Posts Tagged exhaustion

Work and Self

I’ve written of this before to some degree, but it’s been relevant again to me lately, so I’m hoping that these words help to tease the thoughts out a little.

I’ve never been good at resting. I’m a terrible patient when ill, as well – I always want to be doing something. Knitting is a wonderful option, as it involves doing while (potentially) watching television or chatting to someone else. Reading has always been my drug of choice, and I’m never far from a book (or several).

But in terms of actually resting my mind, stopping the busy-ness of thoughts running through my head… that’s been harder, lately.

Some of it could be considered self-induced pressure. The difficulties and delays around Book 2, work and home life with their inevitable ups and downs… generally, life is good. I have been taking days out ‘for me’. But if anything, those times are worse – the feeling of ‘you should be doing‘ takes over, making my thoughts frenetic, desperate, seeking occupation: “You’re being lazy, you don’t have time to stop…” This, of course, makes things still worse, as then it’s impossible to focus. Not a pleasant experience.

Burning out from sheer doing is seen as a modern affliction. There are news stories about it all the time, plus an entire industry of self-help books telling people how to slow down. But, like anything of such importance (and intangibility