The Motivation to Not Do Anything Else

“But how do you find the motivation to just… write?” 

This seems to be a golden ticket question on every writing forum, at every book signing, in every writing workshop. Motivation.

I never really got that question. How do I find the motivation to write? How do I find the motivation to breathe? Things may stand between me and my writing goals, but motivation never seemed to be the issue. 

Lately, I’ve run into various speedbumps and found myself questioning my motivation. I felt motivated to write. Yet writing time didn’t seem to happen, pushed off until I was right up against deadlines I’d set for myself, other things taking its place. I wouldn’t say much in the way of breaks or procrastination was happening, either—it was events and appointments, health issues, more urgent deadlines, and generally putting out fires. In fact, I felt agitated by my lack of writing time. It seemed like every time I sat down to write, something else occupied my time or my mind.

For a minute there, I thought the issue—despite constantly running up against my own deadlines—was that I was actually not being ambitious enough. I knew I could afford to push writing off, so I did. I was aiming for ten thousand words in a month then, which for me seemed low. Yet I was constantly running up against my deadline. Not because I’d been working hard at writing all month and was still failing to meet my goal, but because I was running around doing other things, then sitting down to whip out the words in the last day or two or three of the month. And I could. If I just need to get words down, a fifteen thousand word day isn’t out of the question. Given that I was only counting words I was posting to the Internet—words that needed to be typed, edited, formatted, posted, promoted—a five thousand word day was about my max. Three days right at the end of the month seemed an almost generous timeline. 

So I upped my goal to fifteen thousand. No dice. In a relatively rare instance, I didn’t hit my word count goal—or even my previously lower word count goal—at all. I only posted five thousand words. 

So what gives? I thought. The motivation was there—and I tried framing that issue a thousand ways. Was it my energy? My focus? My creative spirit? But nurturing all of those things failed to address the issue. 

Eventually, I realized that if I really wanted time to write—and to really enjoy it, not crank out words as the clock ticked down—I had to make time. I wasn’t really carving out time, just setting a word count goal—a goal I knew I could ignore for twenty-eight days or so at a time to prioritize other things. So I changed tactics. I decided that for at least fifteen minutes a day, I would write. I was also very familiar with the kind of results that can produce. If we’re just talking getting words down, over a thousand words was common for me in a focused fifteen minute period. If anything, I expected actual output to go up even though this goal, too, seemed small. But there were many pros to it. I got to do it every day—and I really did view it as a get to. On the flip side, like my other daily tasks, it was automatically excused for certain reasons—like travel, which had eaten into my time to see to monthly goals the month prior, without forgiveness. 

My productivity—writing wise—exploded with this method. Truthfully, once I’d been in the flow for fifteen minutes, I didn’t want to stop, and somehow, extra time seemed to appear. Even if I stopped putting words on paper, my mind kept going. By visiting with my writing projects every day, and therefore having them constantly in my head, I was having ideas faster than I could write them down. Productive ideas, not just my characters begging for scraps of my attention by spinning up interesting, but implausible, storylines. Besides just words getting posted, I was doing other important work I now realize had been neglected. 

If not my motivation, and if the time kept appearing, what really changed here? 

I wasn’t just being dramatic or arrogant with my opening questions. How do I find the motivation to write? How do I find the motivation to breathe? Of course, you don’t need motivation to breathe. But how often do you just sit and breathe? Many people find this seemingly simple task very difficult. And why? It’s certainly not about their motivation to breathe. It’s about their motivation to just breathe. In reality, it’s about their motivation to not do anything else. 

My issue wasn’t my motivation to write. That felt luxurious, the way that just breathing can once you train yourself for it. My issue was my motivation to put down everything else and just write. It can feel kind of self centered to just breathe when everything wants your attention, and that was what just writing felt like for me.

In a way, I’m always writing, like I’m always breathing. In a way, writing is a lot more than putting words on paper, a fact I reconnected with when I realized I was having ideas chapters ahead of time when I wrote every day, instead of forcing uninspired words once a month. If you’ve ever written so much as a list (shopping or packing or to dos), you probably understand this. While doing something else, things pop into your head. Buy milk. Pack an umbrella. Call doctor. Ideas get explored, and daydreams played out. By the time the paper comes out, it’s just transferring what was already written in your head onto the page in a coherent order. Sitting and just writing for me can also look a lot like staring at the wall while all the good work happens in my head, though I concerned myself only with the final part of that. The rest seemed to sort itself out. 

I realized that in a way, I did have a motivation issue on my hands. It wasn’t that I wasn’t motivated to write, it was that I was too motivated to do everything else, or not motivated enough to not do anything else. 

