Re-inventing yourself

3 Jun

recycling (Photo credit: Giuseppe Moscato)

It seems that the only way out of a burnout is to go through.

There is no going around, over, or under. Not if you want out.

Once you are in, you have to go through.

For me, it felt pretty shitty. I had no energy, and spent all of my not-working-time simply in recovery. However, once I started looking around, and experiencing where I was, there was much to learn.

Don’t expect what you find on the other side, after you are “out,” to be your ultimate solution. It is the solution for NOW.
My insight came when I realized that I might be able to function as a “tour guide” for people experiencing burnout. I was able to re-kindle my love of writing and website-making to create this blog, and I was off and running. I started feeling much better, remarkably quickly. I had re-invented myself as an expert on burnout, professional, emotional, and physical.

I learned something else in the process of that re-invention, as I started living as my reinvented self. Reading about burnout all day, and then writing about it, is kind of depressing! It was as if I was spending loads of time knee-deep in territory that I desperately wanted to escape.  I am thankful for the Feldenkrais Method, and the way of thinking and exploring that have become foundational in my life and problem-solving style. Here is what I gleaned:

  • nothing is permanent. Nothing. What you observe and experience now, is simply what you observe and experience NOW. Keep observing and experiencing. Whatever it is, will change.
  • make small, comfortable changes. Observe and experience whether those changes make a difference. If you notice a difference, it means that something has changed. (See number 1.)
  • keep making small, comfortable changes. Keep observing and experiencing. Experiment with doing more of the changes that produced positive results (whatever that is for you), and doing less of the changes that produced negative results. You will quickly get the hang of it.

My subsequent reinvention resulted in another website, Through it, I hope to take my “tour guide” tendencies into the areas of my specialization: movement, insomnia, and healthy eating. I feel jazzed and energized by it. Business is booming, and I feel positive and clear for the first time in a long time. Reinvention is always a work in progress. (See number 1.)

This Method works in a variety of settings. It works in movement difficulties, pain, stress, and insomnia. It works for examining lifestyle changes, like what time you go to bed a night, what food you put into your mouth, what you spend your time thinking about. Each new experiment is a new invention. Combining those good inventions in a way that feels right, now, is the beginning of reinventing yourself, healthier and wiser.

Precursors to Burnout

19 May

One of the characteristics of burn-out, when you’re in the middle of it, is a sense of overwhelm. You’ve lost your mojo, your ability to concentrate, perhaps even your ability to remember a time when you were capable, competent, confident. Just know that those things are still there. You just can’t get to them. SO — they are not “lost,” they are simply “misplaced.” That can be a distinction that makes the difference between continuing the downward slide, and beginning a hopeful upswing. You are still you. You have an opportunity to make some changes so that the best possible “You” can emerge.

Notice that I didn’t say, “The Old You.” The Old You is just the You that you knew. Perhaps there’s an even better You that is preparing to come forth. Didn’t think of that, did you?

A number of things led up to your burnout. It doesn’t matter whether you know, or understand, all of the factors. Just know that this didn’t come “out of the blue.” Conditions were favorable for burnout, you just didn’t notice. Here’s what you must do: start creating new conditions — conditions that are favorable for you to feel well, energized, and thriving. Conditions where You 2.0 is happy.

How to do this? I like the 15-minute technique. When you are feeling tired or overwhelmed, set a timer for 15 minutes, and do something different from what you were just doing. Go for a walk. Watch some cat videos. Clean off your bathroom counter and sink, or your kitchen counter. Fold and put away your laundry. ANYTHING. Take a picture at the end of 15 minutes so that you can look back and appreciate that you did something that was only for yourself.

After you are in practice with these little 15-minute bursts, begin to use this time for something creative. Write in a journal. Draw a picture. Take some photos or video. Work a little bit on a craft project. You will gradually have a “body of work” built up that begins to feed and restore your soul. As you do these things, you will have energy and clarity to make other changes. You could eat a piece of fruit, instead of a cookie. You could find a 5-minute exercise video on YouTube and move a little bit. Inch by inch, these new patterns will have a positive effect.

April Check-In

27 Apr

Hello, again!
I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from this blog to allow some “float time.”
Vision and clarity can return when I am not pushing so hard to achieve something.
When I was burnt out, I hardly noticed it until I was at the point of complete exhaustion.
I come from a long line of stoics, and we just put one foot in front of the other until whatever-it-is that needs to be done is done.
Sounds pretty joyless, doesn’t it?

