For the last two weeks Writer’s Block, anxiety, insomnia, and a “Things-To-Do-List” that rivals the Ten Commandments in magnitude and length has been looming over my head like mistletoe over the heads of two total strangers. I felt pressured to make a move, but couldn’t. I sat at my laptop struggling to spit out rhyme and reason and to somehow make literary the garble of confused ideas ricocheting back-n-forth in my mind. I fought, unsuccessfully, to get more than four hours of sleep at night. I used to think I was so badass every time I retweeted @fatbellybella (Erykah Badu) at 3am when she tweeted “They sleep; I grind.” It’s a badge of honor, I told myself. On the real I was doing what most folk do on Twitter at 3am– I was fronting. I wanted to go to sleep. What was up with me? I had just come off a fantastic five-day vacay in Sag Harbor where I slept like a newborn. But now I was panicked. I needed to secure a client. I needed theHotness to be a “real” business. I needed to go on a great date. I needed to feel like my life and my work meant something.
I remember in July, right after hearing about the unexpected passing of a colleague, a mutual friend updated her Facebook status and wrote “Hang On” on her wall. Without making specific reference to our recently deceased comrade, she somehow spoke directly to the hearts of the massive with those words. Those two simple words shifted, yanked and held our grieving spirits together not only because it gave ease to our immediate suffering, but because it also spoke to all the other the little deaths I think many of us experience off and on, every now and then, especially as young, post-hiphop men and women, as artists, as visionaries, as working class folk with ambition. It resonated. “Hold on.”
So while holding-on I searched for the method to my madness and soon discovered that every September I get stuck in this same rut. Remember this drama last year? But why now? Why not in April around my birthday or the first of the year in January? Clearly the 9th month, with its constellation in Virgo had a penchant for hemming me up. Even though I have long since graduated from college, September is still my Back-to-School month and so my expectations for what I want and need to accomplish are set then. I pile it on. Instead of biophysics, psychology and political science, this month my list of things to get done included: Writing a book, cleaning out my walk-in closet, securing advertising for my site, losing 10 pounds, painting my kitchen, creating a media kit and volunteering at a local community center for young girls. Kuhrazy! At least in college you have a syllabus, a professor and study group to help you meet your goals. Going about all of this alone without help or direction is the fodder that sends you spiraling to the bottom– feeling unaccomplished, defeated and dangling from a very short thin rope. I’ve dangled… many times. I’ve always held on too. And this time instead of wallowing in despair for weeks at a time wondering where to start, I was in and out of the shadows in seven days. I did five things that helped to keep me sane, mentally healthy and happy. I guess you could say I created a syllabus to help navigate my path further away from that god-awful precipice. Here are the 5 Things I did after holding on:
1. Reach Out:
I told a friend about my plight. It was not easy. I never like to talk about my problems especially financial problems. I don’t like to ask for help either. I hate it. It’s embarrassing and it’s terrifying. But I’m seeing that it’s not as scary as the bottom and the possibility of letting go. That fear is paralyzing. For me it was easier to tell two friends about two different problems I was having than to tell one person everything. Both were of immediate and immense help. I felt lighter. Someone was helping to pull me up. Don’t be afraid. Please tell a friend, a mentor, a life counselor, a psychologist, a sibling, a teacher, a minister or spiritual advisor. There is freedom in telling. Trust!