I had more than twenty-four hours’ worth of things to do in any given day, and something had to give. I had many balls in the air. I had stopped juggling any ball that I didn’t truly need or want, and each one had tighter boundaries, better optimization, fewer sub goals/projects and tasks/events, and lower minimums than ever, and were beneficial for people beyond just me, but it just wasn’t enough.

Yet, I felt trapped. What was I supposed to do, then? 

While I was wrestling with that question, something sure did give out: my mental health. I don’t exactly recommend it as a clarity seeking technique, but literally mid (arguable) self harm relapse, dissociatedly fantasizing about what would come of it, it hit me. 

A while back, my wife correctly pointed out that when I am unhappy in a situation, rather than making external changes, I first tend to self destruct. Primarily, I think this is out of self blame—if I could just handle it, any situation would be fine. (I do, to an extent, believe in changing myself before the situation, which I’ve written on before. It very much aligns with my stoicism oriented beliefs, but there’s a point after which this is more like giving up—like when the situation can be bent further and I cannot, and I just sit there and literally destroy myself instead of changing anything.) But, my self destruction also functions as a cry for help—a way to make the pain I feel on the inside be a problem on the outside, and make someone come save me, force the situation with powers I just don’t have. Or… do I? 

In my fantasizing about what would come of this self harm relapse, I saw decisions being made for me about having to rest and what to not do. And I realized that, while difficult, while they might disappoint some people (though really, people have been more understanding than I gave them credit for) and involve really enforcing some boundaries and prioritizing for myself, that they were all decisions I could just, at the end of the day, when push came to shove… make. No one was actually coming to save me—these were my things to make decisions about—and it was that or self destruction.

If I wanted to do literally anything, I needed the motivation to not do everything

The realization is in place, and with it, the details have started to sort themselves out, impossible decisions now seeming trivial in the big picture view. 

Change is coming. I know what I truly need and want to do. 

And I am motivated to not do anything else. 

Toxicity in Productivity Culture

There’s a lot of toxicity in productivity culture, really.

I might be particularly susceptible to it. But I notice that when people talk about staying up particularly late to finish something or waking up particularly early when they’re eager to get back to it—generally speaking, skipping out on sleep—I am jealous. It’s not really a possibility for me. I am not a functional person without my psychiatric meds. I have to take them every night—even one skipped or reduced dose can wreak psychotic havoc—and they knock me out. I will not be doing anything once I take them (you should see what happens if I need the bathroom) for a minimum of eight hours. Sleeping less than eight hours a night is not an option. And… boo hoo, right? I must sleep a normal human amount, consistently, and I have a lifestyle easily built around this fact! So why am I so jealous of the occasional all nighter? 

Meanwhile, I’m recovering from an eating disorder. Not only is that another great reason to take my meds and get my sleep, but, right now at least, I’m logging three meals and three snacks at set times, to share with my team, per day, among other tasks. Yes, this element is more forgiving, but if I want to recover, I ultimately have to stick with the program. No skipping lunch because I’m in the zone, which I miss terribly. Boo hoo. I must eat enough to fuel my mortal body, consistently, and I have a lifestyle easily built around this fact! So why am I so jealous of people skipping a meal for the sake of flow?

Toxicity in productivity culture. 

There’s romanticization of self neglect in almost every story of success—how a business was built on all nighters and more caffeine than food. There’s competitiveness—especially in demanding environments—the, “Oh, you slept for four hours last night? I only slept three.” There’s endless advice to be found on how to reduce your need for sleep, or “research” on why you really only need six hours. There’s an assumption that productive people are cutting corners on self care to squeeze out more work. You’re supposed to be both an early riser and a night owl. To skip breakfast on your way out the door and give up your lunch break. 

Sure, plenty of productivity books will say you should prioritize self care—in the name of productivity, forget your happiness and health—but if you read between the lines, there’s the assumption of work first, you later, and that you are here because you are interested in being a productive person, so you’ve obviously at least dabbled in skimping on your needs. It’s like purposefully missing the memo about self neglect makes you self absorbed. 

But that’s not going to keep you healthy or happy. And productivity wise, it’s not sustainable. It’s better to sleep and eat enough now than to spend months too burnt out (and miserable) to work worth mentioning later. I ran myself into the ground trying to craft the perfect college application, only to burn out and drop out in tenth grade (psychotic break aside). My wife tried to launch a business in an impossible amount of time, only to take an ambulance ride to the emergency room (which is, by the way, expensive). The risks are real. 

Plus, those demanding environments are social nightmares. It can feel close knit (dare I say cultish), but whom do you turn to for real support when everyone laughs at you for getting more than half of the sleep you need? (And how are you going to develop boundaries?) 

