February and March always seem to be difficult months for me, when it comes to mental (and physical!) health. I have no explanation for why my shoulders seem worse at this time of year, although that’s been a pattern for a few years now, but it’s easy enough to see why my mental health might take a nosedive. There’s the seasonal aspect, and the lack of sunlight; there’s the fact that by February I’ve usually failed to follow through on my New Year’s resolutions and goals, and I’ve been confronted by my birthday (in late January) which has made me aware of the passing of time; by March I’ve also failed to follow through on the plans I made on my birthday, and so all in all I’m feeling unproductive and stressed out and it’s dark and rainy and hello there, depression, how are you today?
I’m self-aware enough to recognise this. To see the blackness encroaching on my brain before it actually wins, and to acknowledge that there’s a reason it’s there. When I start feeling more depressed than usual, I know the first thing I need to do is start taking my iron supplements again, because there is inevitably a physiological element for me, and I’m prone to anaemia. There are a lot of factors to my mental health that I can’t do anything about, but nutritional deficiencies I can fix, so I should.
And this year, of course, there are other factors.
For example, I’m currently unemployed, because my library traineeship doesn’t start until September. While I haven’t given up hope of finding some work between now and then, the shorter my period of availability, the less likely it is that anywhere will hire me. I’m volunteering at a local library and looking into a few other volunteer opportunities, too. These help get me out of the house, but they’re not the same as earning money and feeling like I’m managing to adult.
I’m also somewhat isolated while living here with my parents. The majority of my school friends have moved away, and I don’t have much of a social life. Dance is the main place I actually interact with other humans, and I had to take this week off because I’ve got a suspected hip flexor strain, so my Quaker meeting on Sunday will be more or less my only ‘social’ activity this week. Though I’m an introvert, I still need to interact with people, otherwise I get trapped inside my own head.
I have tactics. I have projects. I’m working on a major translation project (I’ve been posting about it on Tumblr), which is helping because it uses my brain and feels productive and every line I manage to puzzle out is an achievement. But still. There are reasons why my mental health might not be great.
Because of this, I’ve been struggling to enjoy most of my hobbies. I’m unmotivated. I can’t get into any of the books I read; I force myself to finish them, only to wonder if I ruined the experience for myself by reading it when I’m not in the mood. But still, now and again I’ll have a great dance class, or I’ll read something I love.
The thing I’ve been struggling with the most is bookstagram. It’s begun to feel like a chore. I have to force myself to take photos — I was hosting a challenge this month, so I didn’t feel like I could miss any of the prompts, and I felt more pressure to make my photos good. But I was becoming increasingly frustrated and dissatisfied with the photos I was taking, and… well, it just wasn’t fun anymore.
And yes, I think this is partly the depression and general low mood I’ve been suffering with. If it was just about bookstagram, I wouldn’t be struggling with other hobbies too. But I do feel that burnout is a major factor.
I’ve been posting book photos every single day for nearly seven months now (I started in early August). Each one requires set up, then I’ll take a couple of dozen photos. I transfer them to the computer and edit them, before potentially changing the setup and taking several more when it didn’t work out as I hoped. I put them in a grid to see how they look against other recent pictures, to check my editing has worked. I transfer them to my phone and write a caption to post. Then I’ll do another one.
It takes… hours. It takes so much brainpower. (For the record: I’m sure there are quicker ways of doing what I do, and some pictures only take 15 minutes. But others can take literally hours when they just keep going wrong.)
I’ve had an Instagram account since 2015, but for the first three years of having it, I was an infrequent poster, and mostly stuck to snaps of my life, or places I was visiting, or occasionally some arty photos of my uni work because people love that #studyspo. I went from that to elaborate bookstagram pictures in… no time at all. I definitely didn’t ease myself in gently. I was co-hosting a photo challenge only a couple of months after I started.
And I think that’s why it became unsustainable, and why six and a half months later, I’m struggling.
So I’m taking a short hiatus. Probably just a week or so. I do love bookstagram, and I want to keep going with it, but I know in order to keep loving it, I need to step away. I’m going to take a week off, and let my brain get some new ideas. And then, probably, I am going to take a lot of photos, and post none of them, and store them up so that I always have some photos on file (I feel like this would help a lot when I’m busy or there’s a patch of terrible weather).
And then I will start posting again.
But I’ll be doing it @finnlongman, not @miriamjoywrites, because I’m finally taking the plunge and changing my username everywhere. I’ve already made the switch on Twitter and Tumblr; Instagram is next. YouTube and Facebook after that. This blog will be the most complicated, so I’m leaving that until last.
For now, though, I’m taking a break (and my neglected iron supplements).
Who knows, maybe I’ll even get some reading done.