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  #1  
Old 03-06-12, 09:23 PM
thestudyofwumbo thestudyofwumbo is offline
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Severe writer's block?

Has anyone ever experienced anything like 'severe paper writing anxiety'?
I call it severe writer's block in my head but I don't know if it is the same thing.
Writing papers in general has always been difficult. I've dealt with problems before like being unable to decide were to go with what I am saying, my mind creating so many tangents from the information I'm writing about that I have a hard time 'culling' my thoughts, taking forever to decide how I want to word each individual sentence, and things like that.
But more recently it's been even worse.
Nowdays I can't even START a paper anymore. It could be that I'm writing on a book that I've read cover to cover, with a really simple prompt, but I can't even sit down to start it.
It's like this weird extreme avoidance behavior.
I say weird because I feel like my body is physically doing the job of avoiding going anywhere near writing a paper even though my mind knows it needs to get done.
I feel that because paper writing in the past gave me so much stress that my subconscious is trying to protect me from having to experience major stress/freak out mode. But the stress is what gets me to do the paper in the first place! Without the physical feeling of stress, the concept of 'go write that paper' is not even in my mind. Yet the second I am reminded of it by something external, or make any attempt to sit down and start it feels like all processes related to paper writing just shut down.

With the one I am working on now, I have actually gotten some things down, I did quite a bit of 'train of thought' brainstorm writing, but staring at the screen trying now to put it in paper format just makes this huge sense of anxiety rise in me and I can't even look at it.


How can I stop this? The stress is too much for me to handle, but I need to get these things done.
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Old 03-06-12, 09:25 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

I normally go somewhere other than where I normally did homework to do papers... Otherwise, my DH would find me laying on my back with the keyboard propped up on my knees and the screen waaaay over my head on my desk, talking to myself as I typed. That didn't always work out so well.

Another thing that works is either record what you want to say and transcribe, or get someone to type while you talk.
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Old 03-07-12, 07:30 AM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

Wumbo, I've got exactly the same problem. I'm writing my PhD thesis at the moment. Well, I'm trying to write. I really struggled with concentration and focussing for the first few chapters but last month I hit a severe writer's block too. I wrote about 1 page in 1 month. My problem is usually with starting too. I open my document, stare at it blankly for a few minutes and then I feel as if I'm physically being pulled away towards a distraction. Even if I do manage to start writing, I stop after a sentence.

Are you getting any treatment for ADHD?

Nothing helped with the writer's block and I've pretty much given up on my thesis for now. I've decided to write a paper instead and strangely, I think, I might be more successful with that since it's much more contained and easier to structure. I will try to convert the paper into a thesis chapter later. More importantly, it's a change and I think, I just need a change desperately.

Anyway here are a few things that have helped me in the past to get started:

1. Break down your work into really small parts. The smaller the better. Sometimes, I write down commands such as 1. Open thesis window. 2. Read previous paragraph. 3. Write a sentence about xyz. 4. etc

2. Write down 3 small steps and tell yourself that you can take a break after that.

3. Don't worry so much about phrasing or sentence structure or even content. Just write something. You can always go back and change it later.

4. Get rid of all distractions. (this one didn't help me at all. It just made me very restless and I can always day dream).

5. Allow yourself to be distracted but never for long. Now I spend 5 mins on my writing, then a few minutes browsing the net for rubbish and I alternate that. it's not the most efficient way of working but at least it gets something done.

There are a lot of strategies you can try. You'll find similar threads that might help on this board.

Hope this helps a bit.
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Old 03-07-12, 08:48 AM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

I have to write a lot for my job, when I,m on my meds I have no problems at all, when I go off my meds or don't take them I just struggle, it's like two different people. I don't tell people at work that I'm add, they are really impressed with what I produce so that is good.
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Old 03-11-12, 09:53 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

Hmm.. I really like your strategy #5. I'll have to try it.
Yeah, I'm being treated for ADHD, but none of the medications I've been on so far have really helped.. Hopefully once I find something that works, it will help with this problem. Thank you!
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Old 05-18-12, 06:38 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

One could not have described what I have been feeling any better.
I have been trying to put words to it and explain it to my parents, teachers, etc., literally for years to no avail.
It is very frustrating, because, like you said, I know I need to get the assignment done and a lot is at stake. I also don't have any trouble with other assignments such as physics.
Even more frustrating is that the assignment isn't all that difficult and I know I'm capable of completing the work; it is most certainly within my ability.
Also, when I have completed assignments on time in the past, everyone tells me that I'm an excellent writer and how incredibly smart I am, but sitting here, now, I don't feel that way, because of the immense difficulty I am having just getting started.
I have tried many things such as trying to complete assignments in a quiet place, or at school where I am usually more productive. I have tried removing all distractions, but I'll usually end up staring at a wall or counting the hairs on my hand or something (you get the point). Writing a research paper is proving very difficult; the internet (which I must use for research) is endless and very entertaining/distracting.