I don’t want to get into healthism or condemn the occasional, voluntary skipped lunch or late night—but the underlying idea that it’s required, constantly? That’s something worth examining. I’m certainly still fighting it. 

And let’s take a little detour into creativity. There are endless articles and more on the link between creativity and mental illness. You’ll find ones that say that mentally ill people make better art or more art. That most artists are mentally ill, or that most mentally ill people are artists. Then you’ll find an article that debunks the one you just read. And then— 

The idea of this link between mental illness and creativity is everywhere. There’s some subtle, toxic incentivization for artists to become and stay mentally ill. And messages that good art is created via trauma and disorder, rather than by putting in the work of practice.

Don’t get me wrong. I write on this subject myself—but I speak anecdotally about my own experience. The idea is worth examining. But we still should consider health, happiness, and sustainability as well as creativity and productivity. I want to consider these concepts and links for myself as someone who is, incurably, a schizophrenic, and is, incurably, a writer, not make people want to live with a disability or view trauma as a shortcut to great art. And I still generally focus on prioritizing my wellbeing and putting in the work. 

Ultimately, we should remember that we are our own best asset, and take care of ourselves the way we take care of our favorite calendars and pens. Yes, it may make us more creative and productive, too, but also, we should just do it for ourselves. 

Do You Change Yourself, or the Situation?

I had a conversation with my wife the other week, and the big question boiled down to: do you tend to try to change yourself, or the goal/situation? 

My wife tends to try to change the situation. If it seems remotely changeable, she will try to change it. If she truly can’t change it, if it seems remotely possible, she will try to exit the situation. 

I, however, tend to try to change myself, if at all possible, to modify my skills and strategies, to push myself to adapt. 

There are big pros and cons to both.

If the situation is changeable or leavable, my wife tends to get faster, easier results. But I tend to come out of the situation with more tools to help me with the next one.

For example, I can write almost anywhere. In a passenger seat of a moving car. On the swings or grass at the park. While donating plasma. Next to the campfire at 8,000 feet. In a crowded coffeeshop. On an airplane. Over time, I’ve developed my toolbox that helps me in each of those situations, whether it’s having a meditation practice to be able to bring my focus back where I want it, noise canceling headphones and the right playlist downloaded, building experience with writing sprints by various amounts of time or word count goals, a small task lamp that runs on battery, or consciously working on reducing my attention residue.

While there are good reasons I favor adapting myself, I admit the approach comes with some real cons, too. It can cause excessive self criticism, perpetual self blame no matter why things actually aren’t working—or restlessness to change, move forward, even when they are.

Using this metaphor feels a bit like beating a dead horse (and it’s about a dead horse), but it’s kind of like Boxer in Animal Farm, the cart horse known for saying, “I will work harder,” to his own detriment (and demise), even though it’s the situation that’s the issue. 

Some situations or goals are just impossible or pointless. This may be the result of something malicious, or it may be just be poorly suited to you, but not every situation is worth the effort, and tending to change yourself can make you more hesitant to truly evaluate it and maybe cut your losses. While you may feel bad for dumping as much time and energy into something as you have, and then giving up, dumping more time and energy into it—if you are eventually going to cut your losses anyway—only increases those losses. 

I teach a class called Professional Standards for Service, about bringing professional archetypes, systems, and skills into personal homemaking or relationship dynamics. One thing I stress in that class repeatedly is to always remember the goal you started with: coming at it as a non professional who wants to poke their head into the professional world, look around, take what works for them, leave what doesn’t, and return to their own life and relationships. Because it’s easy to forget, to get swept along in all the resources aimed at professionals, to try to stuff yourself into that established set of boxes, and forget what you or your loved ones actually want. You have to remember what the real goal and situation is for change to be worthwhile. 

Now, changing the situation may let you stay truer to you, but it can also make you flighty and inflexible. Being too eager to change the situation or goal can deprive you of opportunities to learn and grow, build something long term, though it tends to be a quicker fix if it’s possible. I wouldn’t have learned about any of those tools or developed any of those skills for writing almost anywhere if I only attempted writing at my desk, in my office. I wouldn’t have the apposite tools at the ready for the next situation, which might not be so changeable. And there are worthy things I simply wouldn’t have accomplished—like a lot of NaNoWriMo wins—if I hadn’t been so dedicated to keeping that goal, to changing myself instead. 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with writing at my desk, in my office (where I wrote the majority of this post), if it’s possible. General optimization is still a thing. But, it’s not always where I am when I want or need to get work done. 

