I’d be hard pressed to pick a period of time in which I’ve been more hectic than I have been the past few weeks.
In fact, when I sat down at my desk today, I glanced at the papers strewn across it, including a very dated and half-completed to-do list, and realised I had not touched my laptop or sat down in my nice cushy IKEA chair for an entire two weeks!
It’s been that long since I threw together a blog post, too, which is hideous as I try hard to get the weekly blog posts happening with regularity.
If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will know a bit about what’s been keeping me flat out in the writing space: a couple of really big wins that I will dedicate my next blog post to. I’d talk about them now, but it’s already 11pm and I’m knackered.
The other weight on me has been work. Like a lot of authors, I juggle a whole bunch of part-time and casual roles (and, foolishly, some voluntary ones, too). Usually this is manageable, but lately all of them have demanded my time at once, and I’ve found myself feeling like I’m desperate for air but stuck underwater. I am totally overwhelmed and the situation I’ve put myself in is quite clearly no longer manageable.
I blogged in July about this same sense of burnout, and it is becoming really clear to me that I still haven’t learned my lesson.
There is a latter-day Alanis Morissette song (circa 2008) called “It’s a Bitch To Grow Up”, and some of the lyrics are hitting home right now.
Namely the verse:
I’ve repeated this dance ad nauseum There’s still something to learn that I’ve not
This is really so true. I have burnt out a few times now. As in, ending up in hospital kind of burn out. And like a magpie attacking its reflection in a flying rage, I somehow keep repeating the same mistake ad nauseum.
I’m an ambitious person by nature, so I like to take on more and more stuff, but I really have to come to grips with the fact that I can’t do everything at once. It’s just not possible, especially when I have five different paid jobs, a couple of voluntary positions and a writing career. It’s lunacy.
And as I’ve already established through my musings on this blog and elsewhere, writing is the thing that matters most to me.
So I think it’s time I learn that I can’t do a million things at once without making myself sick. I need to stop. I need to slow down. I need to recalibrate and work out how to run my life effectively in a way that allows me to prioritise my writing career without letting the day jobs and other commitments choke all the air out of the room.
I really just need to learn how to take care of myself, don’t I?
As Alanis said:
I feel done, I feel raked over coals and all that remains is the case That it’s a bitch to grow up
Last week I wrote about some crappy days full of mid-level SNAFUs. This week started in a similar vein. My calendar was like a line of sadistic babushka dolls: opening each one revealed a new day filled with even more heinous fuckery than the last.
It was a full-on week because one of my programs at work launches next week, so there was heaps to do. Trying to get my emails down was about as useful as bringing sponges to soak up a flood. Actually, a flood is an apt metaphor: all week, I felt like I was standing downstream from a dam about to burst. I accumulated a constant headache, which I carried all week, along with a mouth ulcer.
These are the body’s ways of telling you to slow the fuck down, so praise be to Rebecca Black that it’s Friday the weekend.
I’ve taken on a lot. July was going to be a break but, even in addition to my day jobs and their deadlines, it’s been an enormous month. I undertook Camp NaNoWriMo, and have so far written 47,000 words of my 50,000 word target so far. I published THE BLACK FLOWER, which is seriously more work than anyone outside the indie publishing game would probably believe. I submitted a whole bunch of applications for writing stuff that kept me up into the wee hours each morning. I smashed through a weight-loss goal at the gym, which has been a long time coming and was a big moment.
There was also an awesome part of the week – involving my first radio performance and
interview as a writer – but I will blog about that next week, as well as share the recording of the show. As a sidebar, the promo gave me a huge spike in sales, and got THE SCROLL OF ISIDOR to chart at #3 on the Epic Fantasy chart on iBooks – but again, I’ll expand on that another day.
Right now, the point is this: all of those things demanded time and energy, and by the time I got to Friday, I discovered I had nothing left to give.
I was knocking on burnout’s door.
I’m not even kidding. After I did some work at a local library on Friday afternoon, I was meant to go home and get on top of some other projects from my home office.
But I couldn’t. Not ‘I didn’t want to’. I couldn’t. My brain had finally overloaded. I’d hit a wall, like JD in that episode of Scrubs where he tries to do a triathlon.
I started thinking about a lyric from a Green Day song I like called Burnout: “I’m not growing up, I’m just burning out.” Yep, sounds about right. You would think with age comes wisdom, but nope: the older I get the more I realise my growth does not inhibit my capacity to make terrible choices when it comes to taking too much on all at once.
So, instead of working any further, I went into a kind of burnt-out, shell-shocked stupor for about an hour. I sat down and read some stuff in the library, trance-like. Then I had ice cream for lunch (this is what happens when you stop giving a fuck) and sat in the local ice cream parlour staring through the window at the people racing by to complete their errands. I was frozen with inertia, and had absolutely no capacity or desire to join these fools in their rushing panics, even though I was one of them. I desperately needed to plug myself in and recharge before I could do anything the world needed of me.
I suppose normal humanoids who know how to take care of themselves call this a “lunch break”. I never give myself enough downtime. But, though unplanned, the break gave me enough joules to function again. I pushed through the last series of work and errands for the day, and then, finally, at around 7pm, my day was done. I got my arse to the gym. Running and lifting are the best ways I know to de-stress. Sweating gets me out of my head and into my body.
And I ran fast, like a barefoot bogan on a Geraldton footpath in February.
Rage Against the Machine and Rammstein had me almost headbanging on the treadmill.
And then a steaming hot shower. Denouement.
Self-care is so vital for everyone, but it’s a hard thing to manage for artists in particular – or entrepreneurs – or, really, anyone who’s trying to juggle multiple priorities in their life without losing the plot.
There are two perspectives on this.
One person, who is a bit of a self-care guru, recently looked at my schedule for July and exclaimed, “THAT’S your month off?”
Another person, who is a little more business-minded, said, “Yes, but you’re a writer. You’re the same as an entrepreneur. You’ve gotta hustle.”
I think both are right.
I work hard because I know that I must, if I am to get what I want. My dream will not see fruition if I don’t drive it. The whip must be cracked.
But at the same time, if I crack the whip too hard, I won’t just have a broken whip: I’ll have a broken back.
I don’t want to lead a life that is stressed-out, unhappy, boring and dull – which is what this past week or two has been like. If I wanted that, I would never have quit the 9 to 5 rat race.
But I did quit it. Because I want something different. I want to live, dammit! I want to have fun. I want to have the energy to do stuff I like doing.
So that means I need to start taking care of myself a whole lot better. It won’t happen overnight, so let’s call this a work in progress.
Are you an artist, or an entrepreneur, or just anyone who works hard at their dreams or goals? How do you find a way to switch off and wind down?