My medication finally has been fine tuned to something that is affective and works for me during and after school, and are affective on everything but writing assignments.

Sometimes I have these weird multiple-hour-long periods of intense productivity and focus where I can blow through any writing assignment or reading with no trouble at all, but they are rare, and I have no idea what triggers them. (does anyone else experience this? If so do you have any insight on what helps start them?)

...On a lighter note, it is nice to hear that I am not the only person who experiences this...I just wish there was a sure-fire cure-all method to fix this.
It is going to be the death of me and my future.

Anyone else have suggestions on getting over the hump and getting moving on a paper? I have tried almost everything...
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Old 05-18-12, 07:30 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

Quote:
Originally Posted by silivrentoliel View Post
my DH would find me laying on my back with the keyboard propped up on my knees and the screen waaaay over my head on my desk, talking to myself as I typed.
Its not just me then who does that
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Old 07-01-12, 07:39 AM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

Quote:
Originally Posted by thestudyofwumbo View Post
Has anyone ever experienced anything like 'severe paper writing anxiety'?
I call it severe writer's block in my head but I don't know if it is the same thing.
Writing papers in general has always been difficult. I've dealt with problems before like being unable to decide were to go with what I am saying, my mind creating so many tangents from the information I'm writing about that I have a hard time 'culling' my thoughts, taking forever to decide how I want to word each individual sentence, and things like that.
But more recently it's been even worse.
Nowdays I can't even START a paper anymore. It could be that I'm writing on a book that I've read cover to cover, with a really simple prompt, but I can't even sit down to start it.
It's like this weird extreme avoidance behavior.
I say weird because I feel like my body is physically doing the job of avoiding going anywhere near writing a paper even though my mind knows it needs to get done.
I feel that because paper writing in the past gave me so much stress that my subconscious is trying to protect me from having to experience major stress/freak out mode. But the stress is what gets me to do the paper in the first place! Without the physical feeling of stress, the concept of 'go write that paper' is not even in my mind. Yet the second I am reminded of it by something external, or make any attempt to sit down and start it feels like all processes related to paper writing just shut down.

With the one I am working on now, I have actually gotten some things down, I did quite a bit of 'train of thought' brainstorm writing, but staring at the screen trying now to put it in paper format just makes this huge sense of anxiety rise in me and I can't even look at it.


How can I stop this? The stress is too much for me to handle, but I need to get these things done.


You describer this so well - seriously - my God, I am in the exact same boat. Did things get any easier? did anything help?

I feel like I am cracking up - the "extreme avoidance behaviour" is me - its like you say - assignments have become so adversive I cannot BEAR to do them - even sitting at my desk- I'm hear sitting at it now - and I feel like hitting my head repeatedly on the wall. I have read the stuff, I know the topic - and I have all these ideas - but they bang around my head with endless tangents and new ideas and 'should I write it this way, where should I put this point blah balh". What is scarying the crap out of me is that what if I literally CANNOT do this? And of course the more I think that the more frustrated and fearful I get and its like a viscious cyle. F***.

Sorry I am so frustrated right now - I force myself to sit at my desk - then I'm trying to google things like 'essay structurer' or adhd/dyslexia for students - and all these stupid resources (sorrty I'm really popping here) where I can't get anything I can apply to help. All the stuff - the SMART goals, the 'break it down' God I'm so frustrated because I have tried to do these things for YEARS and I can't do them. Breaking it down sounds so helpful - but I can't decide HOW to break it down - need to decide on sections first? and can't ever decide what is relevant, important to go in and what is not. I cannot summaries, I cannot be concise. I can't seem to 'plan'. I tried making those siper diagrams, to try get some idea of main headings - and then I ended up making loads of different diagrams and its all a mess.

I can't understand why this has come to such a crunch NOW. I mean - I guess I do have theorise on that - this course is too much - the assignment is big and complicated (not even that much though - 6000 wrds), I have very little structure (need to self motviate), this is the first big assignment since I returned to college - after 5 years away (a failed drop out course in between there as well). How I did my degree I think your theory is right Wumbo - it has become a protective thing - the avoidance - because my degree was AWFUL - like my God - getting work done was just torture - hundreds of all nighters, bingeing and purging, caffeine through the roof and it not helping, locking myself into my own dorm room for hours and hours not allowing myself leave until I wrote something, ZERO social life.

