Modern life is filled with a whole lot of tossing aside of natural rhythms and forcibly conforming to some arbitrary man-made order. If we don’t mold easily to whatever contrived system is deemed “normal,” we’re freaks, we’re lazy, we’re procrastinators, or we’re just plain weird. If your energy, your muse, or your motivation doesn’t come in eight-hour bursts five days a week, then something is just wrong with you. I’ve already discussed my struggles with the fact that I do not have a 24-hour circadian rhythm and how that has affected my sleeping and waking life. But I’m not just talking about sleep. My energy and my inspiration comes in waves, and it does this with everything. I’ll have a spate of painting inspiration, or writing inspiration, or knitting inspiration, or cleaning inspiration. For a while, be that a few days or a few weeks, I will be painting like a being possessed, or writing at a pace that if sustained would get something the length of War and Peace turned out in a couple of months. But do I sustain this frenetic knit-a-thon until I’ve made a cozy large enough to hug the cash register building (attention non-Denverites: look at a picture of our skyline. We have a skyscraper shaped like an old-school cash register)? No. The wave of knitting mania peters out before it goes that far. And then I won’t knit for possibly months until I feel compelled to pick up a pair of needles again.
Sometimes I wish I could control when these bursts of focused energy hit, but that’s the thing. I can’t. No one can. I can’t say, “Writing muse, activate!” like I’m a Wonder Twin. When it’s there, it’s there. When it’s not, it’s not. That’s how the muse works. And it’s not just creative endeavors, either. I mentioned cleaning, for one. Sometimes I go on a cleaning/purging/organizing binge that would make Mr. Monk proud. Other times the mere sight of the dirty dishes piling up in my kitchen sink fills me with dread.
Here is where I estimate about 50% of my reading audience is going to attempt to diagnose me with bipolar disorder. And though I will admit that idea has been floated to me by a doctor at one point, I really don’t think it is the case. Because usually the “swing” isn’t a swing at all, but a shift. One day I might be a cleaning fool. Then the next day I might be click-clacking away at the keyboard. It’s not that I’m “high” or “low” – it’s that my focus has changed. And you can put away the ADD diagnosis as well. When I’m inspired, I have the focus of a laser. For HOURS. Or days. Or weeks. You get the idea.
Which brings me to the larger point: why do we seek to label things that don’t fit the “normal” mold as disorders? I’m not saying actual disorders don’t exist, but why is it a problem if all I can think about is writing for a week, or if I have twenty things I am flitting about in one day? If I’m functional, I hardly think that’s a disorder.
Aha, therein lies the rub: define “functional.” You might say, if I’m so absorbed in what I’m doing that I skip a meal or a shower then slow down, turbo, that’s just craziness! But would you think so if you were reading about some great artist and how they created their masterpiece? I’m guessing you’d just label that “artistic genius” (unfortunately, telling my mother that I was an artistic genius growing up because Leonardo DaVinci was supposedly a slob didn’t get me out of cleaning my room, but ya know, worth a shot). And how many gamers do you know that get whatever new game they love and will not be seen or heard from for the next two or three days until they’ve beaten the thing? Are they disordered or just passionate about that game? Since it’s an actual thing for significant others to call themselves “<enter name of game here> widows,” as in, “Are you free this weekend?” “Yeah, I’ll be a Skyrim widow for the next few days, so I’m free!” …I’m thinking that’s not so abnormal. So why do we treat it as such?
Why do we make exceptions (see above gaming example) for some things, but that is absolutely out of the question for other things? Why can’t you call out of your day job when you need a mental health day without faking a cough? Why isn’t it enough to just say, my focus just really isn’t there today, and I wouldn’t be very productive if I tried to force it anyway? Because it’s seen as immature to admit to the fact that you can’t turn your focus and passion on and off like a switch? I would think it would be more mature to know your “limitations,” though I hesitate to call them such. I don’t see these things as limitations; I see them as natural cycles.
Think about it historically: people living closer to the land had natural cycles built into their lives that us modern city-dwellers don’t even acknowledge today. There was planting season; there was growing season; there was harvesting season; there was the cold season when you retreated indoors. Your focus was on different activities, in different quantities, at different times of the year. And those activities were influenced by things like the weather, and how much sunlight you had, and how many people were working together to accomplish a goal. Yet we’re expected to still maintain a year-round five days a week, 52 weeks a year, eight hour burst of focus on the same exact thing for our entire adult lives. Sounds rather arbitrary, doesn’t it?
So why is it “irresponsible” to not fit that unnatural mold? It sounds more like being in tune with the real world to me. But we’ve become so conditioned, in a very short period of time, when you think about it, that this is just the way things are, and how they’ve always been. But in reality the industrial revolution, and with it, the scheduling of people’s lives around factory schedules instead of the natural world, is a relatively recent development.
I say down with a man-made contrivance, and up with listening to your body, your spirit, and your natural rhythms. I find I accomplish a lot more of value this way, as opposed to a pile of busywork and an ethic of butts-in-seats. Do what is worthwhile. Time is relative.