What do you do when worst-case scenario hits? When even after doing your best to prepare for it, it cripples you, and you feel like you're stuck in a depressive "Groundhog's Day" of going through the motions?
Chances are if you're like me, you didn't have a clue about what to do about it. That's exactly where I was while coming out of the summer of 2017.
As my friend and neighbor Gary says, I was getting shelled, and after losing my dad to a very short and excruciating battle with a very rare form of cancer it was the straw that broke me. I was sleeping 12 to 15 hours a day and spending the other waking hours half drunk, completely unproductive, and uncreative. But how, when we feel totally helpless and lazy, do we snap out of it?
I consider myself a fairly self-aware human being, and I think I kept pretty good tabs on what I was going through and how I processed it. Below are some points I hope will help if you're going through a tough spot or have experienced a loss, and you're wondering how to get back to your creative self.
The "New Normal"
You will never go "back to normal." If you've experienced a loss, that person is gone, and there's no going back or changing that. You are now in the building phase of the new normal. It feels foreign and wrong, moving on and enjoying yourself while a person you love is no longer here to share the experiences with you.
What really got me through this part of my grief was looking at the people around me and realizing that every single one of them had probably lost someone very special to them. And they were ok, they were living, they were happy, and being happy was ok too. But there's no need to rush through it.
Be Sad: It's Allowed
No one can tell you how to process your grief. Your grief, along with your process, belongs to you and no one else. Cry, and cry hard. Ugly cry. Scream at the road while you’re driving (I call this windshield therapy). That one's my favorite. And if someone in your life is making you feel less than adequate because you're down, screw 'em.
That being said, you can only be a sad sack for so long before you're just miserable company and no one wants to hang out with you.
I spent a good two to three months in my depressed haze, and I was lucky enough to have friends around me that really didn't care if I was a downer. They like me. They liked me before I was a bummer, and they liked me after I became a full-fledged member of the sad boys club. While they were there for me through it all, it wasn't them that brought me out of it. There was a day when I woke up with a bangin' headache and a bloody nose and decided "I don't want to live like this anymore."
Me and my AC for the day, Evan Yamada, having some fun with the talent.
It Was a Decision
I hadn't shot anything in over a month. I was broke as hell and couldn't figure out how I had let things get so bad. But I made a decision that I was going to do whatever it took to get to a more healthy mental state along with re-igniting my creative passion. I'm of the opinion that you can't just choose not to be sad. Sadness comes, and sometimes like a flood, but you can choose to do something productive in those moments.
I know, the words "creativity" and "routine" sound a bit paradoxical, but the first step to getting acquainted with the new normal is a new routine. I took a few things I liked from productivity masters like Tim Ferriss and Chase Jarvis and started to implement them. First being waking up early (for me), at 6:30 a.m., followed by some exercise.
Daily learning is something I've started to implement as well. I throw on a podcast every morning during my bike rides and knock out two birds with one stone. For some photography podcast suggestions check out Derrick Ruf's recent article.
Play and Create
This is another tip I took from Jarvis. It's hard when loss or trauma is fresh, but try to have some fun. Be with people, be with friends. Even people you don't know. Go sit somewhere busy, get out, make stuff, go see a movie and check out for a while, explore. And if you’re a photographer, which I’m assuming you are because you’re here, bring your camera.
This is going to sound very morbid, but I'm a realist, and here it goes. This is not the end of the misery life is going to throw at you. You will literally lose everyone you've ever known and you're going to want to know how you got through it the first time. Writing is not only good for you but it can provide insight for others going through the same things you've been through.
I haven't conquered sadness, nor will I ever. I still miss my dad and I still get sad. But I don't let it cripple me anymore, and I definitely don’t let it get in the way of the things that bring me joy. For some pointers on how to get through those overwhelming moments check out the "5 Second Rule" by Mel Robbins, and keep creating.
I'm curious about what your processes for grief look like. What tools or routines did you use to get past a crippling loss (personal or otherwise) and regain your creativity?
Image used with permission of Jake Vanheel.