Personal Life · Writing

On Rest

I fucked up. That’s due to the belated realization that I didn’t listen to my body when I really needed to rest.

If you read last week’s blog post, you may have noticed the section on writing where I mentioned I struggled and was a bit fried. Historically, November is a bad month for me. It’s a yearly clusterfuck where lots of grading and keeping track of all the things my classes have due intersects with the time change and the days getting shorter, which also intersects with seeing giant NaNoWriMo word counts (this is a morale sapper since I write small-ish daily word counts). I logically know that November is a bad mental month for me as I tend to use up more brainpower between work and Christmas prep and have less spoons in general. And yet, my dumb ass continues to do what it has been doing at a pace it is not capable of without consequences.

I feel like I dragged my tired corpse through November while chanting the refrain of “You did it in October and September, and you can do it again.” Am I more organized and driven than I’ve been in previous years? Yes. Does November still kick my ass despite all that? Apparently so.

Since the end of last year, I’ve been using the HB90 method for goal setting, project planning, etc., and it has been very helpful. The problem is that I blissfully forgot or willfully ignored that November kicks my butt. Somehow, I thought, I have my shit together this year and am doing well. Surely this won’t happen this year.

Sadly, I felt it coming before I was aware of what was happening and still ignored it. I struggled at the end of October to get through my word count goals. I chocked that up to my book launching and not really having my head fully in the game due to launch anxiety, which was a reasonable assessment. The problem was that the feeling persisted into November and only got worse. By the middle of November, I was drained. I had edited a bunch of research papers (longest and most thorough paper my students write, which means it takes the most brain power to give feedback on), I was struggling to read books with any consistency (a major red flag for me), and my writing was only happening in fits and starts. I would fall behind, then pound out a thousand words, then not write again for several days in an endless cycle of misery and disappointment. The biggest, most obvious indication should have been the all-consuming yearning to play Stardew Valley. Yes, my friends, my desire to play that video game usually means my brain is shot and needs serotonin. I can mindless do tasks, play for hours, and feel accomplished as my crops grow and I romance Shane, my favorite hot mess. It’s something I know is basically my check engine light coming on, but I ignored it anyway because I was already behind on my writing and I couldn’t fall more behind playing video games.

Well, guess what, I never caught up. At some point, I hit 8,000 of the 10,000 words and said, we’re good. I admitted defeat after blowing a tire on my car in a near accident. I’m now starting to wonder if the brain drain contributed to that as well, but it was the wake up call I needed to stop for a bit and try to refill my creative well. Since the very end of November, I’ve been reading more, just sort of vegging while watching shows I like, and playing a bit of Stardew Valley before bed. It has helped a lot. I’m starting to feel like I can think straight again, though I know some of that is because the semester is also about to end.

If there’s one thing I need to get better at, it’s listening to my body when it comes to productivity and writing. It gave me so many warning signs that I need to pause for a day or two, but I ignored them to avoid “falling behind” on arbitrary deadlines I set for myself. Now, instead of taking a day or two off to reset, I’ve had to take a full week off. It certainly isn’t the worst outcome, but I’m annoyed at myself for making things needlessly worse. In my bullet journal for 2023, I’m going to make a signs of burnout page to remind myself that sometimes I need to just rest and decompress, that the work will be there tomorrow, and the only one putting pressure on me is me.

If you’re like me and starting to feel the chafe of burnout, please, take a step back, do something that brings you joy, and just exist for a bit. Don’t do or try to force, just rest. Whatever resting looks like to you, take this as the universe’s way of telling you to go rest. You deserve it, you don’t need to earn it, just give the well a chance to refill.

Personal Life

Burn Out and the Grad School Grind

Grad school has begun again. Well, technically it began last week, but today marks my second week of classes. As much as I love my MFA program and the people in it, I hate the stress that comes with going to school. It sets me on edge and raises my anxiety, which means more headaches, stomach problems, and overall fatigue.

Back to school time can be very trying for people with anxiety. New people, new schedules, homework, deadlines, readings. It’s a difficult balancing act without having to add psyching yourself up to deal with people. Usually, I end up listening to music that pumps me up on my way to the university. It helps immensely, especially if you have another playlist that calms you that you can listen to on the way home. That transition time can allow you to decompress and not lash out at relatives when you arrive home. I still do it once in a while when a class has been particularly stressful, but it’s a lot less frequent than when I just went through the motions.

During this time of year, it’s very easy to get lost in the muddle of assignments and readings, but you need to remember to take time out for you. Your body is a reservoir that needs refilling, and if you get too low from stress and work, you will have a meltdown that will take time to recover from. It’s like a car battery. If you run a car for a while, then turn it off, and come back a few hours or a day later, the battery automatically refills itself, but if you leave a car on for three days straight, the battery will die, and it will take multiple jolts from another car to restart it. That’s what happens after a meltdown or if you let it get to low and you burn out.

Take time for you. Finish your assignments, get your readings done, create a schedule, but take time to do the things you enjoy. Don’t get buried in your work, or you will be burnt out by midterms. I know the reaction, I was there as an undergrad, “Take time for me? Are you crazy? Do you see the pile of crap I have to do? When am I supposed to fit that in?”

You can, trust me. When you have a lot of classes and assignments, you would be amazed how much a whiteboard calendar can help in terms of organization. Make lists of what you have to get done for the day or week. As you do them, cross them off, but leave time for you at least a few days a week. Go for a cup of coffee with a friend or take a trip to the mall. Get out of your normal space and do something you love. If you don’t like going out, read something you want to read, watch a few episodes (few- not a whole night’s worth unless you finished your work) of a show you enjoy. Do something that will make you happy and decompress.

It’s much easier to refill a half-full bucket than an empty one. Know your limits, know what you need to accomplish, and know that you matter. You aren’t a machine, despite what others may think.