• jess

COVID lessons: Freeze States, Days without Distractions, & Spare Time Anxiety

Updated: Jun 9

I first published the lower portion of this on August 2nd of last year, and I don't believe it was exactly a slam dunk as far as reader reception at the time. Maybe I was unique in my fear of free time back then, but something tells me it's more relevant and relateable now. These days, even low-anxiety folks who historically heralded their free time to laze around are suddenly talking about the pressures of doing... nothing. It's not just boredom, but borderline-existential breakdowns, that folks are suddenly experiencing.


So, seems like a good idea to readdress the issue and piggyback off an old post.




Without working at the office, we... what?


You might be waking up with your head already spinning every day, trying to figure out how to live a structureless life that's suddenly devoid of distractions. Finish one task, and "now what" comes barging back into the room.


I'll tell you, I've been having a hard time keeping my fingers away from my phone.


Every time I find myself with a quiet moment, I'm stabbing at that home button to see if someone is wanting to save me from myself. Please, give me something new to think about. Every time there is, in fact, no distracting message to reply to, I have to look around and make the decision to go do something else.




Decisions are harder than you think


This is the challenge everyone is dealing with right now. Deciding how to spend their time, rather than running on autopilot or living by the seat of their obligations. Life isn't ponying up distractions to deal with one after the next, like usual. Even Instagram isn't going to save you now. People are being forced to sit with themselves, their thoughts, and their underwhelming surroundings, when they would otherwise just go out for dinner and a drink to quiet the mental unrest.


It's a challenge. It's a new way of living for everybody. And it's bringing out the anxiety in a lot of us, traumatized or not.


People are being forced to sit with themselves, their thoughts, and their underwhelming surroundings, when they would otherwise just go out for dinner and a drink to quiet the mental unrest.

Luckily for me, I feel like I'm uniquely prepared for this empty-life anxiety. I've been freaked the fuck out by free time for most of my life. Besides generally living a life of imposed-isolation, I've been in an eerily similar position to this one before. A few years ago I was swimming through alone time thanks to my agoraphobia, mixed with a controlling relationship, living in a new and unfamiliar place, and running a small business all by myself. All day, I had no one to tell me what to do, nor did I really know what to tell myself about starting a business.


Sounds kindof cool, in theory.... but it was not great.


There was not much structure. I woke up every day with a nearly-blank slate and the freedom to fill my time with whatever art project might make a buck - but it wasn't as relaxing as that sounds. It wasn't relaxing at all. I was stressed out having to make decisions for every second of the day.


I woke up every day with a nearly-blank slate and the freedom to fill my time with whatever art project might make a buck - but it wasn't as relaxing as that sounds. It wasn't relaxing at all. I was stressed out having to make decisions for every second of the day.

Sound familiar?


I think everyone is feeling this. People aren't so sure of who they really are or how they want to spend their time without the necessity of 8-10 hours out of the house. Deciding how time should be spent means confronting their own personal boredom, negative thoughts, and life dissatisfaction. And it hurts. Emotions are uncomfortable. Realizing you actually don't care much about anything and the life you created is pretty empty is crushing. Deciding to pick your ass up off the couch and try to make a change is a big step. There will always be reasons not to.



Right now, there's no good answer for "why not"


Let me wrap up this preamble by encouraging you to pursue the things you regularly procrastinate. Pick up the hobbies you lost. Work towards a new career or living situation.


DECIDE to do something with this forced vacation.


I'll help with some time-killing, life-promoting material suggestions. In the original article (below) I talked about some spare time survival tactics that I regularly used, and I think the ideas still hold up in our quarantined world.


I've since published some other COVID posts with ideas for smoothing your sail aboard the S.S. StayAtHome - I recommend checking out anything in the appropriate category header if you need another push.


Lastly, I'm going to say that the old articles I wrote about the Steps for Trauma Recovery have a lot of useful materials for getting your brain in order during this time. They necessitate a lot of lone, down time... so fuck man, get your brain in order while you can. I am.


Lastly, I'm going to say that the old articles I wrote about the Steps for Trauma Recovery have a lot of useful materials for getting your brain in order during this time. They necessitate a lot of lone, down time... so fuck man, get your brain in order while you can. I am.

One of the Recovery Steps I always wanted to include was the necessity of finding empty, alone time to work on yourself without distractions... but I never felt like that was a viable option in real life. Life would be pretty great if you could just refuse to work and take time for yourself, but who has that option?


Well, there's no excuse now. In the context of fixing a sick brain, free time is critical and hugely-limiting resource. Go use it. Please. Get outside every day, journal, spend time doing nothing, and forgive the past 20 years while you sit at home. It's a hellofalot better than drinking and eating your way through the pandemic.


Okay, onto my conference call. After that, I'll have to decide what to do.