One thing I have learned from the Feldenkrais Method is to simply ask the question: “What ELSE could you do?” Exploring variations of actions, verbal expressions, emotional tones, the stories I tell myself, all help to reshape and reframe current circumstances into something that feels more manageable.

I have been lying on the floor a lot to do Awareness Through Movement. The lessons are a way to reconnect with my sensations, put emotions and to-do lists and deadlines aside, and just enjoy moving and discovering whatever there is to discover that day.

The biggest missing piece, you may recall, was that I had abandoned all my creative work, especially my writing. The wonderful site has helped me to re-start and re-habituate myself to writing every day, even if I haven’t been sharing much of it on my blogs. All in due time!

I have also been continuing on my quest to become healthy, so I am actually (GASP!) exercising.

It’s true.

My apartment complex has a pretty good workout room. Most mornings, I go over there before breakfast and spend 30 minutes on the treadmill. Some days I do a little work with light weights, and some days I do do-it-yourself Pilates exercises via YouTube.

A new and welcome addition to the schedule is a weekly vegetable delivery from a local service that brings the farmer’s market to my door. This weekend is going to be a total pig-out to finish up some snow peas, kale, and fabulous salad greens in preparation for Monday’s delivery. I have persisted with my almost-vegan lifestyle, and one result is a weight loss of 55 pounds to date. I have gone from a size 16 to a size 6 or 8. My BMI was 30.9, and is now 22.6. My waist measurement was 44, now it is 33. Some new clothes from the thrift shop, new professional head shots, and some fun new shoes — pink high heels — have provided surprising new energy as well.

Even though a busy time is coming up, as our training program reconvenes, I feel healthy, confident, and excited about new possibilities.

The Burnout provided a chance for me to stop, step back, and reinvent. Reinvent what? Pretty much every aspect of my life, from the way I spend my time and with whom; the food I eat, the thoughts I think, the quality I want to have in all my relationships. I have a different guidance and calibration system now, so that when I start to feel overwhelmed, I can take stock and take steps. Or lie down.

How’s it going for you?

Resilience and Recovery

19 Feb
English: Maria Moline, instructor, coaches her...

Typical ZUMBA Class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something odd (for me) happened a couple of weeks ago.

I injured myself, doing something that, in hindsight, was dumb, results predictable, and entirely avoidable.


Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been attending a ZUMBA class to get myself back into exercising. As I have felt better and continued to lose weight, I’ve also been taking advantage of the well-equipped workout room at my apartment complex. As someone who really hates almost everything about exercise, this is a big step. I don’t really hate exercise. I love movement: dancing, gardening, walking, playing. I dislike the whole mechanized, impersonal, automated, testosterone-driven exercise scene. The rituals and costumes just don’t do it for me. However, I am convinced of the importance of vigorous exercise every day, and have been getting my head around figuring out how to do that.

So a couple of weeks ago, I came home from my Monday night ZUMBA class. I felt really fantastic. My execution of the dance moves was self-scored (I can’t help it!) at about 85%, and I also felt like I had pushed myself, but not too far. I was so energized that I really didn’t feel like eating much for dinner after the workout.

The very next morning, I felt so great that I practically skipped over to the workout room. I got on the elliptical machine for a few minutes. This is a machine that I recognize holds great promise for me, and I have to work on my coordination and stamina to master it. After less than five minutes, though, I felt fatigued.

This was the moment when I should have stopped. However, I switched over to a recumbent bike and pedaled for about 15 minutes. Usually I can do 30 with no problem, so stopping after 15 was the dawning of my awareness that I should maybe take it easy.

I went about the rest of a typical Tuesday, seeing clients and teaching two Awareness Through Movement classes. However, that evening, I was so stiff that I could hardly walk. My right hip felt inflamed, and things did not feel like they were “lining up” in my hip joint. I came home, took some ipuprofen, and went to bed.

No position was comfortable. Wow, I thought, I have really done it. I couldn’t roll over in bed without causing a shooting and terrible pain that made me yelp. So, something about the twisting. . .

Here’s where the resilience came in, and the beginning of recovery. The executive summary is, I was better the next day, have not re-injured myself, took some time off from structured exercise, and have returned to my ZUMBA class. Happy ending. The resilience piece is that I started thinking using the Feldenkrais Method.

