Mission: Burnout Recovery

I hit a big benchmark this past week: it’s officially been a month since I no longer do a job that was slowly killing me for a long time. Thinking back now on the surreality of the first couple days—the giddiness of realizing I didn’t have to return to physical places that made me sick, the true joy of increasingly feeling rested after full nights of uninterrupted, deep sleep, the fact that my screen time went down 90% over two weeks time—it feels long and far away. That giddiness gave way pretty quickly to the bigger mountain to climb.

Of course, that’s not to say that where I’m sitting now is worse. It is absolutely one of the best places I’ve sat in my life. Each passing day brings more of me back to myself as I truly rest and recover from an experience that was affecting. (I’m tempted to say “traumatic”, and it was that, but it also now feels like an overstatement or, at least, doesn’t acknowledge that I did make the choice to stay there over and over again, fully aware that it was not in my best interest.)

Anyway, what has struck me over the last couple of weeks, as I emerged from that first week of full-out joy and elation, has been how hard recovering from burnout is, especially for someone (me) who has always been obscenely busy, usually against my will. Now that I’m here in the quiet of no meetings for days and sometimes weeks at a time, holding complete control of my schedule and productivity, determining solely what I want to be doing, I find myself both in awe and somewhat intimidated. Surely there must be something I should be doing.

Of course, the truth is that I am doing something. I’m recovering. With each nap, I gain back some of the hours and minutes of pure stress and ennui created by a complete lack of control over the work I was doing or where and how to spend my time. With each meal I cook quietly at home, I’m retraining myself to expect to feel nourished and supported and that this is something I can provide for myself. Each day spent entirely away from the computer reminds me there’s more to life than email and google docs…and also my dry eyes have magically healed. I haven’t had a migraine, a panic attack, or a foreboding sense of dread in as long as my memory allows. This past month has been completely restorative. Yet my biggest challenge remains: channel and embrace the patience to sit in the silence and stillness and accept it for what it is.

Especially at this time and in this country, we have an aversion to the idea of idleness. Even if we heartily believe it’s so elusive and we wish we had it, when it presents itself to us as the true gift it is, it’s hard to accept it. Idleness is often misunderstood as the symptom of either 1) laziness or 2) lack of value. It’s a shame because it’s in the silence that I can actually hear myself, a voice that I’ll admit I forgot was even in there unless I was shouting at me over the whirring din of pointless frenzy. More than anything else, I’m so thankful I haven’t had to shout at myself for the past four weeks. It’s been a recovery–a reclaiming and a refocusing–of that voice too.

I was talking with a coworker who found herself in a similar situation and she was regaling me with the tales of her twenty-four interviews and three job offers in the first couple of her interstitial weeks. And when I shared that I was taking a minute to re-ground myself before worrying about those bigger issues, it felt good to say it although it felt like it took her aback. Concern crept into her voice. “Is everything…okay?” Everything has never been better. Not in 15 years.

While part of me wanted to have the security or control of the plan that three job offers could provide, I was glad to come home instead to the uncertainty of allowing myself time to recover—myself, my ideas, my dreams.

I haven’t walked down those paths in such a long time. It’s nice to have the opportunity to sojourn again.

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