Original Post, August 2nd, 2019.

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I’m nearly 30, and I have an admission. I never learned how to take care of myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I learned to fend for myself at a young age. I know how to practically keep myself afloat with very few resources. I've never missed a bill payment or wound up homeless. I've never lost a job… but I never learned how to care for myself.

Think of it this way, I would never treat anyone in my care the way I care for myself. My life has been a tale of me vs. my brain vs. my body vs. the world. There have never been moments of kindness or compassion. Just beating the shit out of myself and demanding more.

Can you relate?


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I’m skilled at living with nothing. Good at being poor, as my therapist says. I know how to manage my money like a motherfucker. Great at “going without.” Excellent at sacrificing my comfort to make a buck.


In order to scrape those dollars together, I became skilled at working, hard. Until my head and body hurt. Until I can’t keep going. I can’t see straight. I’ve always had 2-3 jobs at a time. If left to my own devices, I will always work in my spare time.


When I don’t have anything to do is when I run into trouble.


Spare time anxiety.


Free time is something I historically struggled with, and still have to work on regularly. In my mid 20’s, working a “professional” job and suffering from dissatisfaction, I found myself with enough money and too much spare time. One job, no running around. That’s the period when my mental health really took a nosedive.

I never had any idea what spare time was; when it was suddenly laid out before me, I froze up. I felt overwhelmed and panicked by the possibilities – by the choice. I wasn’t accustomed to choice. I grew up and into adulthood following the leadership of obligation and necessity. Without survival to keep me occupied, I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do.


After years of ruining my own weekends (and life) thanks to free-time anxiety, I’ve finally got a better outlook on the situation. Today it’s clear I have fucked up core beliefs that tie my personal value to working. It’s obvious that I never felt like I deserved anything for myself unless I bled. Even then, I only deserved the cheapest Walmart version. Well, I guess that hasn’t changed much… working on it.

Care.


Today I work on spending my spare time instead of freezing in it. I practice managing my mindset so I don’t flip the fuck out when Friday night rolls around. Giving myself permission still isn’t easy. At all. But these days I work on seeing it as self-care. (ooo, big buzzword in action)

The thing is, I can’t work several jobs, find a new place to live, find a new car, research schools, support a trauma community, commission art, design new products, or be a good (anything) if my body and brain are all sorts of fucked. The last time I tried to do EVERYTHING at once is when my stress-induced chronic illness cropped up at 23. My therapist has said this was my body’s “force stop” override – I think she’s right.


I’ve had to try to accept that spare time isn’t a death sentence – it’s time for me. Time to actually use for my own good. To fulfill other needs so I have the energy to keep going. To refill the tank, so I have anything to give back. When I feel tired, demotivated, and demoralized, I need to give back to myself instead of pushing indefinitely harder.


Tactics.

If I feel a spare time overload coming on, I like to jot down a list of things I would like to do and hope to find a winner. Sometimes I can’t come up with one – so I keep a short list of productive and fun activities on backup. This is just in case I fucking forget what I enjoy in depths of a depressive spell or poopy day. You know. Sounds stupid; fucking works. My list is something like; going on walks, singing, driving, writing, reading, painting, listening to podcasts, taking photos of small things in the woods…


If I start feeling anxious, I’m pretty good at addressing it these days. The best remedy for me is to sit with it. To absorb the anxiety and think through causation. I might have to write a list to identify the multiple shitty situations bothering me. To work it through, I’ll likely get busy hiking on a trail in the woods. Hikes are absolutely my favorite way to expel anxious energy and think good thoughts. I know it’s old advice, but just go outside and get your exercise. It has made all the difference in my goddamn life. Please, go.


Whenever I’m just not sure what else to do, I try to think of ways to improve myself. Hokey as fuck. But, consider learning something online, listening to business or mindset podcasts, and reading self-helpy books when you’re stuck in the pits. Seriously, there are a ton of cheap and easy ways to keep yourself motivated and creative when you aren’t sure what else to do. Utilize them.

Lastly, I give myself permission to use my spare time to connect. It's important to keep people in my life, no matter what else is happening. If I want to take a 3 hour walk to catch up with my long-distance friends, I need to make room for that time…. And for the time to get ready, travel, and take care of myself when I get back. It’s okay to use minutes or hours for myself. I don’t have to rush back and start working without taking a pause. I also can’t be crippled by having zero work and the burden of decision.


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If you're a fellow time-stresser, know you're not the only one who feels like there's never enough and also way too much time in the day. Connect me any time @ traumatizedmotherfxckers@gmail.com to talk more and fill those hours.





That's it, MFs. A new post on top of an old post, both encouraging you to get out of your DECISION FREEZE state and into an active one.


Work on you and enjoy your time away from the world!

Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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