Ten Things To Do When You're Running On Empty

Dear Writing Friends,

For the past two years I have been sending out newsletters to students, clients, and fellow writers in the hope that my experience will inspire their writing. My practice has been to write from my daily life and find some small wisdom about writing and life therein. But lately I’m coming up empty. My daily life is consumed with administering to my daughter’s “special needs,” which at times feel overwhelming. I’m stressed and depleted and, until a few days ago, struggling under the weight of it. 

Last week I was taking a walk in my neighborhood, sobbing along Shoal Creek, when I realized I had been crying for days and that during the hours my daughter was in school, I was mostly hiding under my bedcovers with a book or napping. As I turned the corner onto Great Oaks Trail, one of my favorite blocks in Rosedale, I found my neighbor’s beloved English garden bleached brown from the hard winter. I was going down the rabbit hole fast. Without giving it too much thought, I got on the phone and started collecting referrals for a new therapist. I knew I needed to take care of myself if I was going to support my daughter over the long months ahead—and that is my top priority, taking care of my child. In addition to seeking professional help, when I got home, I made a list of all the things I could do for myself right now, most of which cost little or no money. I’m sharing them with you here. They help with depression and they’re also integral parts of a healthy writing life.


1) Walking. Feet on the ground, oxygen in the blood. The mind moves when the body is in motion.

2) Good nutrition. When my eating habits get out of hand and I can’t find my way back to a healthy diet, I start with the basics: more water, more protein, daily greens. And I cut out wheat and sugar. Small changes, big impact.

3) A hot bath. A few months ago a good friend gave me a packet of aromatherapy bath salts. So simple and it feel so indulgent. It’s easy enough and a relatively inexpensive way to treat yourself. Best time is in the morning. Raising your body temperature helps you get going.

4) Writing practice. Twenty minutes of babbling on the page. Get down to what’s going on. Ask questions; find answers. 

5) Sitting meditation. Sit down in the middle of it all and open.

6) Reading poetry. As Edward Hirsch wrote in his primer, How to Read a Poem, “The spiritual desire for poetry can be overwhelming, so much do I need it to experience and name my own perilous depths and vast spaces, my own well-being.”

7) Take a field trip. To the florist, the fabric store, the botanical garden. Get the hell out of the house.

8) Take a nap. Rest, rest, rest. But don’t overdo it. Know the difference between giving into exhaustion and hiding out.

9) Listen to music. Lately Shira and I drive around and listen to Michael Jackson’s greatest hits. Makes you want to hit the dance floor—also great for the spirit.

10) Get some work done. Getting something accomplished helps with self-esteem.


About #10: Maybe it’s the Capricorn in me or maybe it’s getting older, but work makes me feel whole. As a mother of a child with special needs (at least for now) and the wife of a public figure – a gig I’ve had for almost twenty years – my work is terra firma. When I sit down to write, there are no guarantees that it will be any good or that it will get published. But the very act of putting words on the page – or moving them around in editing – is affirming. It’s the last item on the list but nowhere near the least important.

I read the following poem by Jane Kenyon in practice group on Monday night and we used the title as a writing topic.


Man Waking

The room was already light when

he awoke, and the body curled

like a grub suddenly exposed

when something dislodges a stone.

Work. He was more than an hour

late. Let that pass, he thought.

He pulled the covers over this head.

The smell of his skin and hair

offended him. Now he drew his legs

up a little more, and sent

his forehead down to meet his knees.

His knees felt cool.

A surprising amount of light

came through the blanket. He could

easily see his hand. Not dark enough,

not the utter darkness he desired.


(from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems)


Additional topics pulled from Kenyon titles:  Man EatingMan Sleeping


Speaking of practice group, the Session II begins next Monday evening, March 7,  at 6:00. For information, see my website: www.inprocesswriting.com/workshops.html. As usual, we have a terrific group and there are still a few spots open. Give me a holler if you’re interested.


My best to each of you.



(C) 2011 Saundra Goldman