I NEVER want to feel like that again. Why am I even doing this course|? What if I can't get work done unless I employ these extreme measures? F***

It is the most frustrating thing to have the info - its all running around inside your head in a knot I can't undo (also cannot undo real knots - think thats just my damn inpatrients through!). Perhaps I could give my brain to someone else - they could extract all the info out, then FILE it, then SUMMARIES it into lovely neat little para grams and it would all look beautiful.

RARGH. Sorry for rant

X
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Old 07-01-12, 01:01 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

I used to teach college English and also worked in a writing center helping people with papers. Writing is one thing I generally can focus on, so I might be able to be of some help.

I've heard a lot of people say things similar to what you're expressing. It's definitely not you. In fact, a lot of times, the people who stress are brilliant people and good writers who think too much and come up with too many ideas to put in one piece. I've certainly had to learn how to scale back on that myself.

One thing that a young writer I met recently (who I suggested be screened for ADD) does is let her brain go wild at first. She'll freewrite on a topic by hand, let it go for pages if it wants to, and then go back and highlight good sentences or ideas that she likes. I suggested that she go back and put those sentences on a piece of paper and either freewrite a bit about each of them or see if a thread emerges for her to follow.

One thing I always stressed to my students was that you don't have to start at the beginning. That can often be the toughest place to start. If you absolutely must start at the beginning or it will bother you, write down "once upon a time" or some other standard beginning. Otherwise, feel free to start in the middle of your essay. Start anywhere. The great thing about word processing software is that you can do that and can move things around.

Another thing you can do is make notes on notecards and then group similar notes together. Voila! There's the backbone of your paragraphs. Sometimes having something tactile to do (writing and sorting out notecards) can help.

I'll try to remember other things that might help.
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Old 07-01-12, 08:22 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

Yes.

And I've beaten this problem. It took years, but I've got it down now, pretty much.

It's like peeling an onion. It will come apart in layers. Right now you are dealing with a sort of spiraling anxiety. You have to cut that off. So the first thing to do is to realize that there is a rational basis for what's happening, and that you're not a lazy, undisciplined, you-know-what. This isn't unusual. It isn't unfixable, and it isn't your fault.

Buy a book called "The Now Habit," by Dr. Neil Fiore. Changed my life.

There are several pieces going on at once. That sensation of everything going in tangents is a "flight of ideas" sort of problem. That's the wrong term, but it's more or less what's happening. You're overwhelmed because you think faster than you can organize.

So don't try to organize. Just sit down and write down whatever comes to you, when it comes to you, as it comes to you. Don't try to organize and don't try to make the sentences pretty. You don't even need sentences. Bullet points will do. Get it out of your head and onto the page. Then you'll know that it's written down somewhere and you're not in danger of forgetting it. After about 15 minutes of this, you will start to calm down.

When I do this, I title the page, "Points to Hit."

Then go for walk, or a run, or a bike ride, or whatever. Get a little exercise. Have a little treat. Reward yourself.

Ok, back to your chair. Take three deep breaths. Now take a blank piece of paper and draw a spiral arm galaxy on it. You know what those look like, right? The center of the spiral is your subject. The arms are the big subtopics. So if we were arranging this topic on a spiral arm galaxy, one arm would be "Ideas come too fast," the next would be "Can't start," another would be "getting harder and harder."

Then off of each of the arms, draw little fingers. They're subtopics. So off of "ideas come too fast" you might have "try dictating them," or "use bullet points," etc.

Go for another walk. Or cook dinner. Or see a movie. Believe it or not, you're halfway there. You can even sleep now. Just make sure that between the spiral arm exercise and writing you do something other than trying to write. It's ok if you think about it in the back of your mind (because you will even if you don't know it), but don't STRAIN at trying to write.

Ok, now after that longer break, now put together an outline. Now you're organizing your thoughts in a way that will make sense. Trust your right brain. Dont' strain at this. Trust the organization that comes to you organically while you're NOT trying to write. If you really struggle with this, try talking it through with someone else. You'll organize it as you speak. And you just make notes of the organization that comes to you that way.

Then write it, as fast as you can. Sometimes it's easier for me if I don't write it as though it's formal. Sometimes I write it as though it's an email or a letter to someone. Just blast it out. Follow your outline. When you get stuck on something, move to a new spot in the outline. Don't second-guess the outline or the sentences right now. Just get them out. If you know that there's a better word for something, put the word that comes to you quickly in [brackets]. Just keep rolling.

