Burnout

A little girl is staring up at me. Her eyes are big and blue. She has heavy brown bangs and buckteeth.

She’s clutching 40 pages of a story she wrote and typed out herself.

That girl looks back at me when I catch my reflection in the mirror. I feel her waiting. The depths of that naive, full-throttle eagerness, throbbing in my head.

Somewhere deep, now.

As I sit at my desk, terrified, trying to convince myself I’m all right and on track, I feel the tug at my sleeve.

“Why are you stopping?” she asks. “Are you going to give up? Is that what happens to our story, in the end?”

She thought she’d grow up to be tough and brave. Hoping for something like a downright prodigy, a blazing success story.

But right now, she just has me. Trying. Choking on an intoxicating mix of burnout and intimidation.

It’s windy on the cliff’s edge, even if it’s somewhere I desperately want to be.

I’ve curled up into a ball. It’s not time to jump yet, with every possibility of turning back. And 8-year-old me is not understanding.

She’s angry and scared that I’ve even thought of turning back.

How dare you be finite, she screams. How dare you be weak and fragile.

Why are you like this? Why are you weaker than I was before? Why are you so old and tired within so few years? Why does your breath stick in your throat and your hands tremble when faced with everything you’ve ever wanted? It’s so close now. It’s yours to reach out and take hold of. So why do you sit there, useless and blank?

I thought you wanted this.

Could I have been wrong?

Could we have been wrong…

+++

A/N: I’m leaving for San Francisco in a few days. Burnout is still in full swing. I’m as overwhelmed by the prospect of picking back up as I was weeks ago, but now I must be busy and keep my appointments.

 

 

Stress is gray

Undergraduate senioritis is so much worse than high school senioritis.

I’ve been carrying around a can of Red Bull for four weeks. But I haven’t yet found circumstances dire enough to willfully consume this failsafe. I feel like whatever I need to be able to pull through the remainder of this semester, caffeine and taurine’s not going to cut it.

I have been drinking a lot of coffee, though. But more as comfort food.

I’m not so much sleep deprived as utterly and completely burnt out. At this point, I think I’m too far gone for any stimulant, direct or indirect, to be able to remedy that.

It’s time to get psychological, I think.

When I think of doing homework, my insides shrivel up and it feels like every bit of life housed in every one of my body’s cells is opposed to the concept of fulfilling my academic duties. But it’s just homework! What’s the big deal? Learning is good. I like learning.

But this semester’s been hard, and these days, I really can’t be bothered to care enough.

The scary thing is, I felt the burnout last semester, but my reluctance to devote time to academics stemmed mostly from an acute need to further my creative pursuits. This semester, I still have the need, but the motivation to do anything is declining fast.

Bedtime is my favorite time now. That has never been the case up until this point. Two weeks ago, I legitimately woke up in the morning and thought, disillusioned, that I would have to go the entire day before I could crawl back into bed again. Which was quite unnerving to me.

I don’t want to do homework, but I find myself not wanting to do anything else either. Not writing, or drawing, just nothing. That and the very definition of my existence does not compute. What happened to “I’ll sleep when I’m dead?” What happened to actively pursuing coffee dates with friends? What happened to spending time outside or making time for people? Playing video games and practicing backflips when the weather’s nice or drawing cartoons until the sun comes up?

Gradually, I see the world of “boring adults” in a different light.

Prolonged stress. This is what it does to us.

If I could use a color to describe myself right now, gray is the color I would name. Without hesitation, without deliberation.

Gray.The color of stress, of fatigue, of burnout.

I find myself wasting a lot of time, sitting still for hours on end doing nothing of consequence, never fully fixing my mind on anything for a particular span of time. I think I need to keep better tabs on myself. Not create a meticulous schedule for myself per se, but make sure I’m engaged or that I’ve deliberately disengaged instead of dismally floated off into a stupor, or cycled through social medias three times in a 10 minute span.

I feel like my current way of doing things is slowly killing me. If I’m avoiding something, I should deliberately avoid it and do something that will keep my mind off it and recharge my courage a bit instead of letting the looming obligation constantly suck energy out of me. When I decide to work on it, I’ll work on it.

