In the light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, I am re-posting this piece, which is from a text conversation that I had with a Ukrainian woman that I met on a penpal website between 2019 – 2021. She spoke about her life, including anxiety issues and job-seeking.I last received a message from her some two months ago and I believe she is still living in the capital, Kyiv, which is undergoing attack as I write.
Please, if you can, urge your political representatives, in whatever way you can, from email to a public protest, that de-escalation and negotiation is needed now to stop any more bloodshed. There is no military solution to defeat Russia, due to their nuclear capability and their insistence that Ukraine is part of their sphere of strategic influence. The world has to negotiate and offer Ukrainian neutrality to Russia in exchange for troop withdrawal and return to speaking between foes. Ukrainian political alignment with Russia may not be ideal but it is far better than being destroyed and occupied.
Between December 2019 and April 2021, a Ukrainian woman in her 30s, currently living in the Kyiv area, shared with me some of her experiences of challenging her anxiety symptoms, searching for work and her efforts at painting. She told me she prefers to listen to stories than tell them but gave me permission to share some of her experiences anonymously, saying: “You can embellish the story with different romantic stories, whatever you want, but only my photo is scary to upload) it is better not).” At the start of the conversation, from which I have deleted my responses and most of her questions for me, to focus on her experience, she is living with her parents, near Kyiv, helping at her father’s small local electrical goods store and selling religious books by mail.
Dec 18, 2019
Today is a sunny day. I argued with my father that I would find work after the new year, and he would stop drinking)). Maybe at least it will drive me out of the house.
…we bet that if I go to work my father will not drink). This is not a quarrel, but a game. Once I argued with my brother that if I go to work in Poland, he will quit smoking. I went to Poland, but he did not quit smoking 🙂
Dec 20, 2019
I have not had time to buy gifts, instead, I got drunk yesterday, could not stand it)). Because of this, the state of health is not very good. But she swore to herself that this is the last time)
no, I can drink alone). I feel good only the first half hour, and then it becomes very bad.
I also drank 2 beers). I have not bought gifts yet, I have a big family, I need a lot of gifts.
Dec 22, 2019
Yes, I’m better, I swore to myself not to drink anymore, although often I really feel like it. I choose which country I should go to work. But it will be in six months, it will take a lot of time to draw up documents) Maybe Sweden)
I will go through a paid agency. But this is not soon, a lot needs to be done for this)…this is work somewhere in the factories. It’s very difficult there, but i can earn more than in Ukraine. Since I haven’t been working for a year, I need to pay for it).
No, I’m very cowardly, but in extreme conditions it’s easier for me. When everyone is busy, all Ukrainians who go to work are in the same conditions). Although in Poland it was difficult for me, and I even had to change the city and work, right in Poland. But the second time I will behave differently, calmer.
Dec 25, 2019
Thanks! Merry Christmas to you too !!
Today I sent parcels to my customers)….We celebrate Christmas on January 7th, so it’s too early to give gifts. We have Orthodox Christmas)…. And I will celebrate 2 times)
Owen writes here about his growing consciousness of his own mental health difficulties, including social anxiety and his present situation and search for a livelihood. The piece was first published on his site.
I’m a strong advocate for speaking about Mental Health. I believe that talking and being open about mental health is a huge step and a massive help in overcoming it. Acknowledging it can be massive.
I’ve briefly spoken here and there about my experience with mental health, but I don’t think I’ve fully explained it all, so let’s do that.
By speaking about my experience, I hope others will gain the courage to talk about their problems. But, I’m not saying your problems can be solved just by speaking, it’s complicated. We live in a world where people share their stresses or past mistakes and are shunned for them. Sadly, it seems people are becoming less understanding. And I’m also not saying I have massively improved by talking about it because I haven’t. But I just want people to know that they aren’t alone.
Keri-Lee Griffiths writes about fear as she searches for jobs. First published on her site.
I’m looking for a job in a semi post-pandemic world. It’s going about as well as you’d expect. Most jobs are ones I can’t do because of my physical limitations. That’s not soul-crushing at all. Others require certifications I don’t have. Once again, I wonder why I got a degree in theatrical and film arts. That was a useful experience, wasn’t it?
It’s slow going, and I’m applying whenever something pops up, but most of them seem like long shots. The other day I saw one that could be perfect for me. Not only could I physically do it, but I have the right qualifications. It also happens to be with an organization I admire, and the work would be meaningful. You’d think I’d click on the link ASAP and apply.
I sat there, biting my bottom lip, and the reasons for letting it go came quickly. It’s a long drive, and the traffic will be horrible. The cost of gas will be a nightmare. It’s not my favourite part of the city for no particular reason. Besides, they probably don’t want some like me anyway.
My dog listened intently as I listed all the reasons why I shouldn’t apply. It felt very reasonable, logical, and I was just about to click off when another question came up. Am I just scared? The if only’s are fun and all, but they’re just toys to play with. They’re out there in a magical realm where never and always vacation.
