"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Adaptability
October 22, 2016

I’m OK

Yesterday was a modest day. After the last couple of weeks, which were full of interruptions, plans gone awry and missteps, it was good to wake knowing I had an ordinary day of work and try my best just to get through it. I spent a big chunk of time tidying up the office, sorting […]

Yesterday was a modest day. After the last couple of weeks, which were full of interruptions, plans gone awry and missteps, it was good to wake knowing I had an ordinary day of work and try my best just to get through it. I spent a big chunk of time tidying up the office, sorting through drawers of stationery and supplies, throwing out some old paperwork and generally making the space feel warmer and more organised. It was also nice to focus on the worthwhile if mundane task of updating the Mac Mini I use for my photo post-processing (it now has two internal SSD drives, 1TB for the system and data, & 2TB for the Lightroom master library).

Speaking About Health

After my health issues in the last month or so, I’ve had a lot of friends and followers, here and on social media reach out to see if I’m OK, especially after my last post, where I talked about attending, then having to withdraw from a recent photography workshop in Tokyo.

The short answer is I’m OK, even if I’m not yet completely OK.

All the metrics, resting heart rate, blood pressure, average daily steps and hours slept are back to normal. I’m exercising a little more, eating clean & on track to lose the weight my doctor asked me to shed by sometime in January.

But, those weren’t really the problems that brought me down, they were the signals something was wrong.

The anxiety that’s eaten away at me for a big chunk of this year, that threatened to erode my physical and emotional well being a few weeks back, that has subsided, but it would be unwise to assume it’s gone. I’m not taking any medication, but I am seeing a psychiatrist, mostly to work through strategies to manage stress. And, I’m having a lot of frank, warm, honest conversations with my family.

The Year Of Introspection

I’ve been asked if there’s any connection between this and the amount of introspection I’ve done in the past year. It’s a good question. When I went to New York, a year ago this month, I was at a low ebb, lacking confidence in my creative abilities and the direction of my work. I felt weighed down by recent failures.

The time in New York, the people I met there, the places I experienced and the time to reflect gave me confidence, clarity and conviction. I came back home with a sense of the things I needed to change, which were mostly commitments I needed to quit, and the things I needed to learn, which was almost exclusively things about myself.

Hence the introspection.

But, I also put myself under a lot of pressure. I expected these changes to deliver results for me before the process of making the changes in my life was even complete. I was impatient.

And, my family still faced the same issues as always. My daughter still faced the same issues teenagers always face. My wife faced the issues career executives always face. As a family we faced the same issues expat families always face. Just those, in any normal year is enough stress as it is, without the big ambitious changes I was making in my own life.

Creative Waves

I’m still working, but I’m setting myself less to do each day, finishing earlier and taking two day weekends. I’m spending a little longer over my morning coffee and rushing less while making dinner.

I’m also thinking a lot about what the culture of work is for us who are trying to make art, trying to run small creative businesses. We’ve taken so many cues from the startup world in recent years, we’ve set ourselves up to be tiny online startups to support our work, sometimes looking more like digital media companies than individual artists. There’s such a relentless wave of ideas, advice and speculation on how to stand out, get noticed, and make your mark. It can feel like a full-time job just reading, watching and hearing all the ideas, let alone acting on them, while also trying to do the thing you feel you were put on the earth to do.

It’s so hard to keep up. Maybe it’s impossible. I don’t know.

As I look over my blogposts, along with emails to friends and peers, I can see I’ve been struggling with this for some time. It’s perhaps not surprising it overwhelmed me, like you try to surf a wave that’s too big, too steep and too aggressive for your abilities. As you fall, you feel for a brief moment free, suspended in space, neither on the wave or under it, but then water breaks over you and you lose control, as the tumult pushes you under.

Being held under the ocean can be frightening, it makes you feel small, helpless. The sand that feels so soft under your feet as you walk along the beach is suddenly brutally hard as the churning water drives you into it (not to mention savagery that rocks impose on frail human flesh). You can try to fight it, but it’s better to just accept the pain and ride it out.

Eventually you will come to surface again. Soon you’ll be able to joke about it.

Toni 8 years ago

I’m glad – a week late – that you ARE OK.

Your frank blogging is good. I don’t know if your family read what you write, but I know my wife reads mine sometimes, and that makes me hold back quite a lot at times because I don’t want to burden her.

We all have different approaches to things. Probably a couple of decades ago now I went under the wave you described, where I could no longer keep up and could not possibly cope with everything thrown at me. My strategy was to give up completing stuff: to cover the essentials that would mean the end of the world, and to make token gestures with the rest while not completing them or even particularly worrying about them any more. It kept me productive and able to work in a pressured technical environment, and mostly out of melt-down too. I suffer some guilt for the things I don’t finish, sometimes mild panic attacks and those are the worst aspect of it, but generally it lets me keep going at a level I can cope with.

If you can find the surface again then that will be great.

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