As with most things in productivity, there’s a balance, a season for most strategies. 

Maybe don’t give up all your opportunities to grow; but don’t make yourself be something you’re not, either. 

There’s a middle ground. 

What Tarot Reading Taught Me About Minimalism and Self Care

Recently, I got into tarot reading.

It all started with the DMV. After multiple drive tests, after multiple days in line where I didn’t get to test at all, nerves and patience fried, I sought Answers. Would I pass? Would I even get to test? What was the secret? 

So, having exhausted my usual resources, I printed a tarot deck, laminated the pages and cut the cards out dutifully, and sought the Answers. 

After passing the drive test, I put it down for a while, then picked it up again to do some inspirational writing spreads. Tell me about my book’s beginning, middle, and end. About this character’s past, present, and future. One card pulls for a character’s arc in a specific book. 

And, while I was at it, I did readings for myself, started doing daily one card pulls, journaling the results. 

I wasn’t sure I believed in the magic of the cards, but I one-hundred percent bought into the basic psychology of what I read into the cards meaning something. They were good daily thought prompts. 

But I had issues with my physical deck. Printed at home on plain printer paper—and I hadn’t printed back sides and aligned them correctly—the cards were a little see through. Certain cards always stuck out because I’d cut them with human error. So on. 

Really on a roll with using it, though, I figured it was worth it to buy a real deck. Far from a major investment. So I added one to my online cart and sat on it for a day. 

The next day, I was glad I waited. I kept thinking about the other deck—the one of the final two I’d narrowed it down to that I hadn’t picked. The one I’d picked was nice, had diverse, feminist artwork. But the one that I kept thinking about had the more classic art, but it was holographic, a rainbow shimmer. It held a sense of real, mysterious old magic to me. 

I traded out the decks, and waited another day before placing the order, still satisfied with my new choice. 

I’ve used them a lot since they arrived. One night, I dropped the cards, startled mid shuffle by someone ringing the doorbell. Later, I counted the cards to make sure none had slipped under the couch or something. I realized it was the first time I had certainly touched every card, one by one. So, even though the count was as to be expected, I did it again, wanting to imbue some of me onto the deck, even though I hadn’t had a hand in making this one. I thought of crocheting it a carrying case, instead of the box it came in, like I did for some other things I own. (I later did this, but the box proved superior logistically for the cards.) 

I liked the idea of the cards becoming more mine with time. Not all at once, when I hit place order, but slowly, as I used them, learned them, touched them. Getting a little morbid, I thought of the possessions of deceased family members and what really felt like it had been theirs. Things they loved and used, again and again, not bought once and possibly never touched. 

I liked the idea of my things really being mine, in that way.

Notebooks that weigh twice as much as when I bought them, seams strained by the weight of ink. Well loved, well appreciated, carefully indexed, only a few in progress at a time, only a few at most ready to take their place—all the same kind.

Well worn clothes, soft and faded, washed and mended over and over. I only wear one outfit, only own a few copies of it. I own one pair of shoes, that tolerates me stepping on them all day, and I reward them with leather soap and conditioner and polish, new insoles and new laces, as the leather molds to the shape of my feet.

Books that I’ve read, handled, lended, loved, over and over. Notes in margins, sticky tabs, inscriptions, long lost impromptu bookmarks, popping open to favorite pages. All recorded dutifully in a spreadsheet. 

My things absorb more of me the fewer of them I have. Otherwise, I spread myself so thin, I’ve barely touched any one of them. 

But my minimalism goes beyond possessions. My values, my roles, my projects—are well chosen, well loved, well maintained and tracked, few in number, imbued with my effort and energy. Things I have done much more than touched. 

And when I’m gone, I want to leave behind things and projects that were distinctly mine, not fingerprints everywhere. So I can’t spread my energy too thin.

I stumbled across the concept of charging certain objects—like tarot cards—via an altar. Altars are a part of many belief systems. Some emphasize ancestors, some nature, some religious tokens, some whatever has meaning to you. 

I already had something like an altar—a display shelf, the top of a bookcase in my office with some prized possessions on it. The books I’ve published. Finished and current notebooks and pens. My wedding sword (our wedding vows/exchange—daggers so we may always have strength, cloaks so we may always have shelter, and rings so the world may know of our love as we already do). A Wizard of Oz (near to my heart—we had a Wizard of Oz themed living room in my childhood home) block calendar—a representation of time—from dear family friends. A small, now empty milk jug I got at a gas station on a roadtrip that my mom took and painted white inside, then placed faux flowers in based on my favorites. A mother’s love, a touch of nature, of travel, of found objects, of art. A lamp I’ve had for a long time that kind of looks like a plant—a symbol of light, another nod to nature. The shelf is mostly lit by string lights above it; the lights are clips, and they hold Polaroids of favorite memories, people and places and things I love. 

