This is not a post I particularly feel like posting. I wrote the majority of it yesterday, when I felt a little bit less awful and hopeless than today. Here I am sitting at my computer at the end of a dull and unproductive day, where I spent most of my time curled up in a chair watching the second hand of my old clockwork pocket watch because it proved to me that time was passing even though I wasn’t doing anything.
But I think the fact that I’ve had such an awful day and that I’m feeling so bad about my productivity is the reason I need to finish this post and publish it. It embodies the mindset I’m trying to improve and control — and the hardest thing is tackling it from a bad place. On days when I feel positive and productive, I guess it’s much easier to talk about achievements.
On, then, to the post itself.
I don’t tend to look back at the end of every month to see what I’ve achieved, but January is the exception to that — perhaps because my goals for the year are still clear in my mind. And the goal to recognise my achievements prompts me to self-reflection.
One thing I’ve been realising is that achievements vary from day to day. On Friday, getting out of bed at midday to lend a book to a friend was an achievement. Other days I berate myself for not doing anything before 9am. Making it to a lecture at all can be a huge task to overcome, but sometimes I’ll feel capable of writing two thousand words of notes while I’m there.
And achievements can seem mundane to other people. Yesterday, I had to go to London for a hospital appointment, and once I got back to Cambridge I opted to take a taxi from the station to college instead of walking at least half an hour in the dark while carrying two bags. It was the first time I’d taken a taxi by myself, so the whole process of going to the taxi rank and getting in and paying and working out the tip was all new. (I wouldn’t have been able to do it at all had I not taken a taxi with a friend the day before because buses in Cambridge don’t run after 8pm. Or at weekends.) And I was nervous about it. But I did it and it went without a hitch and greatly shortened my journey. That was, for me, a major achievement.
Yet it’s easy to look on this month and be unsatisfied. After finishing the draft I’ve been working on for more than two months, I’ve written next to nothing, just a few notes on paper and three or four poems. I haven’t had any bright, bold ideas, or published anything, making it different to the last two Januarys. I’ve only scraped through writing two essays, one of them during the holidays, and I’ve fallen behind on translation AGAIN.
I’ve spent a lot of time in bed. A lot of time watching Buffy. A lot of time reading books unrelated to my course because I could only concentrate on the short sentences of kids’ stories. A lot of time wondering why I’m at uni when I don’t manage to do anything half the time.
And it’s frustrating to think that time has passed and yet here I am. I’m an impatient person. If I’m not doing something I’m constantly worried that I’m wasting my life, that I haven’t been working hard enough or putting enough effort into the things I want to do. It’s an unhealthy, obsessive mindset, but it’s a part of who I am, so it’s not a personality trait I can easily abandon.
I have to keep reminding myself of the little things, like the fact that I learned to fry sausages so I can eat them during term time despite not having an oven, or the fact I now have a Nectar card to earn points in Sainsbury’s, or the way my first attempts at using a new video editor were relatively successful, or that I managed to invite friends over for my birthday.
I have to keep focusing on the little mundane achievements — I figured out why my kettle kept blowing the fuses in my room. I remembered to do laundry. I caught the train from Kings Cross without panicking. I didn’t have an anxiety attack in the MRI scanner. I didn’t once forget to take my medication. I took up a new form of dance. I didn’t blow up the microwave (though that was a close one).
And it’s not much, but it’s something. It’s something to remind myself that baby steps are still steps. If it feels like I’m standing still, the world is still spinning under my feet and still travelling around the sun and I am moving with it, never in the same place twice even while stuck in bed, exhausted by the smallest things.
So on these days when the fact that I’ve managed to keep myself alive this long seems less like an achievement and more like a punishment, I keep forcing myself to look at these things. What did I do today? Very little. I overslept. I felt awful. But even though I was late, I made it to the Coppelia (ballet) rehearsal. It was the only thing I did all day, but I still did it, even if being late would have been an excuse not to go.
I’m not really proud of that achievement. It’s so very small. I can’t be proud every time I get out of bed, or manage to make myself a meal. I can’t be proud of catching a bus. Pride has to be saved for the bigger things, like phonecalls and essays.
But that doesn’t mean it’s meaningless as an achievement, and it’s figuring out that distinction that I’m working on.
Maybe this January was even less productive than last year’s, even if most of my ill health wasn’t physical. Maybe I like myself even less than I did when I started my ‘shameless selfie’ tradition. But in the end it doesn’t matter, because I made it. And February’s going to be better. I’ve promised myself that, so it must be true.