I was cruising on auto-pilot; going through the motions of my daily life but not feeling as though I were really living. Holding a management position at my 9-5, I felt as if I were showing up every day but not really making an impact, nor did I care to put effort into doing so.
My personal relationship felt more like an obligation than the adventure that it was.
Socializing with friends was more of a chore than enjoyment.
My passion projects even began to feel like weights weighing me down.
If I were being unfair, I would say that those environments and those people were toxic and they were leaving me drained and unmotivated to put in any effort. But the truth is they weren't; it was something inside of me that wasn't allowing myself to live my life to the fullest or shine the brightest.
And while my loved ones did the best they could to engage, inspire, and uplift me, I could feel myself drifting further and further away.
Every morning I would lay in bed and promise myself that today would be different from the days before. I promised myself that today would be the day that I rose before the sun and started tackling all of the things and the people that I had on a back-burner.
But instead of getting up and doing something differently, I would feel chained to the bed were I would relive the memories of my life in a haze and come down on myself for wasting time or making those who love me feel as though I didn't love them.
Once I was all out of pity for myself, I would begin planning. I would no longer feel sorry for myself, so my inner saboteur used procrastination against me. I would lay in bed and plan, meticulously, the ways in which I would bounce back to being my bubbly and outgoing self. All of this planning, and still doing nothing really.
And after I was burnt out "planning" I would become overwhelmed by all of the work I planned out for myself. Instead of being empowering, it felt impossible.
Next dread would set in and I would begin to think of ways and excuses to get out of doing what I had just spent weeks planning and plotting in an effort to get out of the funk.
It was a destructive cycle. I won't even call it unproductive, because productivity is a construct, but I will say that the day in and day out depression and the feeling of being paralyzed was not a pleasant feeling at all. It was as though I were sinking into myself, free-falling into my soul, not a part of the world of which I lived.
It was terrifying.
And I honestly cannot remember where I got this advice, but the words "start small and start where you are" resonated with me. They sounded like a bell, the answer to my problem of existential dread and feeling of being burnt out. Just start living again… even if it's small steps.
So I picked up a book. Comparing my life to the life of others was one of the things that kept me feeling burnt out, so I thought to change that by reading. In the pile of books I purchased at the start of the pandemic that I said I was going to read, and two months later I hadn't picked up nary a one, I picked up Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Immediately, I was immersed in the world of Sethe and Denver, and was not only captivated by their story, but I was also reminded of what a brilliant and prolific writer Toni was. How she could create magic with her words and craft a story so profound that I was inspired to tap into my own creative writing energy.
After finishing Beloved, I was inspired to start again on a passion project I had put down, finishing my collection of poetry. I'm the type of person that dates poems or stories when I write them, and the last entry in my poetry journal was from two years prior. After reading Toni and picking my poetry journal back up, I churned out pages upon pages of drafts of poems. I was proud. I was excited to share. I was excited to get back to working on getting my book published.
I was so excited that I opened my laptop and began outlining a plan for completion for the project, researching costs associated, potential self-publishing platforms, hiring someone to design the cover, and hiring someone to help format. The cards were falling into place for this project that I had put on a back-burner for two years, and now after just a matter of weeks was on its way to completion.
As I began to immerse myself into long days and nights of pouring myself into writing, I began to feel the effects of no sleep on my body. I knew I needed rest to sustain this burst of energy and to not burn out again.
I usually struggled with taking breaks and rest, but I began going to sleep as soon as I needed to. When possible, I would sleep without setting an alarm. I would even leave my phone in another room so I could fall asleep without a screen in my face. I faced my thoughts and learned to not need a constant distraction from them by constantly scrolling social media. My rest became deeper, longer, and more healing. I found that daily my energy was increasing and my thoughts weren't as cloudy.
Since creating and resting were both equally important to me, I knew that I needed to gather better time management skills. After reading about others' experiences, I found a time management skill that works for me. Time blocking is a tip I use that allows me to allot specific amounts of time to specific tasks (both personal and professional). That way I can plan out my day, commit chunks of time to the to-do lists, and can be fully present and focused while doing that task because I know I've allotted time elsewhere in my day to do the other things I need to do. It took the anxiety away from having a day full of plans. I looked forward to them, they were more digestible and tangible.
Learning to make time in my days for the things I wanted and needed to do made my outlook on life brighter. It didn't seem overwhelming or as though there were no end in sight. I began to see it as the journey that it is and learn to look forward to the unknown that lies ahead.
I made time for my partner more and for friends more. I looked forward to plans and stopped looking for excuses to cancel. I could be fully present and there for the people that needed me without being consumed by my own inner turmoil.
And it all started with a small step.
What those small steps look like for you may be different than what it looked like for me. I picked up a book, but for you it may be taking a walk, cooking a meal, starting to journal, creating a morning ritual, or having daily prayer. But I want to pass along the knowledge and wisdom that starting small and starting where you are can be the first step in getting out of the smoke and fog that is a burnout.
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