Okay. So I try placing the cards there when not in use—though they frequently end up by me at night, since I usually do my reading for tomorrow last thing before bed, and recommit to returning other frequently used/moved items there, like the current notebooks. I’m not sure it does anything, but it brings me back to admire the shelf, which makes me happy. I recommit to making my office a space that makes me happy, and spending time in it to, well, recharge. We call it the Hannah Habitat for a reason. 

I replace the (mostly broken) string lights with new ones that have more room for beloved pictures and exciting new lighting options that I like. I mix up the pictures that I hang on them, focusing on the ones that make me happy. I update the blocks on the calendar more often, and give my sword’s scabbard some leather conditioner. I make small tweaks to the rest of my office, and try to return there instead of to random corners of the house. 

Well, a focus on charging me seemed to boost my mood a little, at least. I needed energy to put into things, after all; you can’t pour from an empty cup, as they say.

So I’ve learned a few things from the cards. The future in detail, maybe not. But they’ve given me some things to think on from the actual readings, and reminded me that I need a full cup to pour from, that I need to pour more out into fewer cups for anyone to notice that I poured into them at all. 

And those are some good reminders on their own. And, I’m looking forward to seeing what else I have to learn from them. 

Wish you’d seen this a week ago? Get access to all of my posts one week early here.

Privilege in Productivity

There’s this thing about accomplishing things: people love to tell you about how you got lucky

Really, though, this isn’t about how you got lucky, this is almost always subtly about how they got unlucky. They could have accomplished X, too, you know, if they had better luck. 

And don’t get me wrong: I’m very lucky, in a lot of ways, and I’m not here to show off my oppression points or personally ask for more credit. I’m making a broader case, and there’s more to accomplishment than privilege—like work. Yes, in other ways, I got unlucky, and a lot of people do recognize that.

So, privilege in productivity: let’s unpack my case.

Ways in which I am frequently told I got lucky (and the reality): 

  • Told: I have rich parents. Reality: largely untrue. My father died with a negative net worth, and my mom is a now retired public school teacher. My mother seriously helped financially support me until I was twenty-one, though, yes. (My parents divorced when I was sixteen.) People really like pulling this one out when you accomplish things young: it’s not really you, it’s your parents (and their money). There’s another way they do this, too: 
  • Told: I had good parents, throughout childhood and to guide me in young adulthood. Reality: largely true. My parents took an interest in my education, nurtured my talents, gave me rides to a million extracurriculars, paid for those activities and a few years of private school, plus school supplies and gas, helped me with my homework, met with my teachers, volunteered, gave me a nice space to do homework in, all of that. But things weren’t just idyllic: my parents’ divorce, and my father probably also had some kind of psychotic disorder, I didn’t speak to him for several years before we reconnected—and he passed on when I was twenty-one. Parenting is a lot, but it isn’t everything. Say, my sister and I are very different people, who were (largely) raised by the same parents. 
  • Told: I got lucky with my inheritance. Reality: largely true… though it’s hard to call my father suddenly and traumatically dying young lucky. Still, I did financially benefit from this, inheriting a house (though, in need of some major repairs/still with a hefty mortgage) and his life insurance policy. There was some skill involved in handling things to get the best of the options with that, though (and I had advice from my mom, my wife, and friends). 
  • Told: I married rich/my wife takes care of me. Reality: somewhat true. Granted, my wife doesn’t come from money, either; she’s self made. She’s also not a millionaire or anything. She also quit her job earlier this year, and right now, our primary source of income is my projects. I also contributed to buying our house with the life insurance money, and all of the rent from (and money from eventual sale of) my father’s house went into our shared budget. I’m also the housewife who handles basically one-hundred percent of the domestic side, on a full time level schedule; she actively doesn’t want me to work outside the home (and I don’t either). So it’s not like I’m a total freeloader here. Still, there’s some truth in this one. But money—whatever its source—doesn’t inherently make you productive. It might give you more resources and control over your time, but money alone can’t do all the work for you. Money can give me time to write, but money can’t publish six books if I don’t use that time wisely. My wife had supported previous partners, too, and found the results to vary wildly. 
  • Told: it was easy for me to find such a spouse because I was young, female, conventionally attractive, etc. Reality: I’m not so sure. I was honestly less conventionally attractive when I met my wife (and I’m still not a model or anything)—and I’d been actively seeking a partner via the group we met through for over a year; I had to put myself out there repeatedly. Age was actually more of a barrier than anything, given our age gap: she got a lot of skepticism over my age. (We also met through a group specifically for eighteen to thirty-five year olds, so everyone was within a certain range). As far as female: I think being queer might balance this out (plus, we’re both on the down side of the wage gap). I also came with some hefty health issues (like being recently out of an involuntary psych hold across the country, then dropping out of college and coming home), and she was in a long term, open relationship with someone else at the time (which ended soon after). It wasn’t just that the stars aligned for us. 
  • Told: I am young, and therefore healthy and abled. Reality: untrue. I have symptoms of chronic pain and fatigue, I required surgery to finally be able to breathe vaguely like a normal person (at twenty-one), I have paranoid schizophrenia among other mental illnesses, I likely nearly died of toxic black mold poisoning when I was twenty, and my spine goes in multiple directions on multiple axes. Could it be worse? Sure. But did I get seriously lucky in this category? Eh. 
  • Told: I’m White, I’m cis, (so on). Reality: true. I do have a few definite positions of privilege that affect my life, if they are not responsible in themselves for everything I’ve done. 