But I do wonder if I have the energy to do this. To simply not sometimes, instead of fill the fatigue with noise.

Perhaps I can pull it off.

I know this state is temporary, because I’m peace-ing out in three weeks and moving on to new things.

Until then, the remainder of this semester stretches before me like endless nails on a chalkboard. But perhaps I can find gratification in work completed instead of endless distraction.

I want to be excited and optimistic, make the most of the countdown.

But I’m not making much out of anything right now. Only making myself sad.

And I’m not usually willing to accept things as is, so I think there has to be a way to fix that.

Still, if all else fails, I’ll be free in three weeks.

Ventilation

I always wanted to be a prodigy. I easily took to things, and if I liked it, I practiced it obsessively.  My phases were rife with flares of thwarted, perfectionistic fury–until I achieved proficiency, at least. I wanted to be the youngest, the reliable, the extraordinary. Not the best, necessarily, but undeniably impressive.

Yet I always seemed to come late to things. Gymnastics, for example. I cared little for the sport until the 2004 summer Olympics. After a single night, something arose from within me, and I knew this was going to become a key passion. Something that would mark the rest of my childhood, perhaps even my entire life.

But I couldn’t enroll in classes right away. My friend did, though, and whatever she taught me, I practiced constantly, relentlessly. Finally, at 12, I was able to start recreational classes. In a fortuitous string of events, I was admitted onto the level 4 team. The typical profile of level 4 gymnasts was 8-10 years old, and under 5 feet tall. I was 15 and 5’5″. I can only imagine what my coaches must have been thinking when they decided to give me a shot. I struggled and fought my way through conditioning. I had such a long way to go to build the muscle necessary to support my adolescent frame, while the younger kids were downright feathers. But despite any pain, frustration, and countless ripped blisters, back problems, and aching muscles, I loved it. And I progressed quickly. In two and a half years, I was training to compete level 8–though the demands of my senior year of high school and college preparation drove me to step out of the sport earlier than I had planned.

Gymnastics wasn’t the only late-manifesting obsession. My interest in drawing became preoccupation when I was a sophomore in college. It not only rose to prominence as a main hobby, but completely changed my career focus. I spent the summer after that year drawing from noon to 5am every day, with the exception of the month I studied abroad in Costa Rica. Sometimes I look back on that time and think to myself. I’m insane.

Science and writing are the two exceptions to this trend. I’ve always been a science nerd, and I’ve been writing fiction since I could piece together words.

Essentially, I need a forte, something to be really good at, along with a network of subsidiary proficiencies. I need to have something constructive available to constantly channel this persistent, nagging drive to pursue and create–a drive which has led me to writing, drawing, crocheting, unicycling, gymnastics, book-binding, biology, Spanish…among other things. My overarching journey of self-betterment and spirituality interfaces with and informs this need as well, but it seems to have its own distinct category.

And sometimes–these days especially–I wonder if my life would be less stressful if I wasn’t trying to pursue so much. In fact, I know it would be.

But my key pursuits are like ram ventilation: I have to keep moving to breathe. Like a shark. (Maybe I’m a shark.) And school has always imposed itself as an appreciated/hated mandatory reality, so it doesn’t quite count for me.

This need to find something to work toward and live for is not uncommon. Perhaps this is something sharks and the human spirit itself have in common. We can’t stay still. Except, with humans, our ram ventilation can get misdirected and land us into very deep trouble, or we run into trouble trying to quell the feelings of suffocation of having stopped. Some humans never learned the necessity of continual movement. Some came to a deliberate halt.

Some, like me, can feel the pace accelerating to a speed far beyond what we are perhaps capable of handling. But we try anyway. We angle ourselves directly into the flow and let the current buffet us. And it’s too much–so much that, interestingly enough, we can’t even breathe sometimes. Moving forward in such a torrent can strain and weaken us until we start to break under the pressure and pain of holding on.

We know we can technically step out of it, find out what it actually feels like to have everything stop. Sometimes suffocating in the cessation looks more appealing than continuing forward.

But we don’t remove ourselves. We stay in the current. In the pain. In the overwhelming hydroelectricity.

Because, despite the pain, it’s still worth it.

Because this is breathing, dangit, and we feel alive.

We feel alive.