I don’t do things I need to do, I am perpetually praying that tomorrow will be the day the ghost comes back for me. Look, I know there’s no ghost. My imaginary reader, my voice of reason, is constantly telling me there’s no ghost. There’s no secret ingredient. You just have to get up and slog it out like the rest of humanity. But the rest of me is sitting in the basement going, there’s gotta be a way to make gold out of this urine. Alchemy is a valid branch of science.

Here’s an easy question. You’re standing on some railroad tracks. Oh no! You spot a train in the distance, barreling your way. There’s ample time to get off the tracks. Do you

A. Get off the tracks, or

B. Stay on the tracks, stare directly at the train, and scream

This one’s a no-brainer. Clearly, option B is a metaphor for the way I see obvious pitfalls coming and step into them anyway. I’m Icarus crossed with Groundhog Day, always feeling the wax melting against my back, always dripping wet from yet another tumble into the sea. (Not to be melodramatic or anything.)

Here’s a secret about that Weirdly Productive Day. I had a big project due the next day, and I still had to wake up at 5 am to finish, and I was still forty minutes late to class. So maybe that day was just an unusually elegant execution of the same old horrible strategy.

There was this guy named Noah in high school. I loved Noah. We weren’t that close, but every time I didn’t finish my work, he wouldn’t have either. We’d see each other in the library, the lunch period before an essay was due, both frantically typing away. Or we’d look at each other in math class and just shake our heads, because we both didn’t understand anything because we both didn’t do the homework.

I miss Noah, but he was an enabler. He wasn’t good for me. But then again, I have no idea what is.