How to Overcome Procrastination

The festive season is coming to an end. The Bountys’ lie dejected in the Celebrations box. The fairy lights will soon be neatly packed away, waiting to reemerge next year in an inconceivable tangle. A sense of foreboding returns as work, school and university responsibilities shake us rudely awake from our Betwixtmas slumber. I have once again taken to idly scrolling Instagram for others’ New Year’s resolutions; such are the traditions of January.

January, for me at least, is an entire month of that anxiousness you feel before public speaking or an interview. You are stressed because of an upcoming event – in January’s case, the entire year – but bored because nothing is happening right now. It is precisely this feeling which drives me to procrasti-baking. Whilst in school, I was a procrastination connoisseur. I would miss deadline after deadline, often because I was terrified that my work would not be up to scratch, the solution to which was simply not doing the work in the first place (or so my therapist said). It is a blessing and  a curse; I am now excellent at deep cleaning my room and bullet journalling, but I do have to keep a check on it. Unfortunately, university is not so forgiving when you hand in a piece of work four weeks late alongside a beautifully crafted story about how your laptop broke and the printer ran out and your dog ate the essay entitled ‘Is Heathcliff misunderstood in Wuthering Heights?” (Spoiler: no.)

Jokes aside, procrastination is not as fun as it appears. I was frequently filled with an appalling sense of dread as deadlines approached, and my procrastination was often simply  trying to bring myself down from the edge of a panic attack in the school toilets. It was not that I did not want to do the work, but that I wanted to do it perfectly and the thought of not doing so was paralysing. But you simply cannot procrastinate at a professional level and succeed in other areas; it is a full-time job.I am not exaggerating about the therapist. It was a major talking point in our chats about eating disorders, anxiety and depression – I tried hypnosis, Cognitive Behavioural, Therapy Dialectical Behavioural Therapy,…procrastination was always in there somewhere. And from all these fun, joyous sessions I picked up a couple of tips which have made my procrastination manageable, however tempting blissful ignorance might be.

1.Write a list

I’m not going to tell you how to do it. Some people say biggest thing first; some say easiest. Some say write a ‘To Do’ list and then a ‘Done’ list; some say write one every day, week or month. However you write your list, it really does help. My dad would often describe my stress and anxiety as a wall. As one, solid, towering object it was insurmountable, but if I broke it down into individual bricks, it became scaleable. Of course, I frequently use list writing as productive procrastination – advanced procrastination where you do small ‘productive’ things to avoid a looming deadline, but lists tend not to be infinite and so this only works for a limited period of time. You really can break tasks down to the minute level if you need. Essay To Do lists , for example, often included:

  • 1. Title
  • 2. Introduction
  • 3. Google (insert complicated term)

etc, etc.

2. Do SOMETHING

It’s all fine well writing the list – now start it. It doesn’t need to be the first bullet point. It doesn’t need to be the most important task, the most terrifying one, the most urgent one. Once you make a start on the list, it seems less scary. After you’ve crossed off ‘write title and date’ you can start on ‘make bed’ and before you know it, you’ve crossed off ‘hand in history coursework.’

3. Buy the Forest app

Or any app, but this one worked for me. Each time you want to focus on a task, but your phone keeps telling you that Urban Outfitters have a sale, or that your mum has texted, or that your group whatsapp has imploded in a discussion conducted entirely though Kardashian gifs, simply tap on the app and viola. A little tree will be planted, and the longer you ignore notifications (or better yet, turn them off) the more intricate and beautiful your tree will be. If you do succumb to the call of technology before the tree is fully grown however, it will perish and you will be forced to live with the guilt of killing such a divine being. As an added bonus, as you are growing your adorable forest of lemon trees and cacti, you can also plant a real tree in a real forest, and cross ‘help the environment’ off your ‘To Do’ list as well.

4. Procrastinate efficiently 

If you can’t go cold turkey, there are some things you can do to reign your procrastination in. Find a thing that is still ‘productive’ and has a limited time period to distract yourself before you face up to the main task. My favourite is procrasti-baking, but it has to be something relatively quick, like cookies or brownies – no Bake Off showstoppers for me. At university, I’ll go for a walk or listen to a podcast. Most people have some admin shoved in a drawer that could be filed away. As long as what you are doing is at least pretending to be productive and has a short time frame – thirty minutes at most – you can start to ween yourself off the thrill of endless hours pointlessly and pointedly avoiding eye contact with that essay.

Recovery

Almost two years ago, I found myself in a toilet stall in Malaysia, on the phone to my parents back at home, verbalising for the first time that my mind no longer felt like my own. After a month away from home, the Anorexia that had been controlling me through much of my final school year had grown into spitting, skeletal monster that had wrapped itself around my brain, distorting my perception of everything around me. The relief I felt when I finally said the words out loud was unparalleled, and in the weeks following my return home I felt like progress was being made. I had accepted I had a problem. I was receiving the counselling and nutritional guidance I needed. University still seemed like a sensible goal come October. Surely, the gap from diagnosis to full recovery would be a matter of months?