But here I am, trying to take some of my dreams and make them real. To do that, I need a job that will financially make these things possible. Everything else I’ve applied for feels like long shots, but this one seems like it could be something. You know, if the powers that be would give me a chance. Just give me a chance!
Again with the silence and the crickets? Cool.
The thought of accomplishing something meaningful scares the crap out of me, and I think that’s my biggest problem. I’m not a f**k up; I’m a coward. The thought of changing my life scares me to no end. The idea that it will stay like this is equally jarring. It’s fear upon fear, and I don’t know which one to ignore and which to embrace.
And yes, embracing fear is sometimes necessary. It can be a weapon we use to vanquish our dragons. It can motivate us and force us to do things we never dreamed we could do. Leap over buildings in a single bound. Ride a shark-like a rodeo clown or… Too far?
Fear can be useful or debilitating, and right now, I’m not sure which end of the spectrum I’m sliding towards. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, and this is when I usually do stupid things that sabotage any chance I might have. Yay, messed up mental health! It makes life interesting.
If you’ve ever wondered what having a mental illness feels like? For me, it’s constant overthinking, critiquing every aspect of my life, and constructing unnecessary roadblocks. I make things so much harder than they need to be and then wonder why I can’t be happy for more than twenty minutes a day. Wonderful. Brilliant. Make it stop!
Sitting there, staring at the computer screen, I finally asked myself the obvious: Are my reasons legit, or am I just scared? Is fear holding me back for a good reason, or is it stopping me from getting something good? What’s really stopping me?
In this case, and in many others, fear’s holding me back. It’s letting the dragons run wild, and I can’t leap over a crack in the pavement let-alone a building. It’s not the motivator I need, and it’s not helpful. It’s prolonging the agony so, I let out a slow breath and applied for the job.
Will I get it? Probably not. I have very little faith in myself or the possibility that someone will give me a chance. However, I took a chance, and you never know when life will surprise you. All any of us can do is show up, channel our fears into motivators, and try our best.
In the piece below, Michael J. Vowles, writes about his efforts to discover a personal work schedule to make himself more productive at home, whilst being on furlough from his job. The piece was first published as part of a post on Michael’s site, Tumbleweed Writes.
Back at the pub, I kept up a solid tempo with my dishwashing and conducted myself in a (mostly) professional manner because I didn’t want to get fired. I’d also developed personal friendships with both the head chef and the line manager, so I felt compelled not to disappoint them and make things awkward between us. It’s a lot easier to disappoint yourself than it is others, unless you’re a clinical psychopath. So when it came to writing a daily schedule, I had to figure out ways to motivate myself without those external motivators doing it for me.
In many ways it felt like I had to trick myself. For instance, I know that I’m a very visually-oriented person, so I needed to see my productivity represented in some kind of chart or graph. When I was at university, I stuck a piece of paper on the wall beside my bed, wrote the dates in the margin, and filled in how many words I’d written that day before going to sleep. I’m easily motivated by tallies, scores, and streaks. I know that I like neatness, and so seeing a streak of four-digit numbers drop to three digits upset me. It ruined the uniformity of the column and that was enough to motivate me to furiously keep writing until I hit that standard. The idea of leaving one of those rows blank was unthinkable to me. With this in mind, I designed my lockdown schedule along the same principles.
Checking items off a list is another technique that similarly taps into my compulsions, and one that a lot of people find useful. For me it’s about turning productivity into a sport or a game, because I find that getting into that competitive mindset is the best way to spur me into action. That said, lockdown has taught me a valuable lesson about long-term productivity schedules. Namely, that they have to evolve in order to remain effective. I’ve tried dozens of schedules down the years, but they were all abandoned before long when I ran out of steam. I’d curse myself for not sticking to them and become convinced that I was so innately lazy that I was incapable of achieving anything.
So when COVID-19 showed no signs of going away anytime soon and I began writing a fresh schedule, I was worried that within a week- or even a few days- I would give it up. I had every reason to think I might. As excited as I was with my new idea, I had to ask myself “What makes this time any different?”
In my last post I mentioned how, when it comes to long-term projects, the mission statement needs to be regularly revisited and renewed. Epiphanies and flashes of inspiration are important for getting the wheels rolling, but they only happen in isolated moments. You can’t expect to be at 100% all the time. My problem in the past was that I’d have these moments of inspiration but find myself unable to sustain any momentum once they passed. Either real life would get in the way or I’d get distracted, and once I’d failed to meet my targets just once, I became depressed and abandoned the whole project altogether.
But all those short-lived, failed experiments ultimately proved useful in developing a schedule that’s stood the test of time. I looked back at them and why they failed, and wrote my new schedule in anticipation of history repeating itself. I identified recurring issues- waking up late, constant mood fluctuations, vague targets, digital distractions, conflicting objectives- and developed failsafes.