2. Walk It Out:
Get outside and walk. Simple as that. Look up and see the sky. Even with all the crap we have to deal with at work and the stresses back at home, this world is wondrous. The clouds, the stars, the sun, the rain– we are all a part of that wonder. Look around you– outside of the cubicle, outside of your home, get off your block and out of your hood. These closed-in, wi-fi ready quarters that we live and work in breed isolation and can suffocate. I was staying in my apartment days at a time the second week of this month. It was 85 degrees and beautiful and I was inside on my computer, stressed, just staring at a screen not really getting anything done. Not feeling the sun on my skin, and only talking to people on my cell and on Facebook & Twitter just fed the monsters playing in the sandbox of my anxiety and malaise. I’ve started walking everyday. Now, while NYC is still a tad warm, I walk, a whole lot and my Writer’s Block at least for now has taken a leave of absence and I’ve met some really cool people along the way. Shout outs to the dude on 116th and Lenox with his boombox who was playing Sister Sledge’s “We Are family” when I walked by and stopped to tell him how much I appreciated his stance. Right now I’m not ready to go from one box to another, but in a week or so (maybe sooner) I will head back to the gym and find a new circuit there to pursue.
3. Stop, Drop and…
Stop whatever routine you are doing. Believe me, it may not be obvious but we all have a routine. Some of them work, but none of them work forever. Drop that routine and change it up or you will begin feeling like a gerbil running on a wheel. I have to admit this is the most difficult thing for me to do. I’m a creature of habit. I hate change. I like waking-up, brewing a pot of coffee and hopping on my laptop. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve been doing for two years now. But I would be lying to you like I’ve been lying to myself for the past year if I said this routine was still working for me. It doesn’t inspire. It doesn’t get me going. I’m just moving around. So now I try to either workout early (that only happened once and it was dope but it’s so hard for me to do it consistently) or meditate to some jazz, which I don’t listen to enough. When I don’t go to the gym, I have gone on a walk disguised as an errand to the bank or post office or I’ll go to a café and have a cup of coffee there. If I find myself stuck inside in my home office, I’ll make a few phone calls or I’ll do some reading, both activities I normally reserve for the afternoons and evenings. My goal is to switch it up. Again it’s not easy for me. I try to drop anything that feels like empty gesture or worse, anything that I begin to feel like I can do with my eyes closed. I need for my eyes to be wide-open. I have a fragile spirit and walking around with shut-eyes I tend to end-up in emotional gutters. So I’m struggling big time with this one step, but even the struggle gives me something my routine wasn’t giving me: a challenge.
4. …Get Bold:
Check it out y’all I really got bold and signed-up for salsa dance classes. My first session is this Saturday. I’m getting out of my hood, meeting an entire group of new people to learn something I’ve been wanting to do for years now. Thank God for Groupon and Living Social because they have given me the opportunity to do all kinds of things that I either didn’t have the loot to do or the access or the time to do. When you have newness in your life it stimulates. It propels. I’ve been watching my friend JM’s temperament drastically change in a year. Dealing with a physical ailment that limited her mobility she was struggling to find her groove. Well now homegrrl is making body butters and creating concoctions in her kitchen that are rooted in her desire to expand to mental places she wasn’t going to in her studies or in her physical activities. She got bold and has created an entire line of products. She seems as happy as she was when she was taking salsa classes maybe four years ago in her old hood many miles away from where she’s made her new home. New groove. New home. New lease on life. Boldness.
5. Short List It:
My “Things To Do List” was a set-up for failure. After returning home from my Labor Day vacay, I sat at my desk and made my list. It was the first of September and I had to get my swerve on. When I finished I had 27 Things I HAD to do. Everything from organizing my file cabinet to finishing my book proposal to hanging curtains to creating a new online subscription service were all on my list. Oh yeah, I forgot painting my kitchen and learning French! I honestly thought this list would help me get it all done, but it just reminded me of all I had to do and not being able to complete these activities in a timely manner just made me feel like a loser. Like I wasn’t grinding hard enough and that I would never achieve success. Last week I made a List of 4 Things To Do for the day. Only four things that I must do before I call it a day. It’s so much easier now to manage my expectations. I get it done. I feel good. Like tiger’s blood, #winning good because at the end of the day every item on my list is crossed-out. Keeping it simple is key to feeling less stressed. Also try not to measure yourself by what you haven’t completed. Find merit in each and every small (or big thing) you have accomplished.