Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I know I'm tightly-wound, but it's gotten ridiculous

I've come to the conclusion recently that I need to seriously reassess my work habits.

The whole driving myself into the ground thing is not new or different, and I have, I swear, been making progress with it in the past year or two. I know I say 'I'm going to fix this' every time I scrape myself off the floor after a crash; I go on Facebook and post about how tired I am, how much I hate doing this to myself, and maybe crack a few jokes at my own expense. But I was talking to a friend of mine toward the end of my most recent push, and she said something that really made me pause: "It seems like you're, well, a little too proud of being able to do as much work as you do."

And, you know, it's true. The most common theme I hear in others' description of me - the thing repeated most often when I got into Spectrum - is how much of a hard worker I am. It's something I've been proud of for a long time, especially considering this is a skill I developed over years rather than an innate ability. I still consider it a strength, how hard I work, how much I can take on: I went from mediocre to good fast enough that everyone remarked on it my senior year of college.

I think I'm entitled to being proud, given all of that, but the problem is that some point during those four years of 'working hard', it got twisted up.

My junior year, as I've talked about before, was a really rough time; I overcommitted badly, and was constantly either working or hating myself viciously for not working. It planted the idea that if I wasn't busy, I was doing something wrong. It didn't seem like a bad thing, really: by the second semester of senior year I'd leveled up to a degree I hadn't even thought possible, and I was outputting a finished painting every two and a half to three weeks.

But I graduated, and I crashed. It took me months to claw my way out of being depressed and self-loathing: "I was useless; I was a waste of the potential that teachers and role models said they saw in me," I wrote three months after graduating, looking back on the summer I'd just spent barely making art. I was back on my feet properly that winter, juggling projects and once again pleased (proud) at how hard I was working - and then I crashed again that spring, depressed again, furious at my own failings and lack of progress.

I've repeated this pattern so many times that I've gotten good at compensating for them. I don't get depressed any more, not really - I mostly get exhausted, as I drive myself to the finish line on nothing but grit teeth. I stack projects and deadlines and drive myself through 100+ hour weeks between working at Starbucks and art. I negotiate with myself and compromise in order to 'okay' spending time with friends, or on dates; I have very limited time I'm 'allowed' to watch TV or goof off on the internet.

And reading that paragraph over, I have to admit I'm giving myself some narrowed eyes.

Part of the problem is that I do have a lot of work to do (a long way to go), and only so much time in a week to do it. Part of it is that I spent so long being so aware of how mediocre I was, and something in me will always be running from that, pushing as hard as I can to overcome it. Part of it is that habits are hard to break, and it feels straight-up wrong to not be very busy. Part of it is that I do, actually, work optimally with one painting in-progress on the easel, one drawing in-progress on the paper, and one illustration in thumbnail stage or rolling around in my head.

It's got to change, though. I just hate being tired, and the last downswing was nothing but tired, for two straight months. When MoCCA ended, I was flat-out exhausted and still had to show up at Starbucks for another five days straight... but after two days of just relaxing when I came home, instead of going to my studio, I found myself sort of shocked to discover how refreshed I was feeling. I've spent an entire week and a half since ~*not doing anything*~, and I keep laughing at how much of a revelation it is that, as a result, I'm incredibly rested and relaxed.

Going forward, I still have a lot to do, but I am going to have to put some effort into maintenance and care this time around. If we're talking about time and amount of work, I can't afford these crashes and the aftercare that they require; a little less detachedly, I really need to be less destructive in my work habits.

There is a middle road between not doing enough and driving myself into the ground with overwork - I know this, because I see others walk it. I need to find it for myself, because for all of my advancement, I'm at the point where I don't really benefit from a whip at my heels, or self-flagellation.