A different kind of blog from me today. About dealing with feelings of inadequacy, depression (not the clinical kind), impostor syndrome, burn-out, what have you. Many people I know, Egyptologists and otherwise, are dealing with this at the moment. Whether you have just broken up with your employer, or with a person the loving of whom was making you decidedly unhappy, or whether life generally gives you enough limoon to start a juice bar in Cairo, here are few tips:
When we’re stressed, we forget to breathe. When we check our smartphone, we forget to breathe. (Look it up: email apnea is a thing). Take a couple of slow, deep breaths and you will feel instantly better. (Also, you will probably experience resistance and find it hard, because breathing is essentially letting go). If your surroundings are choking you, go outside, to a place where you can breathe. Usually near water. Yoga can help. The first free sessions of the Headspace app can help your relax for ten minutes each day. Walking can help. Put up a note somewhere reminding you to breathe. Breathe when you’re sitting on the toilet. Mindfully walk up the stairs. When you’re rushing to get somewhere, deliberately slow down your step. You’ll arrive one minute later but much more relaxed.
- Eat, drink, sleep
Much like breathing, if you don’t eat, drink or sleep well your body will go into crisis mode. Often, creeping feelings of depression and exhaustion can be remedied by a good meal, drinking enough water and a good night’s sleep. Preparing a meal, even if it consists of just two components that need to be heated (we’ve all been there) helps to settle your mind on an easy task for some time. Depression can be as simple as a vitamin B12 deficiency (again, I’m not talking about clinical depression). If falling asleep is hard, breathing, meditation, (yin) yoga, a hot water bottle, a well ventilated bedroom and listening to a podcast can help (apologies, History of Egypt podcast). If I wake up in the middle of the night ready for a bout of worrying, I don’t even try to go back to sleep but read a book instead or listen to my sleeping CD (sorry, Ramin Karimloo). And when my mind really wants to worry and nothing can stop it, I just let it for one night. Or I write down every single worry that comes into my mind, however big or small, until I’m all out of topics and fall asleep again.
- Go outside
When I was living with my parents while writing my thesis, every day after dinner I would walk to the waterfront with my mother. Every day we would comment on the amount of mosquitos and estimate the wind power (if you’ve ever done sailing…). It helps to go outside and walk, look at the sky, avoid other people if you will, and get some vitamin D. In every type of depression (also clinical ones), it helps to go outside each day and walk aimlessly for a bit. Walk to a park, sit on a bench, bring a book. Walk the (neighbor’s) dog. Or go to the beach, even in bad weather, and pretend the wind is blowing the cobwebs from your mind.
- Clean your house
Even if you do just one task, clear out the garbage, water the plants, make your bed, vacuum clean one room, wash one dish, put one book on a bookshelf, and you will help yourself. Usually one action leads to another. Throw out some stuff. Organize your bookshelves (just not by color, only genuinely crazy people and interior designers do that). I would even propose the Marie Kondo method on a larger scale: if a person in your life doesn’t spark joy, gently let them go.
Everything looks smaller on paper than in your mind. The greatest grief, hurt and anxiety can be summarized in a very down to earth way. When you take your emotions out of your head and onto the paper or screen, it gives you the chance to look at them from the outside and make them feel less overwhelming. Talking or writing about your feelings helps to weaken them and make them more bearable. For the best known example of this, read Night by Elie Wiesel.
Reconnect with the things you love. For me those are Egypt, books, writing, Old Kingdom decorated tombs and determined women in history. Read a beloved children’s book. Remember why you got into Egyptology/archaeology/another obscure field in the first place. Also, reconnect to people. It’s easy, even after years, to send an e-mail to someone and ask how they’ve been and what they’re doing. Have a coffee with someone you haven’t seen in a while.
- Watch After Life on Netflix
Seriously, watch it. Even in a depressed mood, this series will inevitably bring out a snort of laughter from the depths of your sense of sarcasm. It teaches us to be kind to humanity, including the assholes, because we’re all struggling. In general I think comedy helps to make life more bearable. To take ourselves less seriously. We don’t have to worry about every single thing, because we pay professionals to do it for us.
For all of this goes: take your time. Grief/hurt/depression takes time. Acknowledge that you feel utterly useless at this moment, but that the feeling might pass. If it lasts longer than a couple of weeks, it is best to talk to your GP. In a world of insta, these deep, lingering emotions are not instantly solved. Talk to a trusted person, and listen to their troubles in return. And let’s make this topic more discussable.