Then take another break. Now look at it with new eyes and you'll see where you've left holes.

There will be holes. This will be an imperfect work product. That's ok. You've got a draft now, AND you've overcome something. So congratulate yourself. Now you have something to work with to tweak, AND as a bonus, you'll feel less anxious because you have SOMETHING. You won't be laying awake wondering what's wrong with you...

It's doable. But it requires a lot of introspection to figure out what each of the layers are. They're different for different people, but the bottom line is that you're avoiding it because it makes you anxious and it makes you anxious because you're avoiding it. That's a classic example of anxiety spiraling out of control.

(Oh, and P.S. I write for a living. This problem was a serious, serious problem for me my entire life. So don't think that you're a worse case than me. It was bad. By the end of it, I was spending 5 nights in a row without sleeping (as in, not even for a couple hours) because I was straining so hard to write.)
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Old 07-01-12, 08:35 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

I'll add one more thing, because this is absolutely essential.

YOU MUST TRUST YOUR RIGHT BRAIN. Your right brain is the parallel processor. It figures stuff out, and it doesn't think in sentences or words. It thinks in concepts. It has to "translate" over to your left brain, and THAT PROCESS HAPPENS WHILE YOU DO SOMETHING ELSE!

So it's critical that you do things OTHER THAN trying to write. Even if you only have 12 hours to write something, a good portion of that should be spent on OTHER THINGS.

Sleep is a good one. I usually try to do the whirlygig (the spiral galaxy) before I go to sleep and then I wake up with the outline fully formed in my head and just have to get it onto paper.
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Old 07-01-12, 08:40 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

I take breaks at intervals to help.

Also, I have a terrible time organizing my thoughts into an order that flows and makes sense. There are so many ideas at once, and they are all connected somehow. I find spending a significant amount of time on PLANNING is very helpful. First I do a free-flow brainstorm on a whiteboard and write down all the ideas. Then I can which ones fit together and how it can flow. After that, I write a basic outline, then I make a detailed outline.

By the time I get to writing, it is much more guided and easier to stay on task.
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Old 07-02-12, 04:41 PM
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Smile Re: Severe writer's block?

Thank you so much Starrykitten, Sandy 4957, and Cheekymonkey for sharing these fantastic ideas - I actually feel some motivation coming on! How on earth did you guys figure this stuff out?

Sandy - is a spiral diagram like a spider diagram? I googled it but couldn't find any examples. I need to inform myself on some of the brain stuff - like what you say about the right brain - I have no idea about any of this. I've read procrastination books (well....read as in read the start, maybe a few chapters in ) and found I could never manage to implemented any of the advice. I lose faith pretty quickly I guess, and also, reading a book takes me so long, hard to have patient to make my way through it - I have so many books....everywhere, I'm nots sure when the last time I ever finished a book was though... I have 'The procrastination equation' but only read the start. And 'Getting things done' book - I found the idea of 'next actions' helpful in that - but still haven't done it properly. Can't follow through or something.
Is the power of now any different to these books? I suspect I need something very VERY basic - like how TO ACTUALLY GET ANYTHING DONE!!!

Starrykitten - I was going to ask if you recommended any books to your students? yesterday I was starting to think if only I had someone who could ORGANISE my thoughts - like throw them all out there but get someone to gather them up into alaphabetical order!!

Cheekymonkey - me too - I think it might be the main bulk of the probelm - I know it shouldn't be this hard - seems to me a lot of people worry about word counts and things like that - and thats never been a problem for me - they know about ordering things - what an essay should 'look' like but worry about the content/ having enough to say/ the ideas. For me the 'order' part is a mystery. How have I not worked this out yet?

In the past I used to read sample essays or papers to kind of copy the order - the structure - and I guess it worked to a certain extent? in this course that doesn't seem to be possible anymore. I googled around online looking for a template - like even a set of boxes I could fill my ideas into to give it structure - to gather them all in some ordered way - but couldn't find any. Then I tried making a table in word - printing boxes for myself to put info in - but I still need to decide what info fits in different categories. Writing this here I'm like - why can't I do that? it doesn't sound that hard - its about clasifying info - deciding what is relevent and what is not. But I can't seem to do that. I think second guessing, constantly coming up with alternate approaches/ideas just sabotages the whole thing for me. and that doesn't only apply to writing!!!

