Since the start of the year, my time has been planned out meticulously. I’ve made every effort to use my time efficiently to accomplish the most I possibly can, including work, writing, Japanese, Improv, wedding admin, wedding DIY, fitness, and socialising.
In doing so, I have very little time available not doing those things. I have an hour each night scheduled for ‘relaxation’ (code for watching Russian Doll or Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix, or maybe Only Connect or University Challenge on BBC). Otherwise, there’s no room for anything extra. Which is fine, because I don’t have time to think of more to squeeze in. Right?
Of course, life being life, plans are one thing, but reality is another. Despite being a project manager by trade, you’d have thought I’d be aware of this issue. Running close to tolerances on everything means that there’s no room for anything to slip.
A couple of friends on seeing my schedule were impressed at the volume of stuff I was getting through. “You’re unstoppable,” one said.
So when things happen; like an argument at work, or a flat tyre on my bike (not yet, so please no), or any other fairly small setback that I would have otherwise been able to cope with; the whole house of cards tumbles to the ground and like an old computer my brain bluescreens and I fall down.
Unfortunately, this has happened recently. The process of falling down took about a week from the moment of the ‘straw+camel’ reaction. After an explosive initiation using up most of my energy, there was nothing left for the other tasks in the queue. Each subsequent delay or failure to complete resulted in more emotions, more backlog, and ultimately, two days of complete stop.
I don’t tend to enjoy rest. My brain is constantly whirring, and I find periods of downtime quite boring. Too boring, and I get stressed in a different way. My fiancé tells me this facet of my persona is quite exhausting to watch – I imagine it might be to many people, but to me I relax through doing things – as long as those things aren’t compulsory. Even arrangements to do social activities can, at times, start out feeling like a chore. Until I’m there, and then I’m extremely grateful for having planned it in.
But how to deal with this burnout?
Maybe it’s to acknowledge when simple things start becoming challenging. I notice it when I can no longer understand language (including, and sometime especially, my own). I notice it, too, when I find myself avoiding social interaction – because I’m very much an extrovert but when that option for recharging stops working, it’s a huge red flag. Anyway, step 1 is to notice it.
Then, step 2 – take a day. You don’t have to explain yourself. You don’t owe anybody that. Without saying it, any manager, friend, loved one, and so on – would rather you took a day to reset than fell apart completely. I happened to also be physically sick at the same time, so the double whammy was more than enough self-justification for me.
I took my day in bed. I slept for 18 hours. I have never been in bed that long – ever. But I feel much better for it. Better able to deal with emotional, professional, and otherwise difficult challenges. Because even the most resilient of us have limits.
That buzzword needs warning signs – resilience, as if it’s the business answer to everything. I won’t go into the many reasons why I have a problem with that. HR functions seem to tout it as the panacea for everyone’s woes (particularly in the never-ending Civil Service world of Brexit). Finding ways to develop one’s resilience is key, but acknowledging that we are made of matter, and that matter is fallible.
All of this, and I’m still sticking to my schedule. I’ve reorganised some things, but I’ve also noticed that I’m over halfway through the Hard Part. Thanks to my fervent organisation, in a week’s time, I won’t be brewing any more beer. That in itself gives me about 4-6 hours a week back. I’ll probably put a little of that time into focusing more on my Japanese and Improv studies, but it’ll be a net gain of free time.
More time to meditate, catch up on TV, and just generally enjoy life.
And to think, if I hadn’t made this schedule, I’d always be just a little uncomfortable. Better to get things done ahead of time, then enjoy the freedom while others are still carrying the weight of worrying about that particular deadline.
I can only hope that thinking is what ultimately saves me from a heart attack. But then again, that’ll only work if I remember to rest when I’m ill. So in that spirit, I’m going to bed.