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Hitting the wall
And the hope of something great rising from the ashes
We’ve had our challenges since beginning this crazy new-life, off-grid-living adventure-in-paradise experiment, but the last couple of weeks have been my toughest so far.
And what’s odd is that it sneaked up on me.
I just hit some kind of wall which has sapped me of energy, drained me of enthusiasm and ground everything I have been doing to a halt.
It could be the impossible list of things we’re trying to achieve, the increasing pressures of our building project, or the final realisation I haven’t got a proper job anymore – at least not one that pays – and I don’t actually have to do anything every day.
And that is quite a scary mindset to get into.
I’ve spent a week trying to put it into words, but writing has joined the list of things I currently can’t get that excited about.
I often joke that writing these despatches keeps me sane, but perhaps it does.
So while this might be a tougher read than usual, it’s been much tougher to write, and by keeping it honest maybe I can shake off the dark shadow and get back in the groove.
It was, objectively, a particularly shitty start to the week.
As romantic as a his and hers colonoscopy might sound, we were both grateful for living in a house with two toilets during the cleansing process ahead of the procedure.
I was more concerned about the one and a half hour drive to the hospital, but things moved faster than I anticipated and, without wanting to be faecetious, it all passed without incident.
A great hospital with lovely staff combined with a dose of general anaesthetic to ensure the whole experience went smoothly.
We have a slew of routine check-ups courtesy of our medical insurance, but my lack of productivity frustrations have been amplified by multiple time-stealing trips to the Algarve.
We’re lucky to have good friends to help lift us over some of the bumps, but it’s been a bit of a downward spiral recently.
I had high hopes for June – lots of time to edit, write, plot and scheme; to run, to do a couple of hours’ landscaping work every evening outside, to get a grip on everything and to get into a routine.
We had a gap in visitors – the perfect opportunity to hit high levels of productivity, to get in the zone and achieve a load before going away.
But none of that happened.
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Instead I grumped around the house, snarling about wasteful trips to the carpenter and the window guy, unable to string more than a couple of hours of reasonable focus together and getting lost in flight-connection hell for our airmiles California trip out of London next week.
I’m not going to list the tiny grains of sand that became pebbles in both shoes but some are as stupid as where to go for lunch or the time-thievery of a rubbish second hand furniture store.
Without having the excuse of hosting dinners and taking pals to the beach...of being very busy...there was nowhere to hide.
I’ve written about our water woes and scope of the work we need to do on electrical infrastructure to get this tourist lodge open by next Easter, but there’s something else weighing heavily which I haven’t mentioned.
A few months ago the entire funding for our building project was suspended while a loophole in our contract was being ironed out.
We thought we had six months to start asking for money, but it turns out we had six months to spend it, and I’d love to meet anyone who can build a tourist lodge in Alentejo from start to finish in that time!
Our bank manager is being brilliant and is reassuring us everything will be fine, but as we keep paying our bills, it’s an extra layer of stress which hasn’t helped.
I lost interest in my daily obsessive To-Do Listing, my restorative rabbit-holes of Portuguese history and without a hard deadline, the podcast editing drifted into a sprawling mess of scattered story threads.
The emails-requiring-a-response are piling up, the gardening isn’t doing itself, and why is it so hard to put up and tessellate sails to protect the cars from the sun?
We are just about keeping on top of the builder’s questions about taps, tiles, fireplaces and plumbing, but the Duracell Bunny is drumming a slow march.
For self-motivation I suppose structure is all important, and since the house of cards I’d constructed out of to-do-list post-it notes collapsed, I’ve felt a little bit in freefall.
From getting up at silly o’clock to write, edit and plan, I now wander around half-heartedly half doing things...badly.
The more I slump into the sofa, the larger it gets, the more it consumes me and the harder it is to pull myself out.
Perhaps it’s a delayed reaction to leaving my career at the BBC and all the structure, identity and actual deadlines that came with it?
Exercise has always been my answer, and perhaps that is the way out...once I can be bothered to do something about it.
Facebook tells us six years ago Ana and I ran the Lewa half marathon in Kenya, but beyond the occasional revitalising hot yoga, it’s not been happening here in the valley.
I don’t know what’s going on, but my best bet is that’s it’s some kind of burn out.
The good thing about burn-outs is something new and brilliant can emerge from the ashes, and if you’ve made it this far through my June gloom I’d like to finish with a spirit-lifting story.
Regular readers will remember we lost one of our 150 year old cork oak trees in the fire last year – embers got into its roots and a week later the grand old tree slumped into the hill (I know the feeling).
First we asked chainsaw legend Lionel to cut it up and tractor it from the opposite slope and then we met Joshua, whose outdoor sawmill can slice tree trunks into planks.
We now have a load of beautiful wood drying in the shade which can hopefully produce some amazing pieces of furniture – particularly, tables – to help the legacy of our grand old cork oak live on in the valley.
Something good to come out of something bad. That’s worth considering.
Check out the video and hopefully the next time I pop up in your inbox I’ll be out of the sofa, back down a rabbit hole drumming hard, and building up my post-it-note house of cards on a stronger structure.
Oh, and please don’t charge me for the therapy session.