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My Drug Of Choice. Wednesday December 3, 2014

Oh, why do I do this to myself?

No, I'm not talking illegal drugs here (I am that terribly boring person who has never even smoked pot) or even the lovely lovely drugs that keep my Black Dog from suffocating me entirely in the bad times, but the stress "drugs" of adrenaline and cortisol. And yes, for my fellow pedants out there, I know these are hormones, not drugs.

You see, I actively like stress – or at least, I choose to actively subject myself to it – which comes to the same thing, doesn't it? Or does it? My latest stupidity is to announce to various networking friends that the first draft of my romance novel will be written and delivered to them to read on Christmas Eve!

I just finished chapter five this morning. That's approximately half way through the book. Of course, it was supposed to be a novella, but at 18,927 words already I have reluctantly concluded that I don't do short.

But, I'd been writing this thing since February and had got as far as the beginning of chapter three by mid-November. Something had to be done. The only way I could see of actually finishing the thing in this lifetime was to put myself under pressure to deliver; hence my rather foolhardy promise.

But it was a stupid thing to do from the health point of view.

Most of us are familiar with the effects of the "fight or flight" hormone adrenaline, but this is what the experts say about Cortisol*.

The stress hormone, cortisol, is present in your body all the time, but levels increase in response to danger and stress. In the short-term, its effects are positive, to help you deal with an immediate crisis, but long-term stress means that cortisol builds up and creates a number of stress-related health problems.

Short-term positive effects:
• a quick burst of energy
• decreased sensitivity to pain
• increase in immunity
• heightened memory.

Long-term negative effects:
• imbalances of blood sugar
• increase in abdominal fat storage
• suppressed thyroid activity
• decreased bone density
• decreased muscle mass
• high blood pressure
• lowered immunity
• less able to think clearly.

And yes, at the moment I am on a roll with the novel, all the energy is zinging around like nobody's business. I'm longing to get up at 5am to start work on it and then to work again until gone midnight.

I'm not quite stupid enough to do that, but I am tempted.

But with my GP expressing concern about the nosebleeds (see previous post) and muttering darkly about high blood pressure, with the menopause indicating that decreased bone density is a legitimate concern and with my desire to lose weight (yes, from the tummy, alright?), all those long term health effects are worrying.

So, it's a quandary. I can't work without deadlines and deadlines cause stress. Ergo, I need the stress. It's just that I know it will inevitably present a stinging bill; one which I'd rather not pay.

So – if anyone has any ideas about how to be enjoyably productive without the buzz of stress, please let me know. Answers on a postcard to….

A Moodscope member.

* This piece courtesy of

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Anonymous Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 6:38am

Oh Mary darling! Nothing like loading it on! :-)
I live with adrenalin and cortisol as two of my worst friends, they know how to exhaust me. I'm currently training 3xweekly to try to put them where they need to be. And meditation. Some weeks are better than others but there is a change.
I'd retract the Christmas Eve statement...good things are worth waiting for and health comes first. Love ratg x.

Anonymous Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 8:03am

Hi ratg, what training are you doing to combat this? I also meditation to try to tackle this, but seemingly inevitability fall over periodically having worn myself out.

Anonymous Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 8:09am

If one tries to practice mindfulness you can be more "in the minuite" without unwanted "stress without a reason".

Rupert Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 8:21am

Mary you should just try to avoid stress full stop. My job often involves high levels of stress and I genuinely feel burn't out by it to the point where my brain/body simply refuses to go into stress mode most of the time and my work suffers as a result. Just tell your friends you have had other commitments.

Del Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 9:11am

Hello Mary. Thank you for this eloquent and touching post. I wake most days feeling low and empty, and I look for a 'buzz' (less healthy than yours) to blot it out. One thing I have found from doing guided meditations is that you can (sometimes) just let your feelings be there. Yes, I feel bad. Yes, I want a 'fix' of excitement. The feelings are there but you don't HAVE to do anything about them. Eventually they pass and return less frequently.

I frequently fail at this, but am learning to 'fail better'.

Why not tell your friends that you're going to do a Charles Dickens and publish in instalments? So they'll get part 1 for Xmas and the tantilising conclusion next year. By all means carry on working on the book, but do it because you like doing it, not because of the deadline.

Take good care of yourself.

Anonymous Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 9:49am

Your friend's will probably be too busy to read it on Christmas Eve anyway, so why push yourself so. When will you learn that looking after your mental health comes first, the fall out doesn't only affect you when it all goes wrong.
Best of luck Julie.

Anonymous Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 10:25am

As an offering of carrot rather than stick: Strangely once one has truly learned to acceppt and relax it is very clear that this calmer state leads to better recall (memory) and also much more creativity. True friend would prefer you to look after yourself rather than punish yourself with DEADlines (ever wondered why they are called just that? All the best

Rupert Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 10:26am

Hi Del interested what you say about the buzz - do you do anything to try and dissuade yourself from going down that route and have you found anything that works?

