This morning, in my Facebook memories, there was a link to a post I wrote three years ago, today. It was a Three Truths and One Wish post. The first truth was “this year was a fallow year.” As I went on to explain, fallow is a farming term that means “plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about burnout, about the brutality of it, how it still lingers for me, that “fixing” this is going to take much longer than I’d like, and how so many of the efforts I make to “heal” myself only seem to lead to more of the same.
One thing I’ve realized is that it wasn’t just the final few years at CSU that I was burnt out, but almost the entire 19. There were different seasons and variations, times when it was much worse and moments where it wasn’t so bad, but it was a through line, a thread that ran the entire length of the thing, an ongoing theme. If I mastered anything in those 19 years, it was how to burn myself out. I cycled through manic phases of output only to crash and burn, so badly I couldn’t do anything but rest and wait.
This week between Christmas and New Years, this liminal space where we linger, maybe loosen up and let go a little, is also partially focused on looking towards the year ahead and considering what that might look like, making plans and gearing up. I am bracing myself for the calls to action that are already coming, to reinvent myself and my life, to “level up,” to “go big.”
I am deep in hibernation, like the goo inside a chrysalis. So many seem to have used this time, the limited access and restricted movement of a global pandemic, to do things, to connect more, offer more, be more. They learned an instrument or a language, baked bread, created new offerings, connected in the ways they were able. I, on the other hand, was one of those just trying to survive it. As much as I don’t want it to be true, try to pretend as if it isn’t, I am still in the weeds. And it makes total sense: you don’t burn yourself out for that many years and then just stop, get a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed and ready to go. And yet, I did think that if the ongoing stress of my work at CSU were removed, I’d have a real chance, but I couldn’t have predicted what was coming next. I am trying my best to be patient, to honor where I’m at and what I need, but it’s so hard when there’s so much I want.
When we got in bed last night, I told Eric I was sad because I thought maybe I would never be ready to get another dog. Ringo had overindulged in sampling what we were cooking for Christmas dinner and is overtired from a series of days without enough rest, so he needed some special attention last night, some help settling down. The effort of that made me think, as I have so many times in the months since we lost Sam, that I don’t know if I can do this all again, the investment of so much love and attention only to have it all go so horribly wrong. And I have no illusions about how to tweak the situation so it works out to my advantage, because it never does, for any of us. Every relationship we ever have in our lives will end badly, no matter the specific circumstances.
Eric’s response was perfect. “We need to give ourselves a break. This has been a really hard year.” That and the wish I shared at the end of the post that showed up in my Facebook memories today seem like a good place to start, to stay, to settle: “May we remember that our worth isn’t always about our doing. May our practice and effort be about being more present and authentic, which also means being more vulnerable. May we cultivate a strong foundation of sanity and compassion in the ways that feel right to us, thus encouraging wisdom and love in others.”
Give yourself a break, kind and gentle reader. We are all doing the best we can and it has been a really hard year.