I’m not going to lie: life can really suck sometimes. It seems like you are constantly on the go, never getting any time for yourself. Then, the rare time you do get a few hours free, you’re so overwhelmed with all the things you need to get done that you can’t just sit and relax. Day in, day out, it’s just go-go-go……….. until one day, it feels like you can’t go anymore.
That, my friends, is burnout. And we all get it at some point.
And yes, it really really sucks.
As I said Wednesday, my schedule is a little crazy right now. There are days, when I finally get a little me-time, when I multi-task my relaxing. I will watch TV, flip through Cosmo, read a book, have a glass or two of wine, and take notes for writing projects, all at the same time. And it’s really not healthy.
There will come a time when all of this go-go-go will start to get to you. It will be harder to get out of bed in the morning, and harder to fall asleep at night. Maybe you won’t be able to quiet your brain at night, or turn it back on when you need it most. You’ll spend your free moments making to-do lists, going over what you need to get done.
At one point in my University career, my health and body just gave up. I was taking 4 classes a semester, working two on-campus jobs (research assistant, and teaching assistant). I was on the Board of Directors for an activist group, and headed up their Fundraising and Events Planning committee. I volunteered in our campus Academic Advising Centre. I helped run Welcome Week events, gave talks to parents of prospective students, recruited students for multiple on-campus organizations, volunteered at local Fraternity events, joined the association for my major AND the one for one of my minors, and did independent research into what I had wanted to do a Psych Thesis on.
Then my health got in the way. First was the ear infection that winter, which got so bad it gave me random bouts of vertigo. This resulted in me passing out in a 7-11 near campus, and having to be rushed my ambulance to the hospital. Then, the food poisoning hit me that summer. After spending 7 months researching e.coli as part of my job, I got a mild case of it. And by mild, I mean I spent 4 days in the bathroom, and had to be put on an IV for fluids more than once in a two week span. The real kicker came at the end of the summer, when I was gearing up for the next school year.
In the midst of thesis advisor meetings, preliminary research, summer class finals, a new workout regime, Welcome Week preparations, and a long-distance relationship, my mother had to rush me to the hospital. One day I woke up, and was so weak I couldn’t get out of bed. It took me 45 minutes to crawl across my bedroom, and down the hall less than 8 feet to the bathroom. Once there, all I could do was vomit. Then the headache started. I was put in isolation at the hospital for three days, while they gave me morphine and dilauded to try and stop the pain in my head (and they didn’t work, either). After blood work, a lumbar puncture, brain scans, and a fever of 105, the doctor told me it looked like West Nile.
This was my wake-up. I had to slow down, or else my recovery could kill me. I was under strict orders not to exercise, or over exert myself. I dropped down to 3 classes, and eventually dropped my Thesis due to the stress. I started planning more, procrastinating less, and getting things done bit by bit instead of a giant panic all at once. I even (mostly) gave up my all-nighters. Instead of trying to run committees I had no interest in and didn’t even like being a part of, I stayed home and watched Buffy on Netflix with the boyfriend (once he was back in town for school).
Basically, I gave up what I didn’t need. Why bother staying a part of an organization I was getting nothing out of, and wasn’t fully contributing to, when I could focus on the things that mattered most? When I had some health set-backs (most likely due to that fever that wouldn’t break causing a bit of damage that needed time to heal), I didn’t have to worry about getting in touch with 40 people to cover all my extra-curriculars while I was in hospital. I could just focus on being healthy.
Today, I still have a hectic schedule. I take time for me now, though. I’ll watch Netflix on my phone on my lunch break. I’ll make a point of painting my nails once or twice a week, so I’m forced to relax while they dry. Once a month, I take a half-day on a Sunday to just do all the stupid beauty crap I would normally put off, like dyeing my hair and putting on a face mask.And I take 20 minutes each night, right before bed, to just sit in my room, alone, and daydream.
I take care of me, now. And you should do the same for you, too. Yes, you can have your packed schedule, and your Do-It-All mentality. But you also need to have a Don’t-Work-Yourself-Into-An-Early-Grave mentality. When you start to feel worn down, that is your body’s way of telling you slow down a bit. So schedule in some time to relax, do a little something for you each day.
In the immortal words of the 90’s sexiest FBI agent, Dale Cooper, “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”
Damn good coffee!