Establishing Freedom and Flow in a Time of Restriction
This is a blog post about burnout. Last Friday morning I woke up with atrial fibrillation and tachycardia. I saw my Fitbit register a heart rate of 227 while I was lying down and thought to myself, "Don't look again." I'm not usually one to put my head in the sand, but when it comes to all things medical, I'm pretty averse. My mother was an RN and thought the best thing ever was assisting in the OR with eye surgery. I did not inherit those genes.
So, to be clear, I have had episodes of this nature beginning at age 19, and they are usually triggered by dehydration, lack of sleep, stress, overwork, and the like. They happen every few years and after a friendly and highly controlled encounter with an electrical current through the heart at the ER, I'm good to go again. In fact, the time before this, under the sedation required for this procedure, I expounded at length about rug hooking. I remember nothing but I'm told the ER doc learned a lot.
I'm ok now, or, I should say, I am better than I was on Friday.
Fridays are the days Heather and I usually get together to work. She gets orders made and shipped mostly on Fridays. Being as I was incapacitated last Friday, we skipped it, but I had an order waiting in the Etsy shop that needed to go out, so I tackled that today. It was for a 24" x 36" version of our Maine Mountains Abstract pattern, this customer having specified monks cloth as the foundation.
This pattern was originally created for, and ended up on the cover of, Making Magazine's Lines issue in 2017. At the time I don't think I fully appreciated the pattern, but as I sat at the drafting table transferring it today, it struck me differently. I was taken with the freedom and flow of the design, and remembered the ease involved in hooking it. There was something meditative about just drawing those swoops across the pattern. These feelings of freedom, flow, ease, and meditation have been glaringly missing from my life in any abundant quantity for quite some time. In fact, I would say I mostly experience the opposite. So, in a sense, drawing this pattern today reminded me of how far off track I am in this way.
I was conveying this sense of burnout to a friend this morning via FB Messenger. She affirmed that she was experiencing something similar. I think it is particularly easy to go in to full overload during this time of pandemic, social unrest, and ineptitude or worse in government. Those things set a baseline tension upon which are heaped the usual, and in these times, unusual, challenges in our lives.
As a result, I have been taking it a little easier this week. For me, "taking it a little easier" means not working from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and not eating meals over the kitchen sink or at my computer. Today it meant spending approximately an hour going to the new bakery in town for a cookie and to put in a special cake order and then going to our small, independent bookstore to pick up some books ordered previously. That last thing will lead to my fitting in more reading time instead of scrolling through my various news feeds seeing one hundred different analyses on the latest outrageous Tweet. I still care that the Tweet is outrageous; I just don't have to read about it for an hour. I also took the time today to listen to another artist speak online about her inspiration and process, which is helpful to anyone who wants to spend more time inspired and creating. This is not what my normal day looks like, but it should be.
I think it's possible to feel especially restricted right now and yet to feel that we have to push even harder to stave off all the damage wreaked by this pandemic. We can't go where we want to go or do what we want to do. If we have businesses we are, at the very best, learning new ways of being in them and at worst, dealing with impossible cash flow scenarios. We can't see people we love or travel across borders that heretofore had been taken for granted. Many people have lost livelihoods. Our best laid plans are postponed or cancelled. This is not a time to put additional restrictions on ourselves by voluntarily taking on more than we can mentally, physically, and emotionally handle, on top of what we have no choice but to handle in these times.
Friday morning my body told me just that.
For the rest of the summer I'm going to be looking for more freedom, flow, and ease in my life and who knows, maybe by the end of the summer I'll have made new habits and not ever go back to the overwhelming reality that I've been living for a while. This does not mean that your orders won't go out or the writing won't get done or the new online classes won't be designed and delivered. It also doesn't mean I won't be volunteering for our historical society or with some social justice initiatives I'm interested in. It just means that all of those things will have to happen in a more sustainable way for me.
This comes with risk, because I'm not at all sure whether or not there will be a negative cash flow impact as a result of this effort and being paid sufficiently for my work is not optional. Failing in my volunteer work is also not optional. On the other hand, my husband, who has been managing a team of his own for decades, believes productivity goes up when people have time and space for their lives outside of work. I'm about to find out.
This lesson of not living in a personally unsustainable way is not learned once and then finished. It's just not, at least for me. I've been in this same space before, backed off, and later gone right back to the overwhelm, but each time I get a little bit better at seeing it and responding. As an example, two years ago my phone would have been by my side as I wrote this. It's now in another room entirely with the ringer off. One step at a time.
I'm going to guess that many of you can relate to much of this post. If you can, feel free to share your experiences with burnout and overwhelm and what you have done to alleviate it. How many attempts have you made toward more freedom, flow, and ease in your life and how is your progress going?
I am reminded of a quote by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor and author of the classic, Man's Search for Meaning. Having endured horrors that most of us can not even imagine and that make any challenge I've ever had seem mundane, he said:
'"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way."
So often we choose poorly. It's up to us to choose wisely, for ourselves and for everyone around us.
- Elizabeth Miller