As far as using privilege and productivity for good: I try to keep my works accessible, I run many free events and classes, I donate regularly, I volunteer regularly, I write and teach on topics I think need more awareness. A few specifics:

  • All of my writing is available online for free. I publish paperback and ebook versions people can purchase if they choose, and accept donations, but all of my primarily written content is available for free. I write nonfiction on mental health (particularly psychosis), productivity for those outside the typical mold, alternative sexuality educational content, and fiction in which I commit to exploring important themes and representing diverse characters. 
  • While my classes and class content is currently paid, I ran all of my self hosted webinars for free for the first year (over twenty of them on eight different subjects). I still frequently teach for venues and conferences for free. I still don’t turn anyone away for lack of funds. I teach on productivity, mental health, and alternative sexuality topics. Half of the money I received for ticket sales for my schizophrenia class in 2022 went to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • I run a local group for young adults interested in alternative sexuality. All events (usually three per month) and online participation are completely free/donation based. I’ve also hosted/run such events/groups in the past. 
  • I volunteered once a week for the local library district for most of a year before the pandemic (and have a long volunteer history before that). Volunteers were then laid off. (They’re welcome back again, but due to taking up the above, I have not gone back—yet, at least.) Within the last few years, I also started and ran a Little Free Library for a bit, donated plasma regularly for a while, and done other things.

Privilege doesn’t equal productivity. But it’s a factor we should all examine for ourselves—how we got lucky and unlucky, unpacking our privilege and educating ourselves. We should all examine how we can use our position to accomplish good things and help others. 

Trying to throw away our privilege, claiming we don’t have it, or sitting around just feeling guilty about it doesn’t help anyone. 

We should also be open minded when evaluating the privilege of others, considering how they use it as part of the picture, and realizing that we may not have the full picture—not jumping to conclusions.

Privilege is something, but not everything. 

We have to do the rest and close the gaps ourselves.

Schizophrenia in Creativity and Productivity

I honestly don’t remember much around the origins of one of my other blogs, The Schizophrenia Diaries. It was summer 2020 (and let’s face it—who has a great memory of summer 2020?). I wasn’t yet back on antipsychotics (by weeks to months), I was facing a pandemic, a world on fire, the recent death of my grandmother, and the one year anniversary of discovering my father’s death (leading to PTSD). I was mostly lost in a creative haze, spending hours every day on the swingset at the nearest park in heat over 110*F—dissociatively daydreaming up new plotlines with a song on repeat—or curled up in the fetal position on the floor in my office, near catatonic and hallucinating. It was A Time. 

However, it was one of the most prolific periods of my life. After spending most of a year after my father’s death pouring emotions into Contrivance, my primary fiction project of almost a decade, instead of sleeping at night, I was (mostly) taking a break from Contrivance’s dystopian doom and gloom that now seemed all too realistic, focusing on what I thought would be a quick, simple side project to perk me up, which eventually became the I’ll Give You series, my first real foray into erotica, which now has four books published and more in the works (spoiler alert: not a quick, simple, or always cheery side project after all).

And, I started The Schizophrenia Diaries, after having casually maintained a different blog for about a year. My first post wasn’t about writing or creativity at all. It was about Farrah, my so called schizophrenia tamagotchi, my recurring golden retriever puppy hallucination, who had recently come about. From there, I wrote about all manner of mental health related things for about six months, essays as ideas came up, then floundered a little on what to do with the blog. I was back on meds, and out of therapy. Vaccines were on the horizon. The election was over. I’d recently gotten married and published my first book. Things were good, and while I was grateful, I wasn’t sure what to write about now; without acute symptoms to reflect on, I got a little lost. Things on the blog slowed down, and I didn’t make a post in 2021 until mid April.