  • In the present moment, what movements seem to cause pain?
  • Is there a way to do those movements in a less painful way? (Changing speed, force, size, trajectory of movement)
  • What parts of myself am I not including in the movement?
  • Is there an easier way to do what I intend?

I slept fitfully that night, but each time I awakened, I moved in mindful ways to make myself more comfortable. I found an easy way to roll over that did not tweak and twist my back. I experimented with other silly variations of the movement, exploring for comfort. By the next morning, I got out of bed, stood for a few moments, and took a few tentative steps. No pain!

In hindsight, I realize that I should not have done lower body work so soon after my ZUMBA class. If anything, I should have done upper body work. I returned to class last night, and my continuing experiment is to rest today. I have clients and two Feldenkrais classes, so my “exercise” will be some gentle Feldenkrais and perhaps a bit of a walk. Tomorrow I will return to the workout room, and see if I can do five minutes on the elliptical machine.

After a setback, we can’t always just “get back on the horse” immediately. I had to be willing to take small actions, slow down, stop, think, explore strategies, and allow things to re-integrate. To rush the process is unwise. Of course, I can apply this process and this new learning to other aspects of my life — namely, my overall recovery from burnout — to redefine setbacks as opportunities for learning.  The resilience and new wisdom come from this process of ebb and flow, light and dark.

The Resistance Report

24 Jan

Hello, Faithful Reader!

The recovery continues. As you may know from previous posts, I made a radical change in my lifestyle a few months ago, and am no longer eating the Standard American Diet. After following Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live program for five months, today I am just a whisper away from having lost a total of 40 pounds so far. I have a big goal: 30 more pounds, for a total weight loss of 70 pounds, target date May 1. I will make it at 2 pounds each week. This is a very exciting project for me, and I feel healthier each day.

Perhaps this improvement in my overall health throws other things into more stark contrast. I have a lot of leftover inertia from the dark days in November, when I was weepy, irritable, and could hardly move. Perhaps I need to adjust my expectations. I am judging myself for appearing over-dramatic, while I also realize that I am minimizing something that was potentially quite serious. I have added the practice of writing down my accomplishments for each day, even if I just write, “Took a shower. Bought groceries. Saw three clients. Taught class.” When I acknowledge my accomplishments, I have proof that I am improving, taking constructive actions each day. This is an important element in recovery from a burnout, I think.

The good news is, I have been writing every day. That part of my creativity practice is going well. However, I pressure myself ibecause I have not published anything on either of my blogs in several of weeks. In other words: still not the productivity that I would like to see for myself.

There are a lot of “should do’s” in my to-do plans. They are tasks and projects that are important, but not urgent. One factor contributing to my burnout was that everything that needed to be done seemed to be on urgent status. It is impossible to prioritize tasks when they are all the same level of importance. My to-do list gets longer and longer.  I realized that the feelings of overwhelm, or just plain whelm, are still very close to the surface. With the surge of energy that arrived in late November and December, I generated a lot of ideas for new projects, and also for implementing some systems to help my work flow more smoothly and to keep my new priorities straight. However, there are so many ideas, and so much that actually needs to be done, that the to-do list is daunting. I have felt some of the old paralysis, resistance to getting on with it.

I am able to access a memory from somewhere that “there are no ‘shoulds’.” Maybe yes, maybe no. However, I know that there is a lot of baggage and resistance that comes up with “I should. . .” or “I need to. . .” I will shift my vocabulary to say, “I want to. . .” “I get to. . .” and “I have an opportunity to. . .” Instantly, the energy shifts. I feel freedom and aliveness to choose those actions that best take me where I want to go. I am learning how to just let go of the rest.

Realistically, I actually am accomplishing something small every day. Small is good. Baby steps. I must sit with my own impatience, which is probably a big factor that got me here (burned out) in the first place. So yesterday, I started thinking about how else I could work with this resistance instead of against it. This is a martial arts concept, and also an interesting element within the Feldenkrais Method.

Here is my solution, and it is very practical and low-tech. I hope it helps you, too, or perhaps inspires you to come up with something else that works for you. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present: the humble index card.

