For the past few weeks, I’ve been watching myself sink into a deep state of burnout. Work stress is getting the better of me (mostly due to my insistence on avoiding conflict at all costs, to my own detriment), and I’m adjusting to living alone again (having lived with two humans and two cats in a very small apartment for four months). In short, I’m feeling weighed down by repressed anger and intense loneliness. The result is burnout.
When you’re burned out, it’s difficult to find the energy to do much beyond the bare minimum. I’m managing to get to work and do my dishes, but I have a long to-do list that is growing more urgent by the day. Equally concerning is how little I’ve been writing. For a short period of time, I managed to write for an hour a day. I was much happier then.
How can I change course and recover from burnout, sooner than later? What I need is time off work and therapy. Seeing as I can’t afford either, I’m finding some simple strategies to help me through this. There are a few things that seem to be working: doing puzzles, making art and practicing self-forgiveness.
Putting puzzles together is soothing
I didn’t get into puzzles during the height of the pandemic like many of my friends did, but I’ve been spending a lot of time on them recently. It’s a way of passing the time away from screens. More than that, it’s a meditative practice: all of my focus is on sorting the puzzle pieces into piles by colour, and closely observing where they might belong.
As burned out as I am, it feels like I’ll never find my way out of this inertia. I fear that the broken pieces of me will never fit back together again. However, I know that all of the pieces of a puzzle are destined to fit together. They were created to have their own place to make up the whole. When all of the pieces are in place, the image becomes clear. It just takes some time and patience.
While doing puzzles, I’m reminded that just because I can’t make sense of things now doesn’t mean I never will. I’ve had greater clarity many times in the past. Maybe I just need some time to get myself organized and then I’ll better understand where I am and where I need to go.
Artistic expression gets you out of your head
While finding the will to write much continues to elude me, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve picked up the practice of posting daily drawings to Instagram again. It’s doing me a world of good.
I found a website with creative drawing prompts here and getting a prompt for the day is something I actually find myself looking forward to. That’s significant: one of the worst things I’ve experienced in a state of burnout is not being able to look forward to anything. I feel frozen in the present, and most of the time, the future looks bleak.
Social media can be problematic, but getting a few likes on my posts is a bit of a boost for my mood. I’m having a hard time connecting with my friends, but at least I can share what I’m working on with them. Any social connection is helpful when you feel as lonely and lost as I do right now.
Self-forgiveness can ease anger
So what, I spent an hour on my puzzle and did a little drawing. It’s easy to beat myself up for not doing more. I “should” have spent an hour on my writing today. I “should” have gotten at least five more things on my to-do list done.
It doesn’t matter what I “should” have done. I did my best, for not being at my best. I’m going to be kind to myself and focus on all the things I did get done. I didn’t just work on my puzzle and draw. I did three loads of laundry and cleaned the bathroom. And I wrote this blog post. No, I didn’t write for an hour. But I’ve had many days lately when I haven’t written at all. Some writing is better than no writing.
It’s easy to get angry at myself for not getting more done. It’s easy to get frustrated with the fact that I’m so exhausted and ambivalent. There are things I can’t keep putting off on my to-do list, and I feel bad that I haven’t done them yet. But you know what? I could have stayed in bed today. I could have done nothing.
I forgive myself for the things I didn’t do today. I’m not lazy. I’m struggling with burnout. It’s real and it’s difficult, but I will get through it.
Recovery won’t happen overnight
If only I knew what to do to get out of this state of burnout immediately. The truth is, there’s no easy answer or shortcut. It will take time and patience, just like putting together a puzzle. It will take some commitment and discipline, like doing a drawing every day. Most of all, it will take self-forgiveness for all of the ways I’m falling short of behaving the way I do when I’m at my best.
I’m getting through this, one day at a time. If you’ve been through burnout, you know this is really all you can ask of yourself.
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