I had thought about it in the meantime. I didn’t really want to abandon the blog. Schizophrenia is highly stigmatized and misunderstood. Stories of schizophrenics are rarely told at all, and even more rarely do we get to tell our stories ourselves. I felt it was important—part of something bigger than me—to write on it. But, the blog was neglected when I was doing well, which gave me mixed feelings on it, and I wasn’t sure what I had left to say. I thought that maybe I needed more of a theme, an angle, something to ground the project besides processing symptoms as they arose.

I reread some early posts on the blog. What grabbed me was my last post before things really slowed down, a September post before two more that December and then silence for four months. It was about psychosis as a part of my writing process, how my schizophrenia and my colloquial tortured artist syndrome intertwined, about how my psychotic daydreams fueled my writing, how the darkness of the things I tended to write about both contradicted my triggers and calmed me down, and so on. 

That. That was my angle. Because even when my symptoms improved, they were still there—and the most cohesive way I could talk about them was through how they impacted my creative processes. No matter what, I was always writing. I always had that to talk about. 

With reframing and revising, things picked up on the blog again, even as my mental health has largely been okay. 

That said, The Schizophrenia Diaries is my home base for talking about psychosis and creativity, art, writing. 

But what about psychosis and productivity? 

I mentioned that one of the worst time periods in my life as far as symptoms was also one of my most prolific—how does that work? 

There’s definitely a balance.

After having made it without meds for about two years, when I started again, the first night I took Seroquel—well, firstly, it knocked me out so unexpectedly hard and fast I fell out of my chair at my desk—the change was immediate. For a few days, I was basically symptom free. It was almost like I didn’t have schizophrenia, overnight. I realized how bad my sleep had been—which didn’t help anything. It had been so bad, I realized, as Seroquel knocked me out at night, I wondered if I could chalk almost everything that year up to sleep deprivation, the miracle of Seroquel to the miracle of sleep, more than its use as an antipsychotic. 

But during those few days, I felt… conflicted. 

When Farrah—the dog who’s not real, mind you—found out—when I decided—that I was likely going back on meds, she worked those puppy dog eyes real hard. Why would you want to get rid of me, Mom? I tried to telepathically communicate to her that as far as I was concerned, I was happy to keep her, if I could get rid of the corpse and the blaring music and the black blobs and the flashes of light and the white noise and the maggots and all of the other issues. Later, I came to realize that Farrah—this is my current working theory, at least—represents the part of my mind that wants to be psychotic, freely creative without the limits of pesky reality.

During those first few days after Seroquel, I felt… a little empty. Numbed. Better than I had in months, maybe a year, in certain ways, but… something was missing. My daydreams were missing, my fiction fuel—they were back in the normal human range. It was like watching a movie on a decades old television versus watching it in IMAX 3D. I couldn’t get reality to go away entirely even when I tried—and normally, I didn’t have to try; in fact, normally, I had to fight to get back when my alarm went off telling me it was time to make dinner or something, nudging me out of daydreams. 

Despite how well I seemed to be doing, I wondered if I might lower the dosage. 

But, my body quickly adjusted. A few days later, I could sink into my daydreams that deeply again, but I had some more control over starting, and I didn’t have to fight quite as hard to stop. Other symptoms stayed improved but didn’t vanish. And, not lost in the daydream stage forever, it was easier to get out when I wanted, to grab a pen, and start putting daydreams on paper. But things can get pretty bad—lots and lots of time lost in fantasy on the verge of hallucination, not quite in my control—before I stop getting to the part where I write them down. After meds, I was overall less prolific, except for a few really, really bad parts of that prior year or so. 

However, that was just about writing. I thrived in other areas like I never had before, where psychosis was mostly a burden. It’s not much of an advantage as far as being a housewife, a landlord, a butler school student, an alternative sexuality educator, a group organizer, or even a nonfiction writer (overall, my blogging writing has picked up since). In fact, those last three non writing areas were all things I seriously picked up within a year after meds for the first time. I found more balance. I wrote a little less (we’re still talking frequently upwards of 25,000 words per month), but I did everything else that was productive a little more, more than enough to fill the gap. 

I see this psychosis equals creativity but lack of balance thing in my past, too. My schizophrenia was early onset. My symptoms first appeared around my fifteenth birthday, mid ninth grade. I was producing writing like crazy—even winning multiple rounds of National Novel Writing Month per year (this means writing upwards of 50,000 words in a month—many times, I got closer to 100k). However, school wasn’t going so well. I dropped out before the end of tenth grade. Now, I see why I was writing fiction like crazy while failing to turn in five-hundred word essays that weren’t word salad gibberish, or be non catatonic long enough to show up to class, or finish taking a test without yelling at demons only I could see.