Anonymous Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 11:48am

Claire Weekes always maintains that we keep busy and if awake, yet up, but as she adds 'Not whilst the owls are still awake!). Exercise is always used to burn off the cortisol so perhaps that you are just working that off rather than making it larger. Do what you want and stop criticising yourself and treating your doctor as a god but tempt yourself with a little more down time if you feel you are running with a train.

Anonymous Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 4:17pm

Hi Mary
Don't put undue pressure on yourself. As Queen of the procrastinators I understand the urge. I agree with the other posts to take it easy. Maybe you could find a nice breaking point with perhaps a little cliffhanger and end the current story. Part 2 can come along at Valentine's Day. If needs to be a Part 3 it can be for Easter. Take care of yourself so we can all enjoy you!
Karen from North Vancouver

Anonymous Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 5:35pm

Dear Mary,
One of my best creative writing periods have been while pregnant with my first child. Some kind of nesting exercise I think as I wrote lots of family history stories. The nesting instinct and hormonal buzz worked well for me. I also convinced myself that what I managed to write before delivery was what it was intended for me to achieve and left the rest till later.

I've also understood that most of the books in the world have been written in the early hours of the morning. Not the ones after midnight but 6-8-9 in the mornings. That seems to work for many. Also having different write projects - like you - and Writing on whichever takes one's fancy rather than writing a certain amount of words each day is important I think.

Recently I've started to ask like a kind of prayer that the time I have to write a certain piece will be sufficient and ample for me to be able to write that piece in a harmonious way and be happy and satisfied with the result. It it fun to play with time in this way.

All the best,

Di Murphey Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 6:59pm

Dearest Mary ~
You dear, sweet, inspiring & gifted writer. If you go for it, you will have a mission, a cause, an interesting journey.

Go for it.

What is the worst that can happen? You might surprise yourself with self-imposed deadlines.
Di Murphey

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 8:07pm

To all you lovely people above who have commented so helpfully and lovingly, thank you so much; I am very grateful. I think I will stick with Christmas Eve (because already I want to start another one in the New Year to be finished by Easter), but I really take on board all your other points, especially exercise and meditation. And writing early in the morning. After a session with my coach today we have added "getting enough sleep" and after the blood pressure reading this afternoon (not good news) have limited the red meat and salt (darn: no bacon for breakfast!) Will keep you all posted. In the meantime - back to chapter seven!

Sally Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 10:23pm

Great reply Del. I love your self-insight, and the Chas Dickens idea. Glad you posted.

Sally Wed, Dec 3rd 2014 @ 10:56pm

Hello Mary. I see you've already responded to today's posts but I've only just read your piece, and it really touched me so I'd like to add my 2p worth.

I absolutely recognise what you describe, down to the nose bleeds (only 1, thankfully) and high blood pressure, and the buzz, the energy, and the enthusiasm to work all hours. I haven't found a solution that helps me all the time, but I am very interested in the phenomenon, and I think I am starting to have some tools that help some of the time.

Exercise, yes. Grounds my energy. Less pent-up mental energy, more relaxed creative energy. Meditation, yes. Great for perspective. Not an easy discipline for me to maintain, but when I do it, it helps.

Other things: understanding what's going on - on two levels. What's driving the busy-ness? And what are the options, when the cortisol is coursing? For me, these are both still areas of inquiry. I address the first by looking for the roots of the pattern - my busyness can be a way of avoiding emptiness, or avoiding my fear of it. Or it can be a need to justify my place in the world, as if I'm not good enough to be accepted if I'm not productive, or not productive enough. I address the second by trying to know what I can do when I feel the physical symptoms of the cortisol. They include going outside, into nature, or taking 3 mindful breaths, or doing a chi gong sequence ... and then I can decide more accurately if I really want to stay up, or do the work.

You said "I can't work without deadlines ... " Any idea why not? Is it a pattern? Try contradicting it - "I love to work at a steady pace" ... or whatever phrase works for you, to help you figure out where your need for deadlines is coming from.

Work in progress for us both eh? I wish you well with it (myself too :) and hope these thoughts are of some help.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Thu, Dec 4th 2014 @ 11:14am

Hello Sally (I hope you come back and read this). Thank you so much for your very helpful comments. You are bang on the money when you say "it can be a need to justify my place in the world, as if I'm not good enough to be accepted if I'm not productive, or not productive enough.". Yup! That's it exactly. And deadlines - the only way I stop procrastinating - even with stuff I actually want to do! Hmmm. Yes, will look into that one. Thank you again Sally, I really appreciate your thoughts.

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