For all I have worked on and all I have learnt about myself over the past few years, there always seem to be more lessons. Which is good, I guess. Evolving is good. But it’s also frustrating.
These lessons don’t usually take a very subtle form.
Let me explain: I have been working for the same company for about 9,5 years. I’ve enjoyed my work for maybe 2 of those years – somewhere just beyond the halfway mark. But, I go to work and I do my job, and I do it well, because that’s what you do. I may bitch about my job to friends and family, but while I’m at work I’m extremely conscientious and hard-working. And I’m not saying this to brag, and I’m not imagining it (my boss agrees), I’m just making a point about the kind of person I am and my tendency to push myself.
Lately my body has started to make a point about me pushing myself.
A lot has happened over the past lets say 3 years or so: I lost a huge amount of weight through adopting a healthier life, I had regular therapy for anxiety and depression (but they remain sporadic visitors), my father died, and at work there were a lot of drastic changes that basically led to most of my friends either having to leave or leaving voluntarily as part of the aftermath. I was left behind as one of the confused people who suddenly had a bunch more responsibilities and ever-dwindling future prospects. At least that’s how it feels.
And I have tried to come up with other ways to make a living, I really have. It just seems to be the one big question I cannot answer to my satisfaction (looking at a journal entry from almost 8 years ago, I’ve made virtually no progress on this front). I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t want anything enough to make the required effort.
When talking with my boss about this, who to her credit is surprisingly cool with me not being terribly into my job and very supportive of me finding my bliss whatever it is, I was again lamenting the fact that I don’t know what to do with my life. And she asked me: does it matter?
Funnily enough I had never even considered the possibility that it didn’t matter, and for a while I entertained the idea that maybe it didn’t, and it was sort of liberating. Maybe I can just do my job, and try to do things that make me happy in my spare time, and be nice to people, and all that jazz, and that’s enough. And I think it is, for some people. Sadly I have come to the conclusion that I am not one of these people. I need to feel as if I have a purpose, as if I’m working towards something, as if my life has meaning and value beyond myself. And seeing as work is such a big part of how we spend our lives, there needs to be some sense of meaning to this too, other than the ability to pay bills.
So, to get back to my story… I have seen the burnout coming for a long time. And I really feel as if I’ve tried to prevent it. I work part time and am mostly strict about my hours, leaving work at the office (in the literal sense at least, though I always have trouble disengaging my mind). In recent months I’ve refocused my creative efforts (writing and drawing, mainly) outside of work, to make sure that I’m also doing something I find more meaningful. I take good care of myself with regular exercise, and though I tend to overindulge now and then, I generally eat pretty healthy. I’ve been clear with my boss about my worries and tried to make sure that I don’t take on too much, and that we look at future options for development so I don’t end up feeling stuck and demotivated. And though she has been very willing to help, there realistically is not that much she can do. Because my job is what it is, and I am who I am, the situation is not likely to change much.
Over Christmas I took an extended holiday, using up some of this years allowance already. It was kind of a hail Mary, last ditch attempt to make work work. If I had a long break and just relaxed, maybe I could come back to it feeling refreshed and better able to manage. Maybe I could just get on with it. A friend of mine already warned me that I was just putting a band-aid over the wound, and he was right. My holiday was wonderful and relaxing and as soon as I was away from the office I felt totally fine. But as soon as I went back.. It turned out all those feelings I had before, and all the issues I had with my job didn’t magically get fixed while I was sleeping in and reading books. Strange, huh?
The first week back was rough, but I told myself it was just getting back in the habit of getting up early and going to work. The second week was however not much better. And the third week everything imploded.
I’d already been struggling with heart palpitations and dizzy spells for 10 days or so by this time, and I had a doctor’s appointment to get checked out for this and for all the other burnout symptoms that I’d been experiencing more and more. The doctor made an appointment for me to wear a heart monitor machine, as I had an arrhythmia. She also suggested it might be a good idea to go on sick leave so I had a chance to calm down. This was a Wednesday and I still did not take the pretty unsubtle hints that my mind and body were throwing at me. I thought, well, I’ll see how the heart test goes next week and what the results are from that, and then maybe I’ll consider sick leave if I’m not feeling any better.
So on the Thursday I went to work as normal, and it was only when I realised I was unable to get from my desk to the kitchen (about 20-30 metres) without supporting myself on the furniture along the way that I realised I couldn’t do this any more and I had to go home right away.
Fortunately, the cardiologist I have been referred to doesn’t think anything is wrong with my heart besides stress, which is good news. And now, several weeks on, with some medication and rest, I am feeling a lot better. But this means that I pushed myself to the point where I couldn’t walk 20 metres without support before I listened to the signals my body was sending, because… Well, because why?
It is definitely partly me. And I am not demonising my place of employment or our slightly career focused society, it’s just not for me (neither is an open plan office, with lots of stress and deadlines and second guessing by management). Yes, maybe most other people deal with this kind of situation just fine, maybe it doesn’t bother them and they can go on with their lives and.. function. So, I’m not like all those other people. Doesn’t make me better or worse, just makes me me. I have been trying to force myself into a mold I just don’t fit. Something about square pegs and round holes.
Well, the mold is broken, and I’m sitting on the sofa all bent out of shape (OK, someone please save me from my own metaphor…). Hoping that this time I will learn. That this time I will listen. I’m sorry it took me so long.