Like so many other people I would imagine, I find myself at this time of year becoming increasingly introspective, internally interrogating myself on the previous year's achievements or perceived lack of.
The year – and in particular, the elements – has been difficult and draining, throwing many spanners in the works, preventing or delaying plans. It began this time last year, with gales ripping apart my studio, sometime later a fire destroyed a barn containing the year's fleece, then we lost our prize Icelandic tup to a bacterial infection. A working trip to Shetland culminated in the first of the autumn storms beginning their rampage across the British Isles trapping us on the island of Vaila for several days.
Back at the farm, our old stone buildings developed structural problems which were then exacerbated by rain and flood waters. Three barns currently lay empty, unfit for use until repair work and drying out can be accomplished. Our home now houses most of the accumulation from those three barns and feels extremely cramped and complicated to navigate physically and mentally as a result. We lost power, phone lines and internet for several days during the floods. We feared for a number of our ewes spending the breeding season in the North Lakes in the middle of the worst of the flooding. In lulls in the storms, we travelled up to bring them home surrounded by rising waters as we travelled. At home, we worried constantly, watching the waters and the weather by day, listening to it rampage all around us at night.
Add to that, ending the year with a dislocated upper rib directly below my collar bone, preventing me from either knitting or typing for more than a few minutes at a time, and you will forgive me for wanting to see off 2015 as quickly as possible! And yet, despite my total exhaustion, my inner self still had the energy to begin dissecting and criticising my achievements, leaving me riddled with self doubt. It makes me want to hide, disappear, never to have to offer myself up for public or private scrutiny ever again.
This is nothing new. Sometime during every major project – in this case, The Vintage Shetland Project – I seem to go through this debilitating, negative and non-productive phase. It always seems to come close to the end of a project when I really need to get my act together and get everything finished. I begin to truly believe I am not up to the job at hand, that everyone is going to be disappointed in my work, most particularly me, that it will be criticised, torn apart, and that it won't sell. I find myself waking up anxious, with a gnawing pit inside me, churning away. My brain refuses to settle and prevents me from concentrating on what needs to be focussed on and completely refuses to be silenced even for a moment. I reject each and every piece of work that I've created, desperately wanting to start again from scratch, convinced that the next time will be so much better. The perfectionist in me is never, every satisfied and delights in tearing apart my self confidence from within. I can't write prose, I can't write patterns, I can't take photographs – and so it goes on. It compares me to others and always finds me wanting.
Self-analysis is an important part of the creative process yet I cannot prevent myself from taking this to extremes. Like the bad weather I know to expect it, yet when it arrives I can do nothing to stop it from tearing me asunder. I find myself drowning in a deluge of my own insecurities. Despite being so tired I drive myself constantly. I can barely string a coherent sentence together, yet I work day and night. I don't take days off, I don't have time to knit or do other activities for pleasure. I don't go out or even to the shops. I feel intense guilt if I take a few hours off during a week or phone a friend and feel this will result in the failure of the Project. I push myself to the point of collapse.
Today, I decided to try and meet this force head on – Creative or Writer's Block accompanied with a liberal dose of crippling self doubt, perfectionism gone wrong, whatever it may be – and voice the dread I am feeling. It feels more powerful, more overwhelming than ever before and I think this is because the project and the book mean so much to me, and that so many people are excited about it, anticipating just how good it is going to be, supporting me in my endeavour, and perversely this in itself applies pressure and stress. Many of you are eagerly waiting for the book and probably don't want to hear that I am going through this, but if I don't finally let this dam burst, release my own flood of fear and doubts, it will continue to stifle and choke me. I desperately don't want to disappoint, so what happens? The road blocks go up inside my head and prevent the creative process, implementing my self-fulfilling prophesy. I hope this post today is the first step in tackling the fear. I have never spoken up about this before and just writing the post scares the living daylights out of me, but at the end of the day it is all part of what makes me tick and I have to try and learn how to deal with it somehow. I have lately found myself visualising it as a long, arduous walk to the bottom of a gorge. Once at the bottom I know that at some point I will start to climb out – once I am strong enough. But how do I build myself back up to climb back up the other side of the valley? And how do I make that journey without ruining the experience? I am so close to creating the best piece of work that I have ever done and the only thing that is stopping me is me.
I believe stresses manifest themselves physically and a couple of days ago I came down with the worst cold I've had in years. I think its telling me I've hit the bottom and it will soon be time to set about clambering back up. Additionally, this is actually the longest blog post I have written in some time, so maybe I have already taken the first positive step forward by acknowledging the struggle I am having? Yesterday I started on a small creative project unconnected with 'work' to force me to have some down-time. I feel I am taking steps in the right direction. I'm sure I'm not the only person to hit these barriers either creatively, professionally or otherwise. Maybe you have ways of tackling these anxieties that would help me? Your thoughts and experiences would be so very greatly appreciated.
a very weary, but infinitely calmer,