I’ve struggled to write anything this week, because I simply can’t write in the way I usually do. If I’m to write anything at all, then it has to be about what’s going on for me right now, and that means a much more personal post than normal. The truth is, I’ve been feeling very, very low, to the extent of having prolonged crying sessions most days that do very little to make me feel any better. There are lots of things to feel stressed about, it’s true, but things have been worse before this and I’ve held it together far better.
Today I suddenly realised what’s wrong with me – I need to fill the well. I feel overwhelmed and at the end of my rope with nothing left in me to give, am totally drained and exhausted and, because of it, swing back and forth between numbness and over-emotional outbursts. Normally I don’t get to this state because when I see myself headed there I make sure to do things that help restore my self to me – things that fill the well.
The problem has been that most of those things are no longer available, or at least not easily available. The first of these I’ve written at length about before – there’s nowhere round here (or nowhere I’ve discovered, anyway) where I can be alone in a wild and natural place. I’m miles and miles from the sea, and there are no woods that haven’t been turned into Center Parc-style commodities. Nature has always been my solace, but it has to be fairly empty of people and full of silence and peace for it to work.
My garden is a consolation, and sitting in the sun always helps, but it hasn’t been warm enough lately to be able to do that. On top of that, we took on an allotment late last year which we never got round to doing anything with, and instead of being able to enjoy gardening in our own garden, I’ve felt the pressure to get it sorted out quickly so that we can get on with the allotment. This week I decided, reluctantly, that we have to let it go. Geoff likes the idea of it but not the reality of what’s involved, and I simply can’t manage a very large garden of our own plus a large allotment. It’s really too much.
Usually the well fills up regularly through the joy I get from having pets. However, one of my cats died last year and my remaining cat is eighteen years old, and going slowly downhill – she’s unlikely to last more than another few months, I think. It’s my turn to give to her and I’m glad to be able to do that, but there’s little coming back now to sustain me, and all the sadness of seeing her slow decline. I’m longing for a kitten, or a dog, or preferably both, but it would upset her and I can’t do that to her. It will have to wait.
Much of my well-filling comes through having time alone, but even this hasn’t been an option. With Geoff unemployed, he’s at home 24/7 and I hardly ever get the house to myself, with that blissful feeling of peace and the knowledge that I can do whatever I like for the day without having to consider anyone else.
And finally, what has proved to be the last straw is the loss of my reading time. I wake up early, usually about 6.00ish, and I like to spend an hour or two absorbed and lost in a book before starting my day. I love to read and this is the only time of day that I do it. I love the bedroom in the early morning, with the sun streaming in and the crystal in the window creating rainbows on the wall. I love the quiet at that time of day, the only sound being birdsong coming through the open window, and it’s often when I get my best ideas.
Of course, Geoff no longer has to get up early and is there with me now. Although it’s companionable to drink tea together and chat, it’s not what I most need and I long for my hour of solitude. I feel so ungrateful as I write this, because I couldn’t ask for anyone better to share my life with. I know I’m lucky – but the need to be alone for a while goes deep and demands to be satisfied.
The loss of that quiet early morning time has led to me breaking down twice in the past. The first time was after my parents were killed in an accident many years ago and I had to stay in their house for a while afterwards, with my brother and my grandmother. I was never able to get any time alone, and I needed it to grieve and to just be me, without all the sudden responsibility that had been thrust on me. One day it all got too much and I ran out of the house, walking the ten miles back to my own home where I could find the personal space that I needed.
The second time was when I was teaching IT at a college outreach centre. My habit was to get to where I worked before 8.00am, let myself into the building, make a cup of tea, do my photocopying for the day, and take some quiet time to myself before a demanding day full of teaching. Then we got a new manager, who also turned up at this time, and wouldn’t leave me alone. She spent most of the time complaining to me about all the things that she wasn’t happy about. The rest of the time she’d ask me to do some little job (‘since I was there’), which meant that my teaching prep didn’t get fully done and I had to spend my lunch break on it. I’d held down this full-time teaching job for a year without problem, but when I lost this morning time I burnt out within a few months, went on sick leave for six weeks, and ended up resigning.
It’s clear that I have to reclaim my early mornings and also find some new ways of filling the well, or somehow manage to reinstate some of the old ones. I’m not sure how I’m going to do that right now, but I’m looking for ways. Awareness of the problem is a good start.
This is my story at the moment, but filling the well is important for all of us in everything we do. Creativity demands time and space to ponder and dream, along with the stimulation of new places and experiences. If we don’t fill the well, it drains dry eventually and leaves us feeling blocked, flat, and uninspired at best, burnt out and depressed at worst. Whatever it is we give out in life, we need to fill up again so that we have something still to give, and the greater the number of ways we can fill our well, the better. What fills your well will be different to what fills mine, but whatever it is you need to do to top yours up, you owe it to yourself to do it.