Read This When You Feel Burned Out
(NOTE: This was written pre-COVID 19 shutdown when inter-state travel was not a public health concern.)
The past few weeks have been exhausting. It has been “promotion season” at work, inspiring conversations revealing the worst of the organization and digging a trench into the morale of the employees. A dark cloud seems too loom and pressure mounts until the packages are finalized and then all we do is wait.
There was a problem with a report I sent out. The problem was not concerning something I had contributed, but a co-worker’s oversight. Nevertheless, I was the lead for the report and received a strongly worded (and quite rude) email about it. The “big bosses” were cc’d on the email.
My 10 year old Autistic son did not receive his medicine over the weekend while he was in his father’s care. That is typical. But missing his medication does cause issues both at school and at home. On a perfect, early spring day, I brought him to the school yard to fly his new kite. He had flown a kite at school and so he determined he wanted to fly this kite at the school yard as well. He had obviously been taught well by the teachers and flew his kite higher and higher, not wanting any help from mom. It was going to be a fun outing. I was supposed to be having fun too. I was trying. But I am on year 22 of parenting. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and it is faded with holes in it now.
Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash
When my son decided he was finished flying the kite and was putting it away, he became tangled in the string. I walked towards him to offer help. He screamed at the top of his lungs “Stop! Don’t help me!” I knew better than to force the issue. I reminded him how it made me feel when he yelled at me, recited a few anger management tools from the behavioral therapist’s tool kit and informed him I would be waiting in the car.
I have been preparing for a court date which is set to take place this week. My ex moved about 850 miles away. In many ways I am very relieved. The less I interact with him, the better. But I have never represented myself in court and I have a mountain of documentation to prepare to defend my position on changing custody. Pulling together the information brings back a flood of memories and the emotions that go with them. They are not pleasant emotions.
The first two times we went to court I had a lawyer. There is no money left for that now. Thankfully, I have a “Default Order” against him for not responding to the papers he had been served. The court will likely only hear my side of the story anyway. Still, I had better make a good case, for the kids.
The weekend was busy. I had no time to myself. I thought I could occupy my son with a project building a plane. After 30 minutes, I was ready for a glass of wine. It was 10am. The rest of the weekend is a blur of meals and snacks prepared, games, movies and walks. Oh, right and breaking up arguments.
I had no time to think to myself quietly. I thought about my performance package. Was it good enough? Will the problem with the report impact leadership's decision? I thought about Court procedures and documents. Do I have the right things ready? What am I missing? Will "he" show up anyway? That would be uncomfortable. Of course, I thought about what the boys asked me about or needed. Sometimes I feel like the Genie from Aladdin.
Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
"Poof! What do you need? Poof! What do you need? Poof! What do you need?"
Budgeting. I always think about budgeting. Where was the "me" time?
I feel burned out and stressed. I know I am starting to build up defenses to protect myself.
We have all been there.
On the way home today, I saw the feeling in a different way. I had been here before. It seems to come in waves. Literally, it acts like a wave. There is a swell of activity and I seem to be holding things together, moving along at a steady pace, growing, thriving, everything is under control. I’ve got this.
Then the wave crashes. It breaks into a white foam with no recognizable form, constantly shifting and writhing. Nothing is steady. Nothing is under control.
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash
But now I recognize this is just how I work. This is me. I take on a lot of responsibility. I build, I carry on, I swell and then… I crash. For some time after that there is relative peace. I will start the cycle again. I can’t stay still. I am not a pond. I am an ocean.
I used to see this process differently when I was under the heavy burden of religion. I used to think that these “crashing times” were called by another name.
“Satan is attacking you because you are serving god.”
“You have not been praying enough.”
“You have not been reading your bible and studying enough.”
“You are feeling this way because you said something out of line about your (former) husband.”
(NOTE: I shouldn’t have to apologize or be punished for expressing a truth. No one deserves complete deference for their actions simply because they are labeled “head of the household.”)
“Your sin has brought this upon you.”
Back then, when I was “swelling” with church activity; Vacation Bible School, Children’s Choir, Praise Team; things seemed to be going well. I was “serving god.” People praised my efforts. I worked to the point of burning myself out. Then when I crashed, the finger pointed at me for not doing enough or for doing something wrong. It made me think I still needed to do more, be more. I would try to do more and be more on the next round.
I have left the religious world, but I am still me. I am still going to take on a great deal of activity, constantly churning to do more. Is that my nature? Was this habit developed while I was under religion and told I always needed to “do more” to be worthy? I don’t really know. But I do know it is now a habit. It is part of who I am.
Now though, rather than point the finger at myself when I do crash, I can recognize it simply as a part of my waves crashing, my ocean’s cycle. There will be a time of peace soon. I feel it coming.
It will almost definitely be after the road trip to Florida with my boys to visit my uncle next weekend.
But there will be a period of peace soon. And swelling and creating beauty and rising high for the world to see…. And the crashing… and peace… and rising… and swelling… and crashing… and peace…
Perhaps now that I recognize this cycle, I can find a way to calm the waves a bit. Take on a little less. Crashes can turn into the gentle exhale of evening waves as the tide rolls out. The spilling of a pail, rolling along the sand.
Photo by Dmitri Bayer on Unsplash