From the British Library’s Flickr account

Like Wholesome Cocaine for Your Soul

On March 16, 2020, like an unwound clock, I stopped.

That’s the day we went into lockdown in the UK. I only expected to stop for a few days — to recover from the whiplash of a global pandemic — but days turned into weeks and ennui settled in.

Not immediately; for a little while, like everyone else, I was a ball of spiky twigs — stressed, angry, frantically scrolling and refreshing the news, winding my nerves ever tighter, like a chemically enhanced stockbroker.

Along with everyone else, I watched the world burn, protests unfold, people murdered by those who are supposed to protect them, and heard millions of voices scream ENOUGH.

I lived on shallow breaths, an acid knot in my chest, shedding random tears at random moments as I watched our world altered forever, overnight.

I stopped writing anything of substance.

I stopped reading.

I just stopped.

There’s been a lot of talk about grief. That we’re grieving for a world changed so radically overnight, and certainly for me, there was and is an element of grief. I miss my friends. I miss being able to hug them and share food with them. I miss my family.

I miss smiling at strangers in the street, instead of backing away from them behind my mask.

But mostly, for me, these past few months have been about control and certainty… or the extreme lack of it.

None of us has any control over a global pandemic or other people’s behaviour or thoughts or actions. I don’t think we’ve ever lived through a time of such uncertainty. And yet I was trying to control it anyway. Perhaps you were, too. That’s what humans do; we try to control stuff.

Which is, quite simply, exhausting. Might as well try to move objects using only the power of my mind (I’m not the only one who tries to do that on occasion, right?)

After a few days, I just rolled with it — but not in a healthy way. In a rubbernecking car-crash kinda way. Watching it unfold was all I could do, but watching it was stressful, but turning away wasn’t an option. All in, I felt pretty helpless. And helplessness turned into apathy.

And I wondered, maybe this is a good time for a hiatus.

So I had one.

For a couple of weeks, I — and there’s no better way to put this — faffed magnificently. I got nowhere, did nothing, and let myself off the hook of doing any actual work.

I told myself I was having a “rest”. (Only, of course, it wasn’t a rest, it was more exhausting media surfing.)

Did it help? No. Not one iota.

Putting everything on hold did not feel good. Taking time out of my life was stressful because all this time doing nothing was time away from doing work that matters to me and it. did. not. feel. good.

Laura Belgray calls it the bullshit pause: “I can’t get anything done while all this is going on. I’ll get back on it when it’s all over.”

I said that to myself so many times!

It took me a while, but I figured it out eventually: feeling helpless is not helped by being helpless. They’re not the same thing.

I may not have control over much, but I have control over enough.

Like choosing to write.

This is day 233 of writing at least 750 words. I wrote every day anyway, but not in always in a conscious, deliberate, habit-building, skill-honing way. These past 233 days have been a deliberate practice. I’ve been thinking thoughts, making connections, then putting them together on paper.

I’ve been reading more great writing, and analysing it.

And I’ve been writing more, because the only way to get better at writing is to practice every day for hours.

That’s more than seven months of deliberate, thoughtful writing, most of which hasn’t seen the light of day… but that’s not the point. It doesn’t need anyone else’s eyes on it now; and maybe never.

This wasn’t about writing for someone else, it was about creating a habit that I can control.

I can decide, every day, to write.

I can decide, every day, to show up and do work that matters to me, even if I don’t feel like doing it.

Even if what I write is utter, humiliating crap.

Still, I write, because writing is like the most wholesome cocaine for my soul: it shoots life back into me and lifts me out of ennui.

Better still, the words I write pull the awfulness out of my head and pin it onto a piece of paper.

Writing every day, creating this strong habit, lets me channel pain and anger and rage and fear at the world and turn it into something proactive. Something that will make a difference. And it lets me capture the moments of joy, too, so I can look back and remember them.

This writing habit is something you can embrace, too.

Write. Create. Now, more than ever, we need to.

Sometimes we need to stop for a moment, to relearn how to breathe. That’s okay. But if you’re on pause, ask yourself: is it because you truly need a pause? Or is it because everything going on around us sounds like a reasonable excuse to stop for a while?

Avoiding work that matters to me doesn’t feel like self-care. It feels like pain.

Which is why I write, every day.

You can too. Set a time, every day, and write.

You’ve got this. Keep going.

Vicky Fraser turns tea(rs) into books over here. If you’d like to build your own writing habit, she’s got a free 29-day writing challenge you can join.

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