(IMAGE: A pile of watercolor paintings (actually the actual paintings from the Millennial Mystic Tarot), face down, with the date shown in the corner of each. The dates range from August 2018 to February 2019.)
Hey guys, it’s Taylor!
(But you knew that.)
I’d like to talk a little bit today about how to come off of a long-term (months or a year plus) project, how to practice self-care in the wake of an overwhelming amount of work, and dealing with what I like to call “project postpartum.”
Since I referenced a type of depression there, though, I have to preface this blog post with the following disclaimer: I am not a doctor, I am not a counselor, I am not a therapist, and neither this post nor any other part of this blog is intended to treat, manage, or cure any psychiatric illness. I’m just sharing my own experience, in the hopes that hearing from a peer will help someone to help themself.
Clear? Good. Liability is a funny thing.
Anyway, I’m just finishing up my Millennial Mystic Tarot and getting ready to send it off to the printers, and while I am super excited and happy to have finished it, I’ve definitely got a case of what I call “project postpartum.” Though it’s certainly not as severe as postpartum depression – which is a real illness and should be respectfully treated as such! – I do get sort of “end-of-project blues,” the way we get post-holiday blues.
I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but here in the US, most people have some kind of holiday – Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, etc – in late December, and it’s followed by some of the worst weather we get all year. Days are short (winter solstice = shortest day/longest night, after all). Weather is overcast, cold, and snow/rain/sleet are common in many places, so you can’t really go outside to get sunshine even when it IS daytime. And you’ve just had this months-long buildup to your holiday of choice, and then…nothing. Nothing to celebrate, nothing to buy, and nothing to do except weep over the ruins of your finances, if you participate in gift-giving.
As I write this, it’s March, so we’re mostly out of the woods with the winter blues – but I’m experiencing some definite post-project blues. I find I often don’t know what to do with myself when I’ve just finished a huge project. Most times, I expect to feel some huge feelings, like pride, accomplishment, or just being happy about the project being done…but setting up those expectations makes it all the more empty when I just feel tired after the project is complete. In addition, I am so damn tired that I can feel down, sometimes severely, just from lack of energy. And with many projects, I’m stressing about how it’ll be received.
In the end, adding it all up, what I’ve got amounts to emptiness, disappointment, exhaustion, and stress. Great recipe for feeling low.
“So what do I do?” you might ask. “Sure, I get project postpartum, but how do I deal with it?”
Beyond the basic suggestions of “get plenty of sleep, eat properly, stat hydrated, take your meds, and don’t get MORE exhausted,” I have some suggestions and actionables on the more mental side, so keep reading. I’m bullet-pointing them in no particular order, so that you can pick and choose what appeals to you, or try them all – I’m leaving that in your hands.
- Congratulate yourself, with help if possible. Throw a little party, or a big one. Get a couple of supportive friends together and make it very clear that this party is to honor your project’s completion. If your project has an online following (think webcomics and other online works), celebrate with its fans. Or just take yourself out to dinner or a movie or whatever YOU like to do to celebrate.
- Recount what you’ve learned. This is a great way to honor the project’s effects on your life: Get some paper and write down everything this project taught you. Get creative with this: Did the project teach you time management? Did you start any new habits due to this project? Did you gain skills? Did you forge relationships, professional or personal? Is it going to be a great portfolio piece? Or did you maybe learn some of your limitations or weak spots? Be grateful for what you’ve learned, regardless.
- Self-critique (not criticize) the work. Especially if it’s an artistic and/or creative project, look over what you have and critique it in a balanced way. Don’t be too vicious but also don’t be too self-indulgent. Look at it from an outside perspective, as much as possible. Think about what aspects you want to continue and bring along to future projects, and which things you’d like to avoid in the future.
- Publish or present the work in some way. If it’s not already, show your work in some public way, online or off. Is there a coffee shop that might show your work for a week? Is there a company where you can self-publish a few copies of your work? Does your project have/need/deserve a website? Could you share it with friends on your Facebook or Instagram? What about sharing copies with a few supportive people in your offline friend group? Sometimes this helps to feel like the project is “really done” and helps boost your morale.
- Post your feelings somewhere. Be it a private group on Facebook for people who do the kind of work you do, or your private blog, or a one-off YouTube video to share with friends, sometimes honoring the project (as well as your exhaustion and mixed feelings) can be therapeutic.
- Mourn the process of working on this project. This might be a weird one, and it’s not for everyone, and I’m not suggesting you go into mourning – just do some work to deal with the fact that you don’t get to work on this thing anymore, this project that has been a huge part of your life for possibly years. Honor the sadness you may feel, if that’s something that’s coming up for your. Thank the project for being part of your life.
The theme here, of course, is closure – because honestly that’s usually what I most need at the end of a project. Not in that I have trouble with going back and “fixing” parts, but because I don’t usually actually feel that excited about finishing a project. And that’s okay. But I still want and deserve to have some closure, and the joy that comes with really feeling, deep down, that the project is complete.
So, I hope some of these tips will help you. If any of them do, or if you just identified with the feelings expressed, let me know in the comments! And if you need to talk to someone further about this, feel free to reach out to me via the contact form. If you’d like to support my whole operation and the content I create, please head over to my Etsy shop – there are all kinds of things, from art to Tarot readings, that you can purchase to help support me.
With that being said…until next time.