They huddled together, society’s castaways, sucking in cigs and pot and vodka before school on a dead-end street just off of the high school parking lot.
They were the burnouts of my youth. The exotic, black-haired, scowling lot of them were to be avoided by mainstream, easily-frightened good girls like my young self.
Burnout in my adulthood — the actual phenomenon of being burnt out, I mean — can’t be avoided.
It makes sense. I work in a creative field – albeit one with restraints – like the truth, and AP Style. I work a lot. I come home. I write a lot here, on this blog, about my own life. My own life. It’s so…damn busy. So full of projects and bedtimes and two mouths to feed, and games to play and laundry to do (or let pile up) and dishes that never stop and a husband to pay attention to. I’m not complaining. OK, fine, not that hard. I could be a Chinese factory worker on the descent, after flinging himself off of the roof to protest working conditions and hopelessness. A cog in the wage-slave machine chugging out the latest wave of iPhone for rich foreigners and party-connected countrymen. Pardon me, what an unpleasant way to make a point: fellow Americans, our “problems” can get a little whiny. It’s not that hard here. At least not for me. But I digress. And I complain any way. I’m an American. Whining is guaranteed somewhere in our Constitution, no? Smashed in between something about press freedom and AK-47s, no?
My mind is tired, can’t you tell? This has been the most tumultuous six months of my life, probably personally and professionally. A new baby and a new diagnosis for him, and a new life, and a busy career and lots and lots of goals. I started to feel that in the last two weeks, the weight of it all. Just…burnt out. It kept me from writing here for a few days, even though I have a lot of ideas and have gathered a lot of interesting info to share. Reality TV was a better option. But you know, that’s OK. Everyone needs a break.
Periods of burnout are inevitable in anyone’s busy life, especially parents who don’t get recess or nap time or summer breaks that include actual breaks. The Interwebs told me so. I turned there for validation, Googling “how to address burnout” and other such phrases.
I read articles and I thought about my own life. I came up with my own list and even started to push forward toward the realm of renewed energy. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live here, I’m just saying, these are the strategies I’ve come up with to help me push past a bout of burnout and get back to the energetic, ready-to-tackle life state of mind that I prefer to live in.
1. Pick a new hobby or rediscover an old one
On the less-extreme side of things, I picked up a book. I have hardly read since I had Laila – seriously, like one book, in three years. I tried to join a book club, but had to cancel the day before the first meeting when a conflict came up. I got a snarky e-mail from the organizer that I didn’t cancel in enough time. She needed at least 24 hours notice on cancellations, since this book club was busy and important and in demand. From her note I deciphered the book club leader was delusional with too much time on her hands. My faith in her leadership of this club decimated, I dropped out before I ever began. I finally found an interesting book to read — “The Corpse Had a Familiar Face.” I was going through it at a good pace, when life got busy about a month ago and I just quit. Last week, I picked it up again. It’s a crime novel by one of the first female crime reporters in Miami, and it is a delight to read, both for inspiration of the strong female character and familiarity with the many challenging scenarios she faces.. Reading also shuts my mind up at night. I sleep better, even after reading about corpses. I’m not sure what this says about me.
2. Organize something
I cleaned out and organized my closet this weekend. Then I deep-cleaned our bedroom. The whole shabang took two days, if that tells you anything. When I wake up I feel… I don’t know, some how, more energized each morning –recharged. I even found workout clothes – not that I’ve yet used them, but I’m just saying, I at least located these and put them all in the same place, just in case.
I don’t think a person has to pick a huge project like that, even a drawer would probably provide some renewed sense of calm.
3. Team up
Tackling a project as a team brings more energy to the table. At work, a project that had stalled got renewed life when our delightful, bright intern, Hannah, who speaks Spanish, teamed up with me. My problem was reaching Spanish-speaking relatives about loved ones who had drowned in storms. I had tried a brother with the help of our photographer, who speaks Spanish. The brother was, understandably, too devastated to talk. Hannah helped me to interview a close family friend and others. We discovered we’d had the same thought about a more in-depth, meaningful take on the story and are tackling it together. I’m excited about this project and it’s fun to work with someone who has so much enthusiasm.
4. Plan a break
I urge anyone who can swing it to take advantage of time off and plan trips. I don’t need Europe, I just need the good ‘ol USA, maybe a trip home. One of those is planned – looking forward to it brings me a lot of happiness. Mark and I love the feeling of going somewhere – even if we’re just going to Tulsa, or to the Vietnamese neighborhood down the road.
5. One task at a time
I frequently have to stop my mind from thinking about everything I should be doing, need to do. It would explode. For instance – the issue of our medical bills. One day, my head did explode as I tried to track down what we owed and where we owed it. I came to my senses and tackled a bill at a time, set up payment plans, and realized that, this was actually manageable. A task at a time, a day at a time. It’s a cliche worth repeating. So I just did.
6. Refocus on wellness
I’m not trying to be the Gwyneth Paltrow Moob or Schloop or Gloob blog and tell everyone to eat a high-maintenance macrobiotic diet or anything, but I’m just saying, I have started to think about my own ‘wellness plan,’ or lack of it, as of late. I admit it. I re-joined Weight Watchers. Jennifer Hudson hoodwinked me again. No, I won’t bore you with the point count in my lunch sandwich. No, I’m not trying to be a yard stick, I’d just like to knock off some baby weight and eat more fruits and veggies, a balanced diet. A couple of things I love about Weight Watchers — it forces you to eat nutritious foods and scrutinize choices about portions and snacks. Yet, I don’t feel like I’m starving myself. It doesn’t feel extreme. Isn’t our world extreme enough? No, they did not pay me to say that. I’m still Eli’s food source but he’s begun solids. Weight Watchers has never had an impact on my production of his food supply. If it did, I wouldn’t do it, because Eli needs my antibodies to keep him well. It’s the only diet plan I would use long-term. Hopefully I can keep it up – I already quit once this year.
I’ve also started drinking more water and taking a break at work to walk around the block. I *would* like to fit in more exercise, but I’m not pushing it right now. I’ve got too much going on to force another goal on myself.
7. Do something stupid and mindless and don’t apologize
I love watching “The Bachelorette” and/or “The Bachelor.” And no, I’m not sorry. HGTV, Food Network — heaven, mindless, mindless heaven.