Unfortunately, this was not the case. I spent large parts of my recovery being told that I was brave for talking about my illness, and that I had overcome the biggest hurdle by accepting that I was unwell. But for several months after my first counselling session, I continued to feel that surge of euphoria when I stepped on the scales and the number dropped. I continued to weigh out my food, count my steps and calories, continued to overexercise. Recovery is not the neat, brief process I had imagined it to be, and accepting I was unwell was not the most difficult part. In fact, it became a new tool for the Anorexia to use; if I had accomplished this step, there was no need to try new foods or gain the weight back. As long as I was talking to people about the fact that I was unwell, I didn’t actually need to do anything to address the problem. I ended up in a bizarre situation where I could openly discuss my plans for recovery whilst edging closer to hospitalisation; I took a twisted pride in my manipulation of the situation, kidding myself that I was fooling those around me into believing I was engaging in recovery even whilst I faded into a bruised and delusional skeleton.

 

Recovery is not a smooth process, and it does not take mere months. I took an enforced gap year and when I finally reached university just over a year after my original diagnosis, it was not the experience I had been led expect from friends and the media. How to manage freshers’ week when you can’t bring yourself to drink alcohol for fear of ‘wasted’ calories? How to talk to someone you like when you are internally assessing every physical flaw you possess? How to deal with deadlines when you are too depressed to get out of bed? I made some fantastic friends, have a hugely supportive family and have medication to manage my depression, but first year has been a struggle. I have recently returned to counselling after verging on a relapse during exam season, and have been booked in for a bone density because I have not had a period in over two years. The fantasy of the rapid recovery I had talked about with my parents over the phone in Malaysia is laughable now, but not an uncommon perception. Mental health recovery is not smooth, it is not a journey of self discovery, it is not glamourous. I am still on antidepressants, still obsessed with food, still capable of spending hours at a time in front of a mirror dissecting my body. The body that may not be able to bear children because of what I have put it through, the body that I continue to berate and critique on a daily basis. 

Recovery is the best thing I have ever done, but let no one tell you that it is not brutal. It is necessary. It is the only option, but it may take years and it will not be without struggle. Do not be cosseted by the notion that talking is enough; it is crucial, but you have to act on your words. I have to act every day to prevent the monster feeding on my hunger, and it is empowering, exhausting and exhilarating all at once. But it is a battle I am proud of and a battle that is happening in every country, city and home every day. You are more than your illness, more than your recovery and every action you take creates a new identity that is not defined by these things.

image2.jpeg

Previously posted on https://foodfitnessflora.blog

Freshers’ ain’t all that

Looking back over the first eight months of university, I can count on my fingers the number of times my experience as a fresher matched up with the stories I had been told. The archetypal first year – alternating between blackout drunk and hungover, scraping the 40% at the end of the year and having casual sex whilst making ‘friends for life’ with the girlies – is something I am sure lots of people experience, and more power to them. But I am equally sure that I am not the only person who stepped out of their last exam and felt an overwhelming sense of not having done first year ‘right’, or a distinct feeling of relief that it was all over.

IMG_2130

Revision break views

A quick google of the threads in Student forums shows that whilst you may think everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing, we’re all just fumbling through. ‘How to lose your virginity? How to deal with anxiety? What to do as a teetotaller? How to deal with binge drinking?’ Everyone is trying to conform to the university experience they have been sold for years by friends, family and the media. But I would say around a third of my friends have told me they cried almost daily during Freshers’ Week, and getting drunk with a group of strangers in a foreign place is rarely everyone’s idea of fun. There is much discussion about the sensibility of millennials. A 2017 Telegraph article  noted that 40% of under-25s are teetotal, quoting one student from Kings London who commented that he only really goes out once every 2-3 weeks. I don’t doubt that there are people who limit themselves and enjoy exercising self-control on a night out, but they were few and far between in my experience. There are two clashing images of a millennial university experience; it is either a raucous, drunken, rebellious three years, or a period dedicated to study and tutting at those who didn’t get the memo that we’re a ‘sensible’ generation. The last eight months were neither of these things. Some bits were hugely enjoyable, some bits were emotionally draining – to be honest, it was much like most of life.

There is an element of Fresher’s Week that is grin-and-bear-it. I had taken a gap year, and several of my friends from school had confided that Fresher’s Week was not all that, but that first year in general was a total blast. So I gritted my teeth for the first week, joined in the forced fun, dressed up as Harley Quinn, a pick-and-mix bag, a stuffed olive. I made some of my closest friends, and I also rang my parents probably twice a day. I had lovely nights out full of silent discos and dancing, and I had days where I felt hopelessly lost. But I felt comforted by the fact that several of my friends had experienced a similar first couple of weeks and that they had finished first year proclaiming that it was the best time of their lives. Instead, for much of first term I felt that I was learning constantly in every part of my life and it was exhausting. Constantly being open, friendly and enthusiastic was draining when sometimes all I wanted to do was spend the evening curled up with Netflix.

Like 1 in 4 people, I struggle with my mental health, which undoubtably didn’t help. Being prone to anxiety is unhelpful on a night out; depressive tendencies are never fun, but I have friends who have never dealt with either and who also found first year hard work. It isn’t that its more challenging than the rest of life, but it is sold as the time of your life – free from parents, no real academic pressure, surrounded by other hedonistic, interesting people. All of these things are true, but there are also times when you are cramming for an exam, deep into an overdraft and scrolling through instagram seeing what seems to be the entirety of your timeline on one big night out. You might be homesick, you might be stressed, you might simply be a bit lonely. Freshers’ is not one big high, its not one big low – it is a middle ground, it is fine, it is sometimes even good, but it is not all that.