Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash.com

I haven’t written a word in a week and, my goodness, was it necessary. I can’t tell you how much I needed this break! My mind was fried, words became sharp blades, and the mere thought of writing brought tears to my eyes. I just couldn’t do it. I was done. I didn’t have a drop of inspiration left so, with a heavy heart and no small amount of hesitation, I stepped back and took some time off.

My laptop was turned off, plugged in, and left alone on the table. I knew, if I picked it up, I wouldn’t be able to resist the lure of the keyboard, and the overwhelming compulsion to do more, write more, and be more productive. Despite being burnt-out, I felt compelled to push on, even if it meant I suffered a complete systems failure.

Productivity has a seductive lure that’s hard to resist. It feels good, like a hit of warmth on a bitterly cold day, but it also burns. I know I shouldn’t do it, it’s not good for me, and I try to resist the pull. But what’s one more sentence or one more page? It’s nothing, and I can stop at any time. I can walk away. It’s not a problem; it’s a lifestyle.

Except, my hand shook as my finger hovered over the keyboard, and tears rolled down my cheeks when I opened another blank document. There was a voice screaming: No, please, I can’t do this anymore. Just stop! But the urge to create, the need to pull words out of an orifice, is so powerful and toxic that I kept going back for more.

Until? Well, I broke down a week ago. 

I sat on my sofa, my computer on my lap, and I cried as I stared at the blank page. I’d reached my limits, and I said out loud, “I can’t do this anymore.” It was a painful moment, realizing that the one thing that gives me joy and a sense of purpose was hurting me.

Burnout is a term that’s been thrown around quite a bit over the last year, and I understand the principle of it. I can see how someone could hit a wall at an extreme velocity and suffer the consequences. What I didn’t anticipate was how hard it could hit. How it sucks the pleasure out of something that usually sparks joy.

Having had some time to reflect, it’s obviously a side effect of pushing through stress, exhaustion, and living through this bloody pandemic for a year. Of course, it was going to catch up to me! Life catches up to all of us. If we don’t take care of our bodies or mental health, then we’re in for a fall.

It’s so obvious! How did I miss the warning signs? Exhausting: Check. Trouble sleeping: You bet. Feeling an overwhelming need to cry, scream, and yell: Wow, that hits close to home. A sense of ineffectiveness and hopelessness?

Uh, that’s been going on for years so, that could be anything.

If I’d been paying attention, I would’ve seen this coming, and I could’ve taken steps to prevent it. Would I have taken those steps or ignored the flashing lights singling an approaching train? Okay, do what I say and not what I do. I’m cringing internally. I ignored it and let the train run me over. 

Go ahead, slap your forehead and sigh dramatically. I deserve it!

I tried to outrun that locomotive on my gimpy legs, and it hit me hard. There was nothing else I could do. I had to give myself a chance to reset my mind, realign my heart, and find my love of words again.

I haven’t written a word in seven days, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t think about it. There’s an underlying sense of guilt that I couldn’t shake no matter how hard I tried or how many distractions I employed. It was there, nagging me to get up off my lazy ass and do something constructive.

Hell, typing these words feels wrong and hypocritical because I’ve ignored them for so long.

It’s like each letter is shaking its head and putting its delicate cursive hands on its hips. Now you want to talk? Now we’re good enough for you? You throw us away, pretend we don’t exist, and now it suddenly suites you, you think we’re just going to show up? For shame! Yeah, you heard me, for shame.

Those voices combine with the one in my head that can’t believe I actually did it. I took some time off. How could I do such a thing? Egads! How often do you get to use egads in a sentence?

Taking a few days off felt wrong, and the first two were the worst. Guilt accused me of wasting precious time. It said, if I don’t push through the wall, then I was going to lose all the ground I’ve made. People would unsubscribe, my readership would plummet, and everything I’ve been trying to do will have been for nothing. Nothing! I’m wasting time and fading into obscurity. 

What have I done? I’ve made a horrible mistake. 

No, I need to stop catastrophizing. It’s one week of R & R. Take a deep breath and don’t forget to exhale. You’re holding it in way too long. Let it out, there ya go, now take another breath in and exhale. Always exhale!

I spent most of those first few days scolding myself for being lazy, pathetic, weak, and inept. Those are all good words to use when you’re talking to yourself. Add the shoulda’s and the always to the mix? Well, you’ve got a self-loathing cocktail that’ll burn on the way down, but it’s so healthy for ya.

That was sarcasm, BTW.