The biggest threat to my productivity by far was my sleep schedule. How I wake up often has a big effect on the rest of my day. When I wake up early, I feel happy and excited, because it seems like I have so much time ahead of me to fill with productive activities. I’m also at my sharpest in the mornings. At some point between 3pm and 5pm I notice a distinct drop in my energy levels. It’s probably the caffeine wearing off, though I suspect it might be more than that. Even before I discovered coffee, the late afternoon was often a drowsy or lethargic period for me. I’ve tried setting alarms to wake up early before, but it never lasted. I’d feel so groggy in the morning that I’d just turn it off and go back to sleep, then wake up close to noon with a headache. There was also a chance that when I did wake up, I’d stay in bed for a while scrolling mindlessly on my phone.
With all this in mind, I settled on a new approach. Instead of focusing on when to wake up, I decided to focus on when to go to bed. I set an alarm in the evenings to let me know it was time to get off my computer, my phone, or my PS4. This turned out to be exactly what I’d always needed. A consistent bedtime, just like when I was a little kid. I set a morning alarm too, but found that once I started going to bed at a consistent time, I rarely needed it. It’s been a year since I started doing this and ever since I’ve been naturally waking up early, something that seemed impossible before I made this change.
But as many of you know, waking up early is one thing, and actually getting your ass out of bed is another. Without those external motivators I mentioned earlier (the prospect of getting fired) it’s so easy to just make a burrito of yourself in the sheets and watch YouTube videos. To counter this, I began recording the time I started working each day. If I simply recorded the time I woke up, I realized, then my weekly charts would be deceiving. It would have allowed space for my laziness to creep in. That side of me will always push up against the system or try to figure out a way to be lazy within it, which is why I have to stay one step ahead of my laziness and review my progress frequently.
If I woke up early but stayed in bed for an hour before starting my work, then I’m not being productive. By recording the time I actually sat down and started writing, reading, or researching, I made it into a competitive game with myself. Now whenever I felt a little groggy, I forced myself out of bed to beat yesterday’s time, or to at least be consistent with it. It’s the same principle as the daily word count method. By seeing my progress represented in numbers, I felt highly motivated to keep it going. I also record the time I turn my electronics off in the evening, which similarly motivates me to keep the numbers consistent and avoid staying up late.
As you can tell, the key to a lot of this for me is having a visual representation of my productivity. But the form that’s taken has changed a few times since I started. So far I’ve kept to my lockdown schedule for over a year, which is far and away the longest schedule I’ve ever stuck to. Before Corona, the longest I’d managed to stick to a schedule I’d written for myself was one month (for NaNoWriMo). But the key to the longevity of my lockdown schedule is that I’ve tweaked it along the way. The commitment to waking up early was there from the beginning, but I kept refining it whenever I felt like I was slacking. Time changes how we respond to things. Repetition reveals shortcomings. Over the past year my schedule has gotten less vague and more specific. It’s strict whilst still being flexible enough to survive a bad day, or an unavoidable real-life event.
When I first started, it looked like the classic check-list approach. I would write my targets before bed so that I knew exactly what I ought to be doing when I woke up. At first this was really helpful. But after a while, I got a sense that I wasn’t being as productive as I thought I was being. The checklist didn’t indicate how much time I spent working each day. The nature of the items on the list varied- some of the tasks involving very little effort and others taking hours. Some were simple and others were complex. In short, the list was too vague and didn’t record my productivity with the depth I needed in order to measure my progress day-to-day and week-to-week.
So I changed it again. The list became a table, each row representing a day of the week. That way I could compare the time I started work every morning and turned my PC off every night, as well as how long I spent working in total. I divided my working time into concentrated 30-minute sessions. Each session would be represented by a tally mark in the table, and I’d be motivated easily by trying to get the highest tally possible each day, with the other rows serving as a reference for my daily averages.
So far this has worked really well for me. Naturally I still have days where I’m not feeling 100%, but on average I’m working longer and harder. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I kinda feel that a healthy schedule is like Hegelian dialectics: what works for a while will eventually reveal its drawbacks, so you rearrange the existing method to accommodate the critique and together they form a new thesis, which in time will also be reformed. It’s the long-term productivity cycle.
Whaddeya think? In case you can’t tell, I am fairly pleased with how things have gone since I started. It’s not perfect of course. I still feel weak or lethargic at times. That’s life. But I’m more resistant than I was before. Those close to me know that nothing depresses me more than the suggestion that I’m incapable of change. In the context of my personal history, it’s a real breakthrough. I’ve never stuck to anything for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m a beast or anything like that. I’m nowhere near Mamba Mentality. But, by my own standards, I have improved. Naturally this particular schedule will change once I move to London and start my Masters in September, but it’s my hope that I’ll be able to use the same principles to motivate me there.