Is there any book that explains how to do that? organise condence, summaries, decide whats important and whats not? I try decide headings - and then fill in under headings - but then flicking back between different headings and sections on the computer drives me nuts because I cant see everything all at once - then I focus in on one little point or definition and obsess about getting that 'exactly right'.

On the thinking faster than organising - it struck me this morning that thoughts/ ideas just randomly pop into my head again and again - and when they pop in they are too quick to write down - and also seem to have an urgency about them - so I tend to be repeatedly sidetracked - to look at those ideas - but then there are more on top of that - I can't keep up with my own brain - and maybe the urgency thing comes from this thing of an idea seeming really important - and also knowing if I don't act on it I'll forget it two seconds lately I've been keeping a notebook in my pocket - but then its never in my pocket when I want it - and can't keep taking it out all the time - and can't often get the idea down quick enough. Maybe that is part of dyslexia, I don't know.

Are there people out there who have worked on these things? like strangers to deal with these things - I know "flight of ideas" isn't probably the 'right' term and is associated with psychosis - which this isn't - but flight of ideas DESCRIBES IT. Wish ideas would still come - but at a slower paces so I could act on/follow through on any of them. I go on amazon but all these books and I feel so disillusioned because I've got so many books that didn't help/address the problems I needed help with and I don't need any more books that I have read half of in my flat!!!

Thank you so much for sharing these ideas - I'm going to print this thread out and highlight the ideas to see if I can get them into my head and if I could do them

xxx
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Old 07-02-12, 05:15 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

Try writing just anything as an opening, even if it's crappy.

I struggle with this when trying to write a letter to somebody - coming up with the perfect opening for what I want to say. Lately, I've just been saying "screw it, I'll write something meh or stupid or just OK or lame or just adequate or inadequate and get on with the rest of it. Then I'll come back and fix it later."

Writing, at least, is one thing we can actually do that with and get away with it, especially now that most of us use computer word processing.

So often we get bogged down when we try to do something because one small but necessary step has us stumped and we can't move on without it.

This happens to me ALL the time. I sit in semi-darkness half the day because I am watching something on TV I don't want to miss any of so I haven't gotten into the shower yet and if I haven't showered yet I haven't gotten dressed in my final clothes for the day yet and if I haven't gotten dressed yet I can't open the blinds because I need to get dressed before I open the blinds so that I don't end up getting dressed in front of open blinds, risking flashing the neighbors. If I would just settle for cutting a corner somewhere in the process my room could be flooded with sunshine within an hour of waking up, but allowing myself to do that is something I haven't yet got around to.

With writing, now we CAN move on without that one step or other, and come back and fix it later. So we need to give ourselves permission to do it, so that we can get more work done in less time.
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Old 07-02-12, 06:30 PM
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Re: Severe writer's block?

Quote:
Originally Posted by spunkysmum View Post
Try writing just anything as an opening, even if it's crappy.

I struggle with this when trying to write a letter to somebody - coming up with the perfect opening for what I want to say. Lately, I've just been saying "screw it, I'll write something meh or stupid or just OK or lame or just adequate or inadequate and get on with the rest of it. Then I'll come back and fix it later."

Writing, at least, is one thing we can actually do that with and get away with it, especially now that most of us use computer word processing.

So often we get bogged down when we try to do something because one small but necessary step has us stumped and we can't move on without it.

This happens to me ALL the time. I sit in semi-darkness half the day because I am watching something on TV I don't want to miss any of so I haven't gotten into the shower yet and if I haven't showered yet I haven't gotten dressed in my final clothes for the day yet and if I haven't gotten dressed yet I can't open the blinds because I need to get dressed before I open the blinds so that I don't end up getting dressed in front of open blinds, risking flashing the neighbors. If I would just settle for cutting a corner somewhere in the process my room could be flooded with sunshine within an hour of waking up, but allowing myself to do that is something I haven't yet got around to.

With writing, now we CAN move on without that one step or other, and come back and fix it later. So we need to give ourselves permission to do it, so that we can get more work done in less time.
Hi spunkysmum,

I can definitely relate to getting stuck on one step and not being able to move on then. I try counteract this by forcing myself to move onto something else, but then I do this thing where I'm doting from all over the place within an assignment and its all a total mess and I've no idea how to get any order on it.

I get stuck on that - one step thing - like wanting to go to the shop but that would involve the shower or some other task like finding my wallet and because that feels overwhelming I'm just frozen. Its a bit 'all or nothing - like sometimes the step I'm stuck on isn't essential - like finding the right trousers - any would do when the prority is getting out the door to get something important sorted - but I get stuck on this one thing - and get paralysed because it all seems too complicated some how.

xxx
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