Today I have, as usual, been trying to do too many things at once. I am regularly told by people that this is a terrible thing, that I shouldn’t do it, that by trying to do so many things at once I end up doing nothing very well.
I sincerely hope this isn’t the case, however I find that, whether or not it’s true, I have very little choice in the matter.
Concentration is often an issue for me. I suffer from a total absence or over-abundance of it at various times, and find that in order to be productive in any way I must adapt accordingly. When my concentration levels are at zero, I ensure I have many things all neatly lined up that need working one, so that I can spend as long as I can manage focused on one thing, then move on to the next without feeling like a failure. I remain on this task as long as I can, then move on again, and so on, until I ultimately end up back where I started. Having spent so much time thinking about so many other things, refreshed enough to once again tackle the original task. This I find is the best way to handle myself at times when working on one thing for a protracted period is impossible.
I am (again) often told that I should rest at times like this. ‘Just relax’. The problem I have is that if my mind becomes quiet, if it is not occupied by whatever it is I am doing, either because what I am doing is ‘relaxing’ or because I’ve been trying to concentrate on one thing for too long, one of two things happen: I zone out completely and am often lost in an abyss for weeks, even months at a time; or my head becomes filled with unwanted thoughts and images, yes even voices, which are not only extremely upsetting, they can drive me to the brink of sanity. I can lose my reason entirely at times like this, if I am not very, very careful.
I have been existing in such a state for just over a month now. It began around the end of September and has been getting steadily worse since. My solution, thus far, seems to be working. I have a great many projects on the go and spend a little time doing one then move on to the next. This is totally at odds with how I can be at other times, when I become utterly fixated on one particular thing and will do absolutely nothing else, including eating, sleeping, bathing and leaving the house.
Both these mindsets are a reaction to the mood-state I am in at the time. I am often frustrated, and in fact quite aggravated by the fact that people think they know what’s best for me. If I’m bouncing, one task to another, I’m told to slow down, focus, stop taking on too much. If I’m fixated on one particular thing I’m told I’m being obsessive, that I’ll burn out, that there’s no need for it all to be done right now, to ‘take a break’. The reason I find all these things so infuriating is that if I am doing one or the other of them, it is because I am trying, desperately, to stave off another doozy of a mood swing. I am teetering on the brink of a bad depression and trying every single thing I can think of to stave it off. I am about to hurtle into the stratosphere and, rather than contend with the usual side effects of mania, I am channelling all that energy, all that insanity, into something constructive, in the hopes of avoiding the catastrophic consequences of such states I have experienced in the past.
Getting people to understand this is extremely difficult. In particular, they emphasise that you will exhaust yourself or become ‘run down’ and that this will, inevitably, make you feel worse. What they don’t understand is that these things we do to keep ourselves sane are coping strategies. They may not be perfect, they may have some unpleasant side effects, but the fact is they work—to one degree or another—if they didn’t we wouldn’t keep doing them. That is psychology. That is something I have learned over the last few weeks in group therapy.
So, if you are doing something because you need to, because it is helping you cope, don’t automatically assume it is wrong just because other people can’t understand it. It may not be perfect. It may have unfortunate side effects. But there is something there that helps you, and anything that helps should not be thrown away. The trick is identifying what is helpful about it and what is unhelpful and separating out the two, so that you are left with a helpful coping strategy which gets you through the tough times, but doesn’t have all of those unwanted side effects.
I’m still working on the last part. In the interim, I’m multi-tasking.
And there is nothing wrong with that.