Month: December 2014

Starting over, habits, and the futility of depression

So it’s the time of year where productivity bloggers (and language bloggers!) write ambitious, encouraging posts advising all of us who are thinking about grand projects, habits, processes, and systems. It can all be pretty exciting. I often love things like this guidebook on New Year’s resolutions. I’m thinking about what I want to do for 2015, too, though I’m not sure if I’m going to state any goals here (I know that public accountability is supposed to be very effective, but I castigate myself enough for failure without adding a public shame factor into the mix).

One thing I do know from experience is that habits and systems will falter sometimes: because we are human, because sometimes life just gets in the way. And what happens then is crucial to whatever project you’re working on. Are you able to put your lapse behind you and dive back into your daily routine when needed? For me, starting things can be difficult, but starting again is even worse, despite knowing intellectually it doesn’t mean I’m a failure.

Still, as a person with depression, the whole mantra about starting over (and over and over) sometimes can trigger me into a real panic. There have been so many times I’ve had to restart a project, a commitment, seemingly my whole life because depression has sidelined me. There just isn’t anything else to do. I can’t just stop breathing, so… I have to pick myself back up again and step forward, even if everything inside me is screaming against it. Even when I’m so afraid that I can’t think straight.

But you know what? That doesn’t feel triumphant to me, or some evidence of how dogged and strong I must be. It plunges me into despair: that no matter how hard I try, I keep ending up at this point that feels like, well, very close to the end. That I’m so bad at living, and at making my brain hate me less, that I even have to be in the position where I have to keep starting over and over. This is not being upset over ruining a streak on Duolingo. This is feeling like my fundamental status as a human being is irredeemably impossibly broken.

Lots of people are putting up “2014 year in review” posts, and the idea of reading any of them, much less trying to do one of my own, just… trips some switch in my brain that makes me feel like all I did this past year was fuck things up, repeatedly. I know there are concrete achievements I could list, like getting up somewhere between a solid B1 and the start of the long road to B2 in German, reading three Harry Potter books in French, doing however many Anki reviews/lessons in Duolingo (… not to mention starting this blog, for whatever that’s worth).

But that feels so horrifyingly insignificant when compared with how much failure I had in my life in general this year. I mean, if nothing else, if I hadn’t lost so many hours to depression and anxiety, who knows, I might’ve been able to get up to B2, right? Not to mention everything else that wouldn’t have suffered — I would trade in all those accomplishments in a second to avoid all that really hard stuff, the things I regret spending my energy and heart on, the health problems, etc.

I don’t know how to reconcile what I can intellectually understand as the soundness of starting over (as well as the inevitability of it, for anyone) with how it can also make me feel like I’m beyond hope and stuck in a failure loop. Hope in itself can be dangerous when I’m super-depressed: hope that maybe I’ve moved a little bit forward, that maybe things have changed, feels so bitterly foolish when I have another crash.

I can’t be the only person who feels this way. Tell me how you try to deal with it, please?

When it’s not the most wonderful time of the year…

Hello everyone! I’m still here, this blog is still here, I’m just… busy. Some of that is with good stuff (studying languages! Going to concerts!). Some of that is… not. In this part of the world, it’s very dark and gray right now; the days are short, and at least here in London, I feel like we’ve been getting tons of rain. Plus, the holidays are really stressful for me, especially this year.

I refer to the spoon theory often on this blog (and in my daily life), but today I read about a fork metaphor for disability. It isn’t as intuitive for me as spoons, but the pertinent ideas are that sometimes you know that doing something would make you feel better, but you lack the energy/ability (forks) to do it, and that sometimes you do things and don’t get the forks anyway (an example for me would be that 99% of the time, doing yoga makes me feel at least a little better, so the few times when it actually makes my mood worse feels like such a failure and a betrayal!).

Sometimes I can’t tell when I’m giving myself permission to take a break because I genuinely need it and it will be restorative and it is a kind thing to do, and when it’s the depression telling me not to do something that will make me feel better (replenish my forks), because, as they say, depression lies.

All that to say: my fellow language-learners, especially you who are dealing with darkness (northern hemisphere-related or internal or both!), those of you who fear and dread the holidays as I do, hello. I hear you. I see you. Don’t beat yourself up for getting behind in your Anki repetitions or for cancelling conversation exchange meetups or for not hammering your way through a chapter of grammar that you wanted to.

If you only want to watch the same episode of a vlog in your target language over and over, or if you find comfort in listening to the same song in your target language over and over, or if all you can manage to do is browse Instagram looking at photos using tags in your target language (you guessed it)… then do that. Shift your study plan down to what you can manage, focus on what makes you feel calmer or cozy or safe. I think it’s important not to stop completely — I know from my own experiences with habits on Lift and elsewhere that restarting is sometimes harder than starting or continuing something — but I do think sometimes it just happens, and sometimes it might even be what you need to do.

For many people, this time of year is already difficult and guilt-inducing (why aren’t you happy, don’t you want to see your family/go to another holiday party, etc.). So lay off kicking yourself if you let your languages slide a little bit, all right? If you need to focus your energy on something else for self-care, then doing that will hopefully leave you in better shape to dive back later.

Seriously. Take care of yourselves, dear readers. Maybe we can make a bargain: I will try my darnedest to practice self-care in abundance if you will too. Does that sound like a plan? And we can meet back in January and figure out how to turn the studying back up again.

(And if anyone’s self-care strategies do involve learning languages, please comment and tell me about it! I did a few very short yoga videos in German this morning: that was nice, except the videos had some technical issues that made them hard to follow. I could look for other German yoga videos, except… you know. Spoons. And now also forks.)

(You can also comment and grump about the holidays or winter if you like, of course! Bonus if you can share some vocab for doing so in a language you’re studying.)