I have this love/hate relationship with momentum. That thing that keeps you going at often inconceivable speeds is also the thing that makes it really difficult to stop. The “keep going” part I get and I love, but the “not stopping” part I struggle with and I hate.
Last Sunday I found myself in bed, embodying a beached whale in a post-dim sum-coma. Unable to move but also unable to nap. I didn’t quite have the attention span for TV but picking up a book seemed like heavy lifting. My brain was racing though. Drunk on sodium and leftover momentum from the week prior, I had a really hard time just letting myself lie there.
I needed to do something. I needed to do. Period. But it was a Sunday, and after a relatively productive week I didn’t really have any pressing obligations. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling of missing out on getting something done.
If there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I’m very self-aware (good one, Sarah!) and after about 20 minutes of lying in bed on this particular Sunday I finally realized what it was I had to do that day: I had to combat this feeling of needing to do something and commit to being fully and completely lazy.
I’m super jealous of people to which this type of behavior comes naturally and without any feelings of guilt. If you’ve been reading these posts, you’ll know that I once reflected on how I was getting much closer to mastering JOMO: the joy of missing out. I guess this post is to say that though I’m quite good at not feeling left out when I miss the party, my ability to not feel left out on what I could be and what I am not accomplishing is way less developed.
Some context: I’m one of those far too common and far too often applauded busy-addicts. Always have been. My capacity for doing is quite high. I’m constantly guilty of committing to more than I can ever handle and I think it’s only now, at 24, that I’m finally sort of getting a sense of what constitutes “too much.” In high school I found myself in every choir, directing plays, sitting on various councils, all while maintaining an active social life. Sign me up, I said! Not much has changed except that I’ve learned the hard way that busy can sometimes equal burnout and burnout isn’t so easy to recover from.
I don’t hate this lifestyle. I’ve always been blessed with excessive amounts of energy and it didn’t take me long to realize that I could channel it into output, output, output. It also didn’t take me long to realize that when I didn’t do anything with it, it turned sour and manifested in sadness and loneliness.
But you know what else manifests in sadness and loneliness? Being sick and not being able to kick it. That’s where I found myself last spring. After yet another long cycle of busy, my energy level and my immune system decided it was going on strike! For about 6 months I had this unnamed beast of a virus or viruses with a dash of some of the worst anxiety I’ve ever had and a generous side-helping of absolutely no energy whatsoever. I think my favourite memory from this period was when my boss came to ask me why I wasn’t at the mental health lunch n learn and I was crying at my desk.
I couldn’t shake it. I hated that I couldn’t shake it. And we all know the best cure for feeling crappy is hating yourself for feeling crappy.
A few things had to happen before things got better:
- I had a walk-in clinic doctor who I had known for about five minutes begin to write me a prescription for antidepressants. Now, before I continue, I want to say that I firmly believe antidepressants have the ability to act as a much needed lifeline and I know many people for which antidepressants have done wonders. But what struck me as a bit odd about this situation was how he so quickly decided they were just the BandAid solution I needed to get better, faster, without really suggesting any alternatives I could try first. And I was someone who had just explained how exhausted she was because her plate was so full…seems a bit obvious, no? He suggested therapy more as an afterthought, not worth the work. Naturopath? An option, but whatevs. Since I was pretty confident that it was my obsession with busy that got me to that moment, I was pretty sure I had alternatives to try before going on pills. And it was this awareness that fueled my deepest commitment yet to getting better on my own terms. These “alternatives” weren’t going to be easy, but I knew they were worth a try.
- I reluctantly let go of a second job I had that I really loved because my full time job was more than enough.
- I started saying ‘no’ more often to people and commitments. That part was really hard.
- I went to a naturopath and she spent about an hour assessing all aspects of my health before giving me advice on how I could improve my diet and suggested some supplements and vitamins to boost my immune system and up my energy level. She felt that if I was able to get my body back in order, my mind would follow. Fortunately she was right.
- I went away. I wandered. I sat in a lake by myself in Iceland and looked out on the water and had this feeling that I had finally made it back home.
- When my body had something to communicate, I learned to listen and act.
I am by absolutely no means suggesting that this is the cure for everyone suffering from depression. Or that what I had was really depression (people I’ve shared this experience with have mixed opinions about what it was). It’s hard to know for sure, although I’ve had some pretty unshakable bouts of sadness over the years and this was like that plus zero energy and physical sickness. What really shakes me up though is that what it did feel like was perhaps only a taste, a tiny fraction, of what clinical depression could feel like for so many. Weight. Exhaustion. Being afraid to fall and wanting to fall at the same time. Detachment. And that inability to shake it off.
I was really, really lucky. Once I committed to self-care: eating, sleeping, saying ‘no’ more often and not trying to desperately please everyone all the time, I did generally improve. I do have the odd off-day where I feel crappy but that’s nothing new. I learned to address it the minute I noticed it. I got better. Not everyone is that lucky.
Though I did make some significant lifestyle changes in order to get better, I will likely never become a totally un-busy person. Busyness is a big part of who I am and I have it to thank for some of my proudest accomplishments. But it isn’t all of who I am and if I ever found myself in a burnout situation again I’d be willing to let go of it. Perhaps even for good.
I spent that Sunday colouring in bed (thank gaaaawwwd for the whole adult colouring movement, am I right?!) and listening to the Dixie Chicks. It was exactly what I needed.