I sometimes have trouble saying no. Especially to myself.
I make a lot of promises … mostly to myself. But being the way that I am, these promises usually — quickly — turn into commitments, which turn into goals, which become projects I will do anything and everything not to abandon no matter the cost.
I should have known that when I committed to writing 1 million words last year, there wasn’t going to be a “maybe next year.” Once I was in, I was in. Even when I fell thousands of words behind. Even when I began to hate everything I was writing.
Even when all I wanted to do was quit and forget it ever happened.
Don’t get me wrong — I am so happy that I met my goal, and the positive things I took away from the experience are going to make a lot of great material for this blog later this year … and maybe something more.
I almost didn’t make it, though. And the effort I put into making sure I didn’t “fail” has had the exact consequence I hoped so desperately to avoid.
In order to meet my goal, I took a week off from my day job at the tail end of December and spent pretty much the entire “vacation” writing. I did not rest, and honestly — aside from some projects I really, really loved working on during that time — I did not enjoy it.
So when January hit, I “sort of” took a break from writing. For a week, maybe. But I also jumped straight back into my day job, which I found myself more motivated to work harder at than I had almost the entire previous year. Then I started writing again, because BLOG POSTS!
And then it was the middle of February … and I started to not feel good. Like, at all.
Mentally and emotionally, I still felt amazing. I was and still am fairly healthy in that department now that I’ve shaken off some of the not-so-fun things that went down in my personal life last year. But physically, I felt ill. I’d started half marathon training weeks before, and though I could do the distance, it wiped me out every time I trained. I started going to bed almost two hours earlier than normal and I’d still wake up exhausted.
Waking up too longer … and more caffeine (bad idea, I know). I felt like I was dragging myself through my work. Writing blog posts became the most difficult part of my day, and I hated that. But I just couldn’t get it together. I was happy (still am). But I had no energy.
Eventually it caught up to my headspace too. I lost all motivation to push myself. Getting through the minimum amount of work was barely manageable. But I just kept doing it.
I’m still doing it.
This is what burnout looks and feels like. It’s not a joke, it’s not some complaint we’ve made up to have an excuse to not do our work. It is real, it is painful, and it lasts a long awful time.
I am exhausted.
But this is not the kind of exhausted that goes away after a good night’s sleep or a day composed only of sitting on the couch watching cooking videos for fun. No. This is the kind of exhaustion that appears, settles in, and sticks around. Not just for a week or two, but instead for months.
I am okay. I am giving myself breaks. I am saying yes to fewer things. I am taking my time. I am moving forward.
The problem is that I’m having a hard time shaking off the negative feelings I’ve developed toward this challenge — even toward the knowledge that I actually did something really cool. I almost resent it. Yeah, I wrote a bunch of words. But what was the point?
There was, of course, a point. I learned and grew so much as a writer and creator, and I want so much to be able to share all those things with all of you. That’s why I did what I did — so that I could go off and do this very difficult thing and come back to you with lessons and tips and truths, all to help you grow like I did.
But I can’t. Not yet. Because it still feels like I worked 80-hour weeks for almost a year straight … pretty much because I did. Or the equivalent in energy expenditure, anyway.
I can’t turn all this around and use it as a teaching method when looking back on all my struggles still makes me wish I hadn’t done it. Because while I want to keep it real and be honest and admit how challenging it really was, I also don’t want to paint such a negative picture that I’m discouraging or scaring off anyone who might be curious.
I want to look back on all this with the best outlook I can while also being realistic. Right now, I still don’t even want to think about the fact that I put myself through a LOT to accomplish what I did, and didn’t give myself the time I needed to recover from it.
Even though I can’t do that yet, I hope to soon. I really do. Because I have so much to tell you.
Thanks for sticking with me through all this, as always. Write on, my fellow writers.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.