So are there pros to schizophrenia for productivity, for me, as a fiction author? Yes. In other areas? Less so that I see right now, though I frequently joke that my general, various anxious neuroses are the edge that keeps me moving so quickly, lest I die tomorrow. Are there cons? Of course. Many. Still, I wouldn’t quite hit the cure button, for myself. 

It’s just, as many other things are, about balance.

On Conflating Skinny and Productive

It’s a long story, and, while crucial background, it’s not the main point of this post, so to give a quick summary: I’m schizophrenic, I’m a fiction writer, my line between character and self is a fine one, I kind of absorb my characters’ traits with time, I accidentally sort of, kind of absorbed one of my characters’ anorexia.

(That was a lot. I know. Bear with me.) 

Seeking support, I joined a few online communities for people with eating disorders. One discussion topic I saw posted really got my mental gears spinning: 

Why do you really want to be skinny?

Because eating disorders aren’t really about food. 

The answers held all kinds of insights. To be desirable, or even lovable. To feel in control. To make their struggle visible. To be special, or good at something, or have an identity as the skinny friend. To prevent aging. To fit in with their gender identity. To self harm via starvation. To cope with prior food insecurity. To take up less space in the world. 

And what does skinny really represent to me? 


I wasn’t the only one, either. It’s not too hard to see where the idea comes from. 

My romanticized toxic ideal was the workaholic who’s too busy for meals, who happily gets wrapped up in work and forgets to eat, who’s a little nauseous with stress and excitement and caffeine, who turns to long walks or runs as moving meditation and to burn off nervous or excited energy, the tortured artist who self neglects. That image is common in media. Even I’d written that before.  

And I fell into that somewhat organically. But when the organic level only took me so far, forgetting to eat in a fit of inspiration became “forgetting” to eat as I stared at the wall, thinking only of food. I chased the external look anyway. Fake it till you make it mentality. I wanted to be that. I knew it wasn’t entirely healthy, but most tropes come with both pros and cons, and the pros were things I’m a sucker for: extreme productivity, psychosis influenced creativity, passion on the verge of obsession. 

But the cons were big Catch-22s. It’s hard to be productive when you’re hungry, when all your energy is going to re-counting calories and exercising, when you’re scrolling eating disorder memes to cope. 

And if what skinny meant to me was productive, could I lose the obsession with skinny by focusing on productive itself? By telling myself I needed to eat in order to be productive, that productive was the important part of skinny? 

Kind of. That’s been my most convincing thought process when I need to reconnect with why I’m recovering. I’m not sure if recovering is the word, but at least mostly trying to turn down the urges for disordered eating. But eating disorders—especially ones born of psychosis—aren’t quite that simple. 

And the skinny equals productive image is still out there. I recently threw myself back into productive—not just being productive on my actual projects, but reconnecting with my passion for productivity itself. I drafted and taught a webinar on the subject with great results, and got some fresh reading material on productivity, as I started this blog.

But something keeps catching my eye in the productivity books I’m reading. When talking about goals, weight loss keeps coming up as an example. Creating a habit of eating healthier, or less. Exercising more. Even routine weigh ins seem to come up constantly in morning routine lists, food logging in information system ideas. The idea of eating sweets only as a self reward (and not as a reward for weight loss).

All things I’m mostly trying to do the opposite of now, because I’d gone too far. 

And why do those things need to keep coming up? Why is there the assumption that someone reading a book on productivity wants to lose weight, eat less, exercise more, weigh themselves more, think about food more, treat food as a reward? There are so many other ways to be productive. Can people who are already in a healthy place—or too far down the other end of the spectrum—not be interested in this book on productivity?

I’m using the techniques these books teach to do the opposite of their examples, and eat. To stop losing weight at a rapid pace and stay in a healthy range, to stop exercising before I pass out, to not hop back on the scale every thirty minutes, to not count calories, to not think of food as a reward for starvation. 

Why can’t the go-to example be anything else that’s actually tied to productivity for people in a normal, healthy place?  

Then again, normal and healthy aren’t necessarily the same in this case. Just look at the stats of the average American’s weight and how they feel about it, versus the ideals. I get that, and the books may be targeted at normal. And, given that many of these books are also classified as self help, they may assume that there’s some kind of problem. Still, there are other examples like that out there. Why must we continue subtly conflating skinny and productive? Why must I?

Things to think about.