Index cards for tasksMy stack of index cards is a no-list list. A list that doesn’t look like a list. On each card is written a project, task, or deadline. I have put long-range deadlines on my calendar already, so these cards are for work that must be done this week. In the morning, I simply pick a card and work on it. I can make notes on the card about supplies, contacts, or other resources needed, and if there are additional tasks associated with the main project, I can make another card. When I complete the task on the card, I remove it from the stack. That way, I can see one stack getting smaller, and one stack getting larger. The completed tasks can go into an envelope, and I can see at the end of the week that I really have accomplished something! I really need this tangible and visible sensory experience to keep the feelings of overwhelm at bay.

See that top card on the stack? It now goes in the “DONE” pile! Woo hoo! I think I am gonna make it.

How to Listen to Your Body

23 Dec

Notice (Photo credit: Squirmelia)

In my online research about burnout, I have run into several articles that counsel “Listen to your body.”

Lucky for me, I know what that means. However, I remember what it was like before I learned HOW to listen to my body. It was supremely annoying to repeatedly hear, “Just listen to your body,” from yet another 95-pound darling yoga chick. Undoubtedly, HER body was saying, “OMG! I am so hot!” while MINE was saying ” . . . . . . .”

Indeed, everyone says it is a good thing, listening to your body, but few offer any meaningful instructions about how to do it. Our culture values the life of the mind more than the care of the body (except for attaining or maintaining sexual attractiveness), so people frequently just get lost in their own ideas about their body. This is not listening. It is the equivalent of lecturing the body in how it should be.  Listening to your body will give you information about what actually IS. It is a lovely reality check for those of us who need that.

So, here I offer one way to decipher all the new age body-speak.  It is not the only way, it is just one way that can work, and work well. Full disclosure: learning how to listen to your body is not a 10-minute project. It takes time, like spending time with a special friend, or with a loved one. The rewards are worth it.

For starters, I learned that, as human beings, we are always moving, thinking, feeling (having an emotional response) and sensing. These four “operations” are always going on simultaneously, as long as we are alive.  While thoughts can be viewed as the language of the mind, the language of the body is sensation.

Take a moment and lie down on the floor. If it is comfortable for you to do so, lie with your legs lengthened out and separated, and with your arms down at your sides. Stay here for just a moment. Your sensations will tell you very soon whether or not this is comfortable.  And, you will almost innately know how to change your position so that you are more comfortable. Perhaps you will bend your knees so that the soles of your feet contact the floor. Perhaps you will leave your legs long, but will cross them at the ankles. Perhaps you will put your hands behind your head. You just listened to your body!  Being able to discern what is comfortable or pleasurable, and what is not, is important.  Equally important is the experience of finding comfort for yourself in this moment. Not only did you listen to your body’s sensations, you responded with intelligent action. This kind of information can eventually keep you out of all kinds of trouble.

Now, begin to simply sense all of the places where you can feel yourself contacting the floor. Through sensing, you can begin to form a mental picture of yourself — your body — as you lie on the floor. You will notice that the places of contact have different shapes, and you can sense differing degrees of pressure, or the firmness of your contact with the floor. Where do you contact the floor most clearly? Most firmly?  Your mental image may begin to take on the characteristics of a pressure gradient map, or a topographical map that shows variations in elevation. It doesn’t matter how you sense it — simply that you begin TO sense it.  You will feel places where your contact with the floor is lighter, and lighter still. And, you will notice some places where you are not in contact with the floor at all. Behind your knees? Behind the back of your neck? Behind your low back? Where else?

All of this is simply information. When you take the time to notice these sensations, you are listening to your body. For some, this begins as a deep and fascinating conversation.  For others, it amounts to nothing more than small talk. However, you can begin to translate some of the mysterious words you have heard all your life, and have them make sense. You can think of “grounding” or “groundedness” as this sensation of contact with the floor. You can take a few minutes each day to simply stop and notice these sensations as you lie on the floor, or sit in a chair, or walk.

You will begin to be able to further interpret these sensations beyond simple pleasure and pain. You will begin to feel gradations in the amount of effort or strain that you feel when you are moving, in action. Through this kind of listening — I would rather call it awareness — you can begin to calibrate these sensations so that you are responding and adapting to these sensations for your own benefit.

Just as you would stop to remove a small pebble lodged in your shoe, you can begin to take better care of yourself. As one experiencing burnout, you may come to realize that you have ignored these sensations for a long time. Many of us have become adept as over-riding thoughts, feelings, and sensations, in service of something else. This course of action, I believe, will inevitably lead to a burnout.

