I had a Zoom conversation with a few friends last week and we talked about feeling like we have all this time but no energy to do anything. This past weekend I was pretty depressed and it took me a while to realize it.
I think of myself as an optimistic person, so I’m usually at my best when the markets are up and I have a cup of coffee in my hand. My optimism is so strong I often ignore any feelings of anxiety or sadness. I just block those feelings out and try to keep going. But I’ve been to therapy and I’ve been doing this long enough that even if I can’t easily say, ‘I’m sad and freaked out about a global pandemic’ I can now at least see the signs.
Sign 1: Sleep
When I was in High School my Dad would ask me what I was planning to do in my life. Wow, that was a big question… I was totally baffled by my own future. When asked I would involuntary yawn and feel like I needed a nap.
Sleep has always been an escape from emotional distress for me. Going back to growing up in the frozen tundra of the arctic there were no other kids, just my two brothers. If we got into heated arguments or fights it was easy to escalate and declare each other to be the most hated person in the world (the world was very small because we lived in Coldfoot).
But these proclamations only lasted the day. Come morning all grudges had expired and we were friends again. We had no choice, there was no one else to hang out with! So if someone is angry at me or I’m angry at someone else, I get tired. I want to reset to the next day. And while effective under the extreme circumstances we grew up in, this is not a pattern for healthy relationships.
This “sleep reset” habit is still in me. I get tired when I’m stressed. I notice the sleepiness before I notice my own feelings of being stressed.
Sign 2: Virtual Escape
Nothing feels as good as a clear accomplishment. The feeling of progress and winning is why crawling into the hole of a virtual world is so comforting. I grew up with a computer in the house and have always had a computer game to play (the first game I remember vividly is Salmon Run).
In 2013 I co-founded Chroma and we were making videogames for corporate clients (Nike, Intel, Vice). Occasionally I would find myself unsure about what to do because it was first time starting a company or designing video games.
So I’d play some games to immerse myself in the genre. In my mind I was doing “research” but I came to understand there was a difference in my play style when I was exploring a new game mechanic and when I was escaping my responsibilities. Escape was when I was playing hours and hours of XCOM, which is perhaps a perfect game because it gives a steady feeling of accomplishment, which is exactly what I was lacking.
Sign 3: Extreme Procrastination
The third habit I’ve noticed when I’m feeling anxious is an uptick in procrastination. This kind of makes sense, because when the future is unknown, how can you know the right action to take? But being prone to procrastination I know that when I get stressed about something or times feel especially tough I have a hard time focusing energy on anything fun. All the great ideas I love start to feel meaningless and small and I have no motivation.
There have been only a few times when I’ve felt this energy-sucking emotional cocktail:
- After 9/11, when I was living with friends in a house we called Rip City and when we created Urban Honking. I remember how for days the only thing we did was refresh websites and blogs and try to understand what happened.
- When Trump got elected there was a moratorium on anything fun. It felt like the world had taken a sharp turn and was off kilter.
- After I left Chroma and was looking for something new and it was harder than I expected, and all the while my relationship was falling apart.
So, this is the fourth time I feel out of control and that the way the world works is shifting. It helped me to understand my reaction in relation to the other uncertain periods. And I’m glad I was able to identify my poor habits and my anxiety relatively quickly. There is something about a dark cloud hanging over the future that makes me nervous, which sucks up a lot of energy, and leaves me feeling tired and without purpose.
The only thing to do is talk about it and try to figure out how to deal with it. To kickstart myself out of being sad I watched Limitless on Netflix, which is my favorite movie, and is about how taking drugs is great. It’s a really uplifting tale about pharmaceuticals.
Then I made a list of eleven things to do everyday:
- Walk the dog
- Read a book
- Take a bike ride
- Make food
- Study TV (take notes)
- Talk to someone other than Kathryn (phone/video)
- Write 1000 words
- Work on KmikeyM
- Learn something (online lesson or tutorial)
And the first thing I wrote was about how I identify and try to self-correct when I notice I’m feeling tired, trying to escape, and procrastinating.
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