Friday, April 09, 2010

My hollowed-out life. I am feeling pretty destroyed by work at the moment. I feel that all I do is work and work and work and work and work and work. Then I go out to work events and then I get home and work some more. I put off housework, eating, making medical/dental appointments and other everyday things because I feel that getting work done is a bigger priority. I can feel myself getting tired, sick and overwhelmed, like a clockwork toy winding down. This makes me panic, because how will I get all my work done unless I can keep working?

Work has totally hollowed out my existence; it has become vitally important for me to succeed at work because it is my only source of self-esteem. I have no hobbies or leisure activities because they have all become part of my work. I have no romantic or sex life; nobody to relax with after work or to attend work-related functions with me. I barely see my friends any more, except for talking to them on Facebook or Twitter and feeling guilty about it because I should be working.

When someone asks me what I've been up to, the only thing I can think to say is "Working", and I dread talking to friends and family about my day-to-day life; not just because it must be so boring for other people to hear, but also because telling people is like experiencing the work-related stress all over again.

It's not only that there is no joy in my life; I also feel constantly ashamed and guilty. Someone more motivated and organised than me should be able to handle my workload without the constant feeling of crisis and wasted time that stalks me. I can see my friends shouldering vast amounts of work and just dealing with it, whereas I have a relatively short and simple to-do list that shouldn't take me nearly as long to get through as it does.

It's very hard for me to think about life in a big-picture, abstract way, to plan long-term projects and set goals. This is because there always seem to be more pressing and urgent things to think about and spend time on; it's like trying to concentrate on something with a circle of people around you whispering various things in your ears all the time.

I took the Monday and Tuesday before Easter off to go on a road-trip with my parents. I had to work solidly through the previous weekend to make sure that all my required work was done before I left on Monday morning, and I had to fly home in order to review two Comedy Festival shows on Tuesday night. In the end my plane was delayed three hours so I missed the comedy shows, which I've had to reschedule. I have been fantasising about taking a whole week off everyday work so I can concentrate on big-picture work, but that would require such a large amount of groundwork that it's exhausting to contemplate.

There's no such thing as TGIF because what is Friday but the day before another working day? The only difference between weekends and weekdays is that I read the weekend papers over brunch and coffee, which is really more like research. Then I go home and do more work.

Melly I hear you. I find I can put up with huge amounts of work if I have a light at the end of the tunnel, and some relief to anticipate, but when I don't have that it is just crushing.

The only possible strategy I can suggest is to work even longer days for 6 days of the week just so that you can take one day off. But I realise that often doesn't help, when you feel so swamped that time away from work is just spent thinking and worrying about work anyway.

Maybe plan a holiday? I think this is really hard to do when freelancing but incredibly important, because if you aren't really committed to keeping one week clear then it just doesn't happen.

Good luck with it all, and take comfort in the knowledge that no matter how hard or how long it takes you, you do really really good work of a quality much higher than most people.
Um, is it time to get another job? (sorry about the unsolicited advice)

I regret the years of my 'yoof' I spent working when I could have been going out more. Unfortunately one often has to consolidate careerwise in one's 30s. It's a bit of a rock and hard place.
Mel, come see a crappy movie with Penny and I on Friday. Haven't discussed it with P yet, but I'm sure we can swing something and get you away from the computer for a few hours.

Hey Melski,
I wonder whether you might put too many things on your To Do list for one day. If you are always setting too high expectations (and thinking of what you ideally need to get through, rather than what is humanly possible), then you will always feel like you're failing them.
I say this because I have observed you working (on the last writing week!) and I think you DO churn through the work efficiently, and to a very high standard. So I really don't think you should feel inadequate or guilty about your work practices.
Also, I am a big fan of turning off my phone, getting away from the internets, and sitting in another environment (State Library or Carlton Library are excellent), just as a form of everyday escape.
I'm both in fear and awe of your work ethic, Mel. They way you describe it, this doesn't seem like a particularly pleasant way to live. Something's got to give - what's it going to be?
Leanne, it's telling that you observed me being productive during Writing Week and not during a regular working week.
I'm a new reader and I always love your wit. I think it's easy to lose motivation, and motivation isn't linked to quantity of work, so sometimes only a few tasks to do is just as hard. But your photo makes it quite clear you have heaps to do, in a very small environment that is not as aesthetically conducive to work compared to writing retreat style environments.... so if you can't do anything about that, think about what time each week you can spend in a cloistered like environment. I love the story of Helen Garner writing Monkey Grip in the State Library.... you don't even need to be working, it might be just as important to allocate 1 hour per week to being in a quiet public space environment doing some conscious non achievement/non socialising. Nothing virtuous, nothing that involves learning or being productive, just being. Knitting is great for that, empties your mind.
I know you hate it when people give you suggestions ... but I wonder if maybe you should talk to your doctor? I periodically feel exactly like this, and it's depression. I don't suffer it in the way other people do - it's not like I get sad - I just behave like a stressed-out ADD kid who always focuses on the wrong thing and everything feels insurmountable.

You're clearly a very focused, intelligent and successful woman. You shouldn't feel like that. It's worth having a discussion with your doctor just in case it's as simple as that.
I'm with Mikolai. Let's go see a crappy moofie on Friday! You need other emotionally disturbed freelancers around you. At the moofies.

In other news, I know what you're saying. I have one tactic that might work. Which is try not to get sucked into your screen. (I mean it seriously.) I notice that I waste a lot of time thinking I'm doing stuff when actually I'm just looking at my computer. Keep a hard copy list, written on paper, next to your computer. And when you've finished one task, force yourself out of the screen and look at the page. If you can't find another task on the list that you have the energy to start, get up and walk around - even just into the garden and back. Don't get back on the computer until you know you can start something else from the list.

This works, it really does - for me, anyway. And when you shut down the computer at 11pm or whenever, say out loud in a grave tone, "Well. THINGS have been achieved." I do that every day whether Stuart is there or not.
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