You probably came here looking for book recommendations. Surprise! I did say I’d be sharing my experiences as a writer and reader. And let me tell you what knocked me on my ass as both : professional burnout.
I’m presenting a workshop later this year at a literary conference on managing burnout as a creative. In connection with that workshop, I’ll be posting a series on burnout here in my musings. I will share my personal story of burning out, getting help, and then also the information I learned along the path to healing.
Huge disclaimer here (and it will come up again in those later posts):
I am not a doctor. I am not a medical professional, or a therapist.
In my posts, when I talk about mental health, I’m talking about my personal experiences, and I am not offering more than that.
Please seek the help of a professional if you feel like you need it.
Whew, okay. I feel better having that out there.
I very recently moved half-way across the world. I knew this move was coming, and in the spring, I kind of put my creative endevours on hold. I did this for a few reasons. One, I’m still in the recovery period from burnout. I need to be careful with myself and not get overwhelmed. Moving is inherently stressful. I didn’t need extra stuff on my plate. Two, I had major revisions to do on a manuscript, the type that, for me, are best done when I can devote an entire day to sit there and simmer. Even better? Let those revisions simmer on the back-burner for several months. Let my mind chew over the problems while I work on other things.
Those were the big reasons. I felt like they were pretty solid. So then I get here, and I get as settled as I can be until my shipping container that’s (hopefully) on a big boat crossing the ocean arrives. I’m not yet employed, the move is (mostly) over. So now’s the time to dig in on my manuscript, right?
Well…as I’ll discuss in a later post, one of the hardest things about burnout is realizing that you’re burning out and not going through some other shit. I live with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and I have for over a decade now. I also have previously gone through bouts of depression. Figuring out that what I was experiencing was burnout and not one of those other things was HARD. But on this end of the journey, in the recovery stage, it feels just as hard to pin-point when I’m making those same old excuses that all creatives seem to make when avoiding a project, and when I’m being reasonable with how much I can handle.
Boundaries are hard. They’re difficult with others, and they’re just as challenging when you’re setting them for yourself.
So I get here, and I have a whole new set of reasons for why I can’t dive into edits. I should be looking for a job. I should clean. I should explore my new neighborhood. I should work on the slides for this workshop in October, because putting it off too long would be bad (this was the first week of August).
Here’s what finally told me that my excuses were those nasty little pieces of self-doubt that stopped me from writing nearly 7 years ago : I haven’t figured it all out yet, so I shouldn’t start.
Oh fellow creators, how far I had fallen!
I typically write a lot in a year. I’m not saying it’s good writing. I’m not saying it all gets finished (I mean, most of it does eventually, just not always that year). But I put words, a lot of them, on the page in a year. And I do that because I refuse to hold myself back with the excuse “it’s not ready” or “it’s not good enough” or, this one is my favorite, “I don’t know what I’m doing”.
My M.O. is to just start writing and to keep going until something happens. It can get trashed. It can go on for pages making no sense. That’s fine. The point is to get something there and get over that self-doubt and that fear.
So if you, like me, are healing from burnout (exhaustion disorder in some medical fields) and aren’t sure if you’re ready to tackle that project that’s been waiting for you, ask yourself this:
Am I hesitant because I worry I’ll exhaust myself by doing too much, or am I hesitant because I’m scared?
My a-ha moment for the week was realizing I’d let that fear creep back in during the break I took from my craft.
But now that I see for what it is, I feel free again. Free to screw up. Free to put complete garbage on the page. Free to create something amazing.
Respect your limits, but don’t hold yourself back. This Friday, I invite you all to be honest with yourselves. Give yourselves what you need, what you really truly need, and not what fear tells you you should have.