When We Stumble: About Burning Out
I'm not going to lie, January has been insane. We're not talking craving-liver-insane or driving-without-seatbelt-crazy or even trying-the-bathe-the-cat-nuts; the start of 2016 firmly planted itself in Hannibal Lecter meets Mad Max territory. I had it all meticulously planned out, almost down to the minute - meetings and rehearsals and planning and doing - I haven't even made it to the gym once in the new year, but so it goes. My planning was disrupted on Monday, when I was offered a promotion at work, with training starting immediately. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to bits about this opportunity, eager to take on new responsibilities and learn a position I appear to have been groomed for for years! But it threw my energy schedule out the window. You see, I might be known for my high energy, my ability to keep an upbeat tempo and to keep on going and going and going - but when it's gone, it's gone entirely. Not a puff of fumes left to run on. Nothing.
I felt it coming all week, culminating with said fume-running on Friday evening after rehearsal. It's not fatigue or aching muscles or even an inability to keep up conversations that tells me it's almost here - it's a certain sort of poison.
Let us back up a bit; as some of you know, I'm a social worker by trade. Having flitted around at university for a couple of years getting degrees which would never lead to a career, I decided to follow my instinct to save the world (so far, I haven't done a very impressive job, but baby steps). My education paired with a certain form of upbringing and a natural ability to tap into people's need to vent has molded me into a very therapeutically focused sort of social worker, something that has a tendency to seep into my personal life. Mostly, my training kicks in here as well, and I can listen to people's problems and woes without internalizing them, even maintain a relatively healthy distance when I notice others using this as an opportunity to tell lies and play me for a fool - it says more about them than anyone else. Usually, I brush it off.
Back to the poison. When my energy is all but gone, it starts emerging. Anger and hurt over things I didn't quite know I was angry and hurt by starts surfacing, and I start rambling. It's like squeezing a particularly inflamed zit and whatever is in there just keeps spewing nasty, gross and vile stuff all over the place. This is my cue to bow out and take a day off. When Ferris took a day off, he ran around all over the place, causing hilarity and mischief. When I do, I'm lucky if I manage to put on pants. Yesterday, I slept late, ate a huge breakfast, then collapsed on the couch - where I stayed, and stayed, and stayed. I only left its comfy confines to rummage through the cupboards for snacks or use the washroom. It was a miracle that I managed that much.
Today is better by far - even writing this proves it. Yesterday, the effort to fetch the computer alone was too great, and learning how to maneuver my husband's MacBook was out of the question (I may or may not have fried mine with a not-so-strategically placed cup of coffee, but let's not get into that right now). Tomorrow, I will be back to almost normal. I'm grateful for that.
We all have different warning signals that tells us when we've had enough, when we need to back down. It's extremely important that we listen to these, whether they be anxiety or a complete lack of energy. No one else can tell us when we've reached our breaking point, when it's time to say no. No one will thank us when we burn out. I've witnessed it several times in the past, I've been close to it myself. Burning out is scary, and it leaves it's mark for a long time after the initial triggers have passed. Constantly raised anxiety levels, fatigue, depression. Imagine constantly feeling as if you're just waking up after a particularly boozy night, nausea and the horrible feeling of having done extremely stupid and irrevocable things, the feeling that the world is coming to an end, imagine that feeling never stopping. They say that it takes seven times as long to put yourself back together as it takes to fall apart - and some never manage to be what they were before ever again. It's easier said than done, but allowing yourself to take a time-out is crucial, to admit to both yourself and others when enough is enough.
We're a culture that praises productivity, we constantly play the game of being busier-and-more-tired-than-thou, we're suffering from constant FOMO. There is really no need. We're still valid and valuable even when we say no, even when we aren't on the top of the world, even when our floors are dirty. It's okay.
I need to heed my own advice: simply because there is an open lunch hour somewhere in my schedule, it doesn't mean I should fill it with a meeting. Just because I have a free evening, there is no need for an extra rehearsal to be penned in. For me, down time is crucial, alone time is essential. I'm learning this, one itsy-bitsy step at the time. And that's okay.