I learned to listen in this way through my practice of the Feldenkrais Method.  In my interpretation, there is nothing “woo woo” about any of this. It is simply paying attention to what you sense, right now. Soon you will also be more aware of your thoughts and emotions, as well as your actions. One recent personal realization is that I have been practicing the Method in order to teach others, but have not been taking full advantage of it for my own personal growth. I am counting on daily Feldenkrais practice to reconnect me to my self, as I recover from burnout.

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‘Tis the season to be burned out

17 Dec
A Christmas tree inside a home.

A Christmas tree inside a home. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some reason, it has been a tough week to stick with my burnout recovery program. It’s interesting that I say that, because I can point to a couple of real successes. I have stuck to my eating plan and now weigh less than I have weighed at any time since December of 1999. So my nutrition and overall health is good. I have also written at least 750 words every day except one since the beginning of December.  Writing is my touchstone to creativity, and this is a milestone. Having stopped writing completely for about nine months, and having just resumed in November, I am pleased with my return to visits with my muse. I feel like I am writing my way back to health.

But burnout doesn’t go away all at once.  Things are vastly better than they were a month ago, and for that I am grateful.  However, the personal”fuel supply” is slow to come back. An interpersonal challenge regarding a professional matter has sapped my energy and attention since Thanksgiving, and the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut is one of nationally historic proportions. I felt my energy drain away as I turned my thoughts and actions to each of these issues. Simply dealing with daily matters is still an effort. However, I feel some strength returning on the professional front, and I feel the pain of compassion for all of the victims of the tragedy. I will continue to reflect as all of this flows through.

Even without a national tragedy, the holiday season is difficult for many people. I am going to follow good advice and conserve my personal energies as much as possible.  We are doing simpler holiday gifts this year, opting instead for stocking-stuffer fare and a dinner together as a family. I am sticking to my eating plan and will go to my regular exercise classes. I will get on the floor each day and enjoy some Feldenkrais for my own benefit. For now, my own self-care is the key to being able to care for others.

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Anatomy of a Burnout, Part 2

3 Dec
I've Been Known To Burn The Candle At Both End...

I’ve Been Known To Burn The Candle At Both Ends – 21/365 Fire (Photo credit: Jer Kunz)

In the last post, I described the convergence of events that contributed to my burnout. Today, I realized the reason it all seemed so overwhelming.

The problem was that, in my mind, normal tasks that would have been easy, all seemed to jumble together into one, big, THING. Somehow, I eventually was able to take a step back and just take things one day at a time.

On Thanksgiving Day, I hosted a small family dinner. Our upstairs neighbor brought the turkey, I prepared all the sides. During our dinner, the expected arrival of a guest Feldenkrais trainer from Germany occurred as planned.

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I spent time with our guest, cleaned up from the holiday, and began to take our equipment from the storage unit to our training venue. Since it was likely that I would miss a day or two of the training because of the trial, I started to delegate some tasks so that everything could proceed smoothly.

The trial began on Monday morning, and ended on Wednesday afternoon. Each day, I kept in touch with my assistants at the training. They were fine. I was back at work at the training on Thursday.

When I write it all out like that, it seems simple. Standing “on the edge,” it felt like everything needed to happen simultaneously.

So here’s my first big tip for dealing with burnout. My schedule became manageable when I broke things down into small pieces, understood a logical sequence, and then just did one thing at a time, in order. I managed to eat well and get enough sleep each night. That self-care, along with staying in the present moment, somehow de-fused my anxiety.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts to keep a sane schedule, things just get crazy. I can plan, but I have to be flexible to allow for the unexpected. Exciting opportunities may come my way, or situations beyond my control may come my way. This time, my resilience only appeared as I reflected in retrospect. Next time, I will just do one thing at a time, until everything is done. And that oxygen mask? I’m keeping it close-by.

What helps you to get through hectic times? Share your experiences here.

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Anatomy of a Burnout, Part 1

1 Dec
Shift from personal learning to co-creative #TP382

Shift from personal learning to co-creative #TP382 (Photo credit: ConnectIrmeli)

What is burnout? I must be a totally modern person, because the first place I went to clarify my terms was — Google, of course.

Burnout (n.):  1. The reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion. 2. Physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.