This kind of self-criticism is toxic and will ruin any good day. It’s almost as if the way we talk to ourselves matters. Almost? Fine, it totally matters, and if you wouldn’t let a stranger talk to you like that, don’t take it from yourself. Be kind!

Simple. Easy. Straightforward. Did you laugh out loud, sigh, and mutter the words bitch, please? Me too!

Those first few days off were a battle between the bully in my head and the simple understanding that I needed this time to rest. I was burnt out. Emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually depleted. There was nothing left to give, but the urge to give more and do more kept biting back. Fighting these two entities was not the relaxing vacation that I’d hoped or needed. But I assumed that, if I held firm, this feeling and those voices would fade. 

And it did! Sort of.

It wasn’t perfect, but real life isn’t a motivational poster. Problems don’t disappear because I meditate for five minutes. And those negative voices don’t shut up because I stood on an empty pier and watched the sunrise. If it was that simple, my mental health would be significantly better.

But what would we talk about?

There’s something to be said for sheer determination and pure stubbornness. I knew, in my heart, that I needed this week off because the one thing I love doing was making me cry. The words that offer me relief were making me anxious. I stopped feeling a sense of accomplishment every time I posted. Instead, I felt dread because there was a fresh blank page that I had to fill. 

Somewhere along the way, I turned myself into a performing monkey grinding on a street organ. Ask questions, write the words, fill the page, then rinse and repeat. I’ve always written with sincerity and honesty, but I’ve found myself slipping into autopilot. What was I saying? What have I already talked about? Am I asking the same questions over and over? I don’t know. I can’t remember. It’s too much.

I’m scared. I’m tired. I can’t do this anymore, but I can’t waste time doing nothing.

There’s a quote by John Lennon that says, “The time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time!” And I feel those words in every cell of my body right now. It’s not about scrolling through TikToc until I develop bleeding callouses. There’s a time and place for that, sure, but it’s not what I need. I need to do something that brings me joy, stops the grind and realigns out my heart and mind.

So, I wasted time following my heart, investing in my passions, and doing things that made me smile. There was no plan. I didn’t go looking for a story to write. Sure, I hoped that this break would help me rediscover my love of writing and words. But once I got past the guilt, let the nagging voices go silent, and stood in the moment? I felt my brain unclench, my shoulders dropped, and my breath came easier.

Photo by Keri-lee Griffiths

I woke up early and went to Fort Langley, about an hour out of Vancouver. It was a fur trading post in the early 1800s, and they’ve managed to keep that old-world feel. The buildings are all in that old-timey style. There’s the smell of old wood and creosote coming off the train tracks. The Fraser River runs past the village, and at that time of the morning, it was calm, peaceful, and almost deserted.

It was ten degrees below zero, big chunks of ice flowed down current, and rain puddles had frozen over. A mist drifted along the ground, and the sun tried to break through the clouds. A seagull sat on top of a post. The train’s whistle sounded in the distance. I stood on the old pier, shivered, and lifted my camera to my eye.

I’m not much of a photographer, but I enjoy the process. Picking the right frame, finding the perfect settings, stopping my hand tremor long enough to focus the lens. There’s no way I can do that if I’m not fully present in that moment. 

Photo by Keri-lee Griffiths

Going home, I uploaded the photos to my phone and opened an editing app. Correct the colour, take away the grain, tighten up the frame. I play with detailing, shading, and effects. I get into a zone, get carried away, and play around. I’m present in a moment that’s quiet and still. 

A moment wasted? No, I was having too much fun.

Photo by Keri-lee Griffiths

Over the last week, I spent hours talking to a friend about nothing and everything. We watched a whodunit and tried to see who could put the clues together first. I got up early and hiked a new trail through an old-growth rain forest. I baked bread, slowly sipped a cup of tea, and listened to music. I wasted as much time as I could, doing things that will recharge my battery and treating myself with kindness.

These are the moments I’m going to remember and cherish. The hours I spend writing? The emails I respond to? The busywork that has to be done, but it’s incredibly mind-numbing? I’m not going to look back on my life and remember those moments. I’ll remember the fresh bear print in the sand, the feel of the cold air on my cheeks, giving my friend a virtual high five because we put the clues together. 

I took a week off, and my world didn’t crumble. It got bigger! I cleared out the trash folder in my mind, made space for new memories and experiences. I got out of my own way and went out into the world— at a COVID safe distance— and experienced life instead of writing about it.

I need to do that more often and spend more time out of my head. I can’t wait for my mind to break before I’m kinder to myself. Don’t wait for your own breakdown to make time to be kind to yourself. It’s hard, I know, but we’re worth the effort, and we deserve to enjoy time well wasted.

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