How to get out of a rut

A couple of days ago, I was relistening to an old episode of my podcast that seemed particularly timely, so I decided to repurpose some of the content as a fresh blog post. A lot of us have been in a rut for all or most of the past couple of years, thanks to the pandemic. Lately I’ve been feeling more energized and focused, so I wanted to share some tips for getting back into that mindset for those of you who aren’t quite there yet.

I’ve spent most of the past two years grappling with grief, depression, brain fog, and a total lack of interest in basically anything that used to delight or inspire me. So I’m well aware that there’s no quick fix for getting back to a place where you feel like yourself, and I don’t want anyone to feel bad if nothing in this blog post helps. We’re all on our own schedules, and everyone I know who isn’t devoid of a soul has been struggling with other Big Life Things while trying to survive the weirdest two years of our lives. Alongside the pandemic, I’ve had to contend with the deaths of several people I loved and my father having multiple heart surgeries in 2020 and 2021. Beyond that, I had a separate trauma occur that I wasn’t ready to look directly at for several months after it happened, a major issue with my apartment that lasted a month, and some other fun stuff. So, also, I want to acknowledge that the pandemic is not the only bad thing any of us is dealing with right now.

With that disclaimer, if you’re starting to feel ready to work on something other than survival, here are some things that have worked for me:

Take a break

When I want to feel better about things, the best first step is accepting how bad they are, which for me means noticing, identifying, and acknowledging my feelings without judgment. From there, it’s easier to accept reality, and figure out a way forward that is actually going to work for where I am at that point. For much of the past two years, that has meant taking a break from trying to do anything extra. Grief is a relatively new emotion for me, something I had limited experience with prior to the past two years, and in particular grief I couldn’t plan for. In July 2019 I had a three-hour dinner with my vibrant, healthy-seeming friend Jess, and we made plans to do it again the next time she was back in NYC. That December, she succumbed to her battle with cancer. Over that Christmas, I was making plans to record a podcast with my 26-year-old cousin Matt. In January, I was writing his eulogy.

So yeah, I did not have a lot of energy for anything beyond what I absolutely had to do. I took a break. A long one. I didn’t force myself to do anything creative again until I felt up to it, which took far longer than I had expected or was comfortable with. But I did it anyway. I didn’t start doing any real creative work again until October 2021.

Get out of your own life

While I wasn’t writing or recording podcasts or making alcohol-ink art, I started reading a lot more. One thing that helped was this Rachel Syme thread on biographies of glamorous women. Try living in someone else’s life for a while, whether it’s Jessica B. Harris or Helen Frankenthaler or Diane Arbus. Reading about other people’s lives is a great way to get out of your own head. And another thing I like about reading biographies in particular is that I feel like it helps me identify the gaps between where I am currently and where I want to be. If I’m admiring something about a particular person’s life, I can use that as a jumping off point for figuring out what that could look like in my own life. And from there, I can figure out an achievable first step toward that.

Connect with friends

Some of the feelings the pandemic et al. triggered in me have been resentment, anger, depression, and uncertainty–some of my least favorite emotions to grapple with. Generally, when those feelings arise, my natural inclination is to hide out. I tend to cancel all my plans, stay in my apartment, hunker down, work on writing projects, etc.

But maybe in part because I knew I wasn’t quite ready to start on my creative work again, I went the other direction, and I really focused on spending more time with friends (in person with my pod, and virtually with others). And this really made a world of difference for me. I value my friendships a lot, and one of the things that has really become clear to me over the past couple of years is just how amazing and wonderful my friendships are, and how much I value them, and how they are really kind of the cornerstone of my life at this point in time.

Fais du sport!

Sorry, that French-speaking owl in a gold tracksuit is telling us to exercise. NGL, my commitment to exercise has been pretty uneven during Pandi. But when I am working out regularly, I’m better equipped to deal with everything else. To be more consistent in 2022, I’ve decided to do 9+1 to qualify for the 2023 NYC Marathon, and I’ve started by scheduling races in January and Feburary.

Plan ahead

When I’m not up to producing anything, I find that planning is a low-hanging fruit way of getting back into the swing of things. (I wrote a blog post about this back in 2018.) Planning is fairly easy, and it gives me a sense of purpose and momentum. As I wrote in 2018, planning does two things:

  1. In the present, planning allows me to feel like I’m accomplishing something, despite not having a tangible product to show for it.
  2. In the future, when I do have the mental bandwidth to get to work, I already have a roadmap for what to do.

So those are some things that have worked for me in digging out of a rut. What works for you?

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