Both definitions seemed to apply to me: the first, on a metaphorical level; the second described the phenomenon I was experiencing. Others perceive me as an energetic, creative, and positive person. I no longer perceived myself that way. I felt like I was “out of gas.” I was not simply moody. I felt exhausted, cosmically tired, yet wound up. I sensed a strange, low-level, idling pre-panic state of agitation. Given the choices, Fight? Flight? I was done fighting. I wanted to flee, escape, get-me-outta-here!

What was I overusing? What were the origins of the combustion? It is ironic that I found myself in this position. As a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method, I ask my clients exactly these questions. My business is to teach people how to find sustainable ways of using their own bodies, their own thoughts, sensations, feelings, and actions. I was not being a good model for the work I believe in so strongly. I had overused myself.  I saw a long “to do” list that stretched over the coming months, and, for the first time, wondered how the hell I was going to make it to the other side. I felt overwhelmed, unimaginative, resource-less rather than resource-full. Not a happy place.

Three major factors contributed to my most recent experience of burnout. (Yes, I’ve been here before.) I’ll share a happy ending with you now, even though it’s a spoiler — I am doing much better now. But here is what was going on.

1. My partner’s best friend of nearly thirty years was in the end stages of a terminal illness. He was in the role of primary caregiver for over two years, and he needed my emotional support. This person was also my friend, and during his last four months I too was involved in his care, and hospice visits, up until days before his death.

2. I was being sued for my part in an auto accident that happened in February of 2010. The plaintiffs in the suit had not accepted repeated offers of settlement from my insurance company. Despite the fact that 95% of these claims are settled and never go to trial, my case did. From the initial notification that I was being sued, through about eighteen months, it was a constant, nagging, and worrisome distraction. Ultimately, the case went to a jury trial. While I was found at fault in the accident (the facts were never in dispute), the jury found overwhelmingly in my favor. After the plaintiffs pay their lawyers, they will end up with less money than they would have, had they simply settled. The waste of time and energy, the expense, the bad timing, and the blood-sport that is our adversarial civil justice system, all contributed to my feeling frustrated and helpless.

3. We train Feldenkrais teachers in Houston. We have a fantastic training program, with wonderful students. Part of my work involves all of the local arrangements and logistics for the training. Our group comes in for 40 days each year, for four years. They arrive each year, in May, for a three week stay.  Another three weeks in September are followed by two weeks which fall right after Thanksgiving. It is hectic and wonderful, with many details to attend to. The interpersonal relationships are also foundational. In addition to our regular trainers, we host guest trainers from time to time. Each student is undergoing a profound transformational learning process, which is sometimes difficult. I care deeply for everyone involved in our program. There are about 25 students in our training, which means countless verbal and non-verbal interactions just in the course of one training period, or one day, for that matter! I realized that there was a “weight” that came with caring for that many people, and being on-call, in service to them. I also came to realize that this 40-day training, which should occupy about 15% of my time and attention, had actually gobbled up about 40%.

As a bonus; the trial (#2) was scheduled to occur around the time that our next training segment was to occur. As it turned out, I had to do all of the preparations (scheduling, printing, schlepping things from storage to the venue, liaison with accommodations for our trainers) with the idea in mind that I would not be available and on-site for several days.  This was, indeed, what came to pass. The trial and the training occurred just two weeks after our friend died.

You may think that none of this describes anything particularly arduous. Teachers, clergy, caregivers, elite athletes undergo much more of an intrusive and grueling schedule that I have described. What I have learned is that the feeling of burnout was not just because it was a lot of work (I have worked harder at different times during my life). The stress came from the uncertainty of each situation, and from the meaning or interpretation I attached to each. Examples of uncertainty include: When would our friend transfer to hospice? When might his extended family come to visit? When might he die? When will the trial be? How long will it last? What will be the outcome? Which students will attend this segment? What will they need? Examples of meaning and interpretation include: I will not subject myself to this kind of pain at the end of my life. I need to talk to my children about my end-of-life wishes. My partner is losing his best friend: how will I take care of him through this? Relationships and group process in a company or training program can be a bit bumpy from time to time. What does it all mean?

The more these three events began to converge in time and space, the greater my sense of overwhelm. During a state of overwhelm (or even “whelm,”) one’s possible options, resources, and strategies are not clear. I started this blog to create space for myself to figure out how I got into such a bad way, and to bring myself out. From my research, I realize now that I was experiencing a “triple whammy,” a perfect storm where caregiver, personal, and professional burnout all showed up simultaneously.

The short answer to the question, “What did I do about it?” is this: I had to be able to think clearly about how I was spending my time. What would resolve on its own, whether I did anything or not? What tasks could I delegate or delete to make life easier and free up some time so that I didn’t feel so swamped? Then, upon seeing how I spent my time, I needed to think clearly about creating something better.  How DO I want to spend my time? How do I want to feel day to day, concerning my health, my emotions, my thinking? That led me to the most important questions of all: What makes me feel most alive? What activities make me most happy? How can I create more space for THAT?

Tune in for future episodes in our continuing saga. . .

When have you felt overwhelmed? What helped you? How are you doing now? Please leave a comment.

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A Rhythm of Life

23 Nov
The Whisper of the Muse. Elizabeth Keown, G.F....

The Whisper of the Muse. Elizabeth Keown, G.F. Watts and Kate Keown. Albumen print, 261 x 215mm (10 1/4 x 8 1/2″). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was reading an interesting discussion about creative burnout on the blog ScoutieGirl. Her reflections on her own work schedule and how to be as creative as she could be got me thinking. Here are a few of my random musings.

1. Creativity comes in lots of different “flavors.” When I first read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron (about 10 years ago), I let go of some of my own prejudices and misconceptions about living a truly creative life.  Some of these ill-founded ideas were based on familiar stereotypes: the starving artist, high-maintenance pain-in-the-ass, incapable of sustaining stable relationships, living a life of excess and dissipation. Who in their right mind would want that for a life? (Oh yeah, let’s not forget another stereotype, the insane genius.) By dismantling some of these stereotypes, The Artist’s Way helped me to embrace, for the first time, the idea that “creatives” can make a good living, have stable loving relationships, and seem outwardly normal in every way. This was very good news to me, a middle-aged woman, launching out on her own as a refugee from academia.

2. If you are waiting for Your Muse, be prepared for him/her to arrive on an erratic schedule.  Some people have the flexibility to work very well like this.  However, if you add a partner, children, clients, or artistic collaborators to the mix, they get pretty impatient with your damn muse. Muses are happy to be trained. If you show up at pretty much the same time every day to do your work, and stick with it, your Muse will learn your schedule and will work with you.

3. You have to know yourself well enough to honor your own rhythms.  Whether you are a morning person or a night owl, it makes sense to work when you are feeling the most awake and alert — the most responsive and fluent in self-expression. Sometimes, you can have more than one rhythm.  After a long absence from writing, I have been writing every day for the past two weeks, usually in the morning. I log in to a site called and have at it. I may write more, or other things, at various times of the day. However, it is that early-morning-while-it-is-still-quiet time when I can best get things going.  I usually keep a pretty sedate schedule, up by 8 a.m., in bed by 11 p.m. and asleep by 11:02. When I am working on a new project, I can be so mentally stimulated that I am writing late into the night. Like tonight.  When inspiration beckons, I like to follow it. I am in the process of finding a way to organize my time so that I can have a blend of structure and spontaneity in my work. I’ll let you know how that goes!

4. I think there is a difference between physical burnout and creative burnout, although they may go hand in hand. My own comeback from burnout actually began when I became aware that a few health issues needed improvement, and ASAP.  I began in earnest to pay attention to getting enough rest (I am talking 8 hours a night, folks) and to improve my nutrition.  As I began to feel better, I somehow showed up again in my own life.  I didn’t even realize that I was burned out, and that was why my creative inspiration had dried up. My personal burnout manifested as overwhelm. Too many irons in the fire, too many tasks, too many requests, too many emails. The only thing that there wasn’t too many of was clients. I simply didn’t have the energy to do the daily and weekly activities necessary to fill the pipeline with new customers. Happily that is now turning around as well.

Each of us is constantly adapting to circumstances and our environment as we find it, moment by moment. When you change anything — your schedule, your nutrition, your projects — you will change too, and your work will change as a result.  This is called “artistic development.”  The great thing is that, apparently,  a growth response to change can keep you learning and creating throughout your lifetime.  That is what I am counting on.

Have you found a rhythm that works for you? How do you balance all the aspects of your life? 

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