Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Cabin Fever

on July 30, 2013

Y’all know what cabin fever is?  I can’t confirm this, but I heard once that the term comes from what happens to people who live in the mountains and get snowed into their homes during the winter; the enforced confinement makes them start acting crazy.  It’s not claustrophobia, a fear of confined spaces.  It’s what happens to a person who, for weeks and maybe months at a time, can’t get out and see people and do things.  It’s what I get from time to time working from home.

I get cabin fever if I’ve been in the house too long, even if I’ve been out to the store (buying groceries doesn’t count, as it is not an emotionally gratifying or intellectually stimulating activity).  If the bank account is particularly low I stay put; no lunches with friends, no browsing at the bookstore, no going to my sister’s house.  And after a while I start to show the symptoms of my self-enforced confinement.

Cabin fever for me means a total lack of interest in doing anything – almost a compulsion to avoid activity.  I start a slow, downward spiral of diminishing productivity, and as more time goes by, it gets harder and harder to force myself to do the tasks that need doing.  Convenient excuses present themselves as if by magic and before you know it, I’m settled in front of the TV watching M*A*S*H reruns, convinced that I can’t do what I need to do because I have to wait for something else to happen first.  Which is nonsense.

When it gets really bad I start actively talking myself out of doing things that could break the pattern.  I feel like a black hole, absorbing all of the light and matter around me, collapsing in on myself.  This is when my husband has to almost force me to get out and to see a movie, or go to dinner, or do anything outside (or inside) the house.  Of course, once I do, the negative momentum is broken.  But the pull of inertia is very strong, and I almost can’t overcome it on my own once I’ve let it go too long.

Why do I let this happen, you ask?  Good question.  I could get out more than I do – I could go to the library, or my local coffee shop, for little to no expenditure.  I could take a walk down to the nearby lake.  I could (gasp!) do more housework.  I know these things.  But knowing what to do isn’t enough sometimes.

This challenge is particularly difficult for a person like me, because I get energy and inspiration from exposure to new experiences and face-to-face interaction with people.  Sometimes I get so busy with work that the spiral never starts.  Sometimes I am successful at fending off the spiral with activity.  But sometimes, the fear of not being able to pay the bills (which has never happened, by the way) keeps me confined in a prison of my own making.  My hope is that one day soon I’ll have so much work that these periods of cabin fever will disappear forever.  In the meantime, I keep moving ahead, trying to stay busy and keeping my fever down.

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