My mood fluctuated pretty wildly this year. At this time in 2012, I was on top of the world. I’d started to write Enter Title Here, I was in love with the book, it was going really well, it was flowing out of me in fits of divine inspiration. And then, at the end of January, I finished it. My mood plummeted. I started to obsess over all kinds of stuff. And I was pretty much down in the mire for most of February and March. In April, I stuttered upwards. Over the summer, I felt pretty good, but not quite at 100%. And then these last four months, I’ve felt really excellent and productive (and ready to begin the cycle again?)
I’ve learned a lot about my mood this year. I think it’s possible that there’s a seasonal aspect to it: a seasonality that was shrouded first by alcoholism and second by living in a place (California) where the seasons don’t vary as much. But we’ll see.
I have learned some other stuff about mood, though. Like, your friends can’t help you if you go to them and say, “I am sad. I am just so very sad.” But if you open up regarding the specific form that your blues have taken–e.g. “I am worried that I will never be a successful writer”–then they can say something like “You’re the best, you’re so talented, etc” and poke a few holes in your shroud of darkness. Of course, only the right sort of friend can do this. Most friends, even ones I love very much, are not very good at providing reassurances: they either try to solve my problems or their reassurances come out anemic and unbelievable. But that’s okay. They’re good for other things. I think the key with reassurance, though, is that most negative thoughts are about internalizing negative events and allowing them to affect your self-image. In order for a reassurance to be effective, it needs to shore up that self-image. For instance, if someone comes to you and says, “I am unlovable; no one will ever want to be with me” then it’s not going to be particularly reassuring to say “I’m sure you’ll be fine; everything ends up with someone.” No, you have to say something like, “But you’re the best! All those other guys are jerks!”
I also learned that there’s something empowering about taking the specifics seriously. I am very much a biological determinist. I am prone to thinking that bad moods are the result of some chemical thing in the brain. And that’s probably true. But that also leaves you nowhere, when you’re stuck in their mire. On some level, it does help to simply attack whatever problem you’re obsessing about and try to address it.
I also discovered two other defense mechanisms. The first is to not think too much about the future. Don’t make plans. Don’t dwell on what’s going to happen. Just focus on the very next thing that you need to do. And the other is to not maintain such a highly-inflated sense of self. To accept that I am not only cosmically insignificant, but that I’m not even the greatest person in the world. In that way, I can recognize that there’s an element of truth to all my negative thoughts and stop trying to engage in a fruitless attempt to wall them off.
But anyway, life right now is prrrrrrrrretty good.
I think this is the last wrap-up post. In sum, it’s been a really good year. I wrote first drafts of three separate novels (two of which are pretty good); I attended my first writer’s conference; I met Tim O’Brien; I wrote some of the best stories I’ve ever written; I got serious about submitting to literary magazines (and got some of my very first personal rejections from them); I broke into a new short-story market (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) and sold five other stories; my living situation changed for the better; I made advances in my romantic life; I developed some new productivity techniques that allowed me to reach some goals that had eluded me for a long time; I got second place in the Tu Books contest and, as a result, found an agent [!!!]; my blog’s readership grew tremendously; and I’m sure lots of other good stuff also happened. I do have a tendency to dwell on the negative, but progress is being made!
At this time last year, I wrote:
I have tons of plans for next year, but I also expect that at some point (probably somewhere between late January and early March, if the past is to be any guide) something really unexpected will happen–something that changes my life forever! And that’s something to look forward to.
It’s true, life-changing events are the province of the winter months! Last winter, I got an offer from an agent and placed in this Tu Books contest. The winter before, I got into Hopkins. The winter before that, I moved to Oakland and began a whole new life. The winter before that, I quit drinking. The winter before that, I moved back to DC. The winter before that…well…nothing really happened that winter.
Anyway, thus ends the wrap-up season.