It's been entirely brought on by myself: I take on too many things. I always have, and despite making an effort to reduce my overall workload in the past years I don't seem to be getting any better at doing less.
So what was different this year? If I'm used to always being busy I should be an old pro at this, right?
Well, for one thing, this year I've been in a relationship. A friend of mine who has the same "do it all" problem I do pointed out to me that it's almost impossible to maintain the same pace of life we normally do and be in a relationship at the same time. When we set aside time for our love, we either need to cut back on other things or we need to squish what was already a crowded schedule into even less time. Cutting back never seems to work, so things just get really, really squishy. Combine that with getting older, which, as it turns out, does mean a reduced capacity for being constantly on top of everything, and some mentally and emotionally taxing work, and it's a recipe for total exhaustion.
Last week I took the week off work. One of my biggest projects completed on Monday, and I decided to give myself a week of space before jumping back into life.
Of course, I had visions dancing like sugarplums in my head of what that week would look like. For someone who rarely has a day without plans, a week without plans seemed like an overflowing cornucopia of time.
The options were endless: I would read, write, catch up with friends, write, do the groundwork for some other projects, write, take dance and yoga classes, write, and enjoy life again! I would get back into meditating. I would plot out the storyline for a writing project I've never had space for. I would let my mind wander and ruminate on some other project ideas I've had. I would evaluate my life and choices. I would come out of the week like Venus, refreshed and surrounded by gleaming new work and a grounded perspective on life.
Here's what I actually did: lie on the couch and read. Lie in a park and read. Go for a walk. Lie in bed and read. Watch TV. Watch more TV.
Basically, I turned into a cat, with long stretches of lying around punctuated with short bursts of motion (mostly to go make popcorn).
Normally if I have a "lazy day", I start to feel edgy by early to mid-afternoon. This week I barely even kept up with my dishes. On Thursday I had to sit down at my computer and get a few things done, and my body actually rebelled. Don't get me wrong, I did what I had to do, but it was like my insides were repelled by my keyboard, pulling away and crying, "Nononononono, not again! We're not ready yet!"
I didn't even start feeling that itch to do something productive until Friday, and even then it was like a tiny little ant poking at my stomach, not the giant Sasquatch that usually squeezes all my inner organs until I start making something.
We all know the great value of rest. Over the past year, believe it or not, rest was a part of my life. I saw my life spiralling out of control and I did what I could to keep things sane: I scheduled "Andrea Time" once a week where I would both set myself up for life (clean, cook meals for the week, etc.) and have some downtime. Time spent with my boyfriend was, for the most part, restful as well. I went away for weekends, sat on the beach, and hung out in the woods.
There is such a difference, though, between rest that is crammed in amongst everything else ("this is my hour of downtime before I have to run out the door, so I'll relaxrelaxrelax and try not to think about everything that's stressing me out and then drag myself back into the volcano that is my life!"), and a life that is restful.
I still don't really know how to change my patterns in life. I am stepping back from a major responsibility, and I know that will help, but it's like digging a rock out of the sand: more sand just rushes in to fill the space.
Everyone says that it's about learning to say no, and while I'm sure that's the key, what on earth am I supposed to say no to? Sometimes it feels like I just need something to blow everything out of my life and then maybe I can bring things in one at a time (although, let's be honest, I would think I was being really selective and realize that I had just filled my brand-new, empty life with every single grain of sand I could see).
I don't know what to do moving forward, but I do know this: a week spent doing nothing was AMAZING, and I don't feel even the slightest bit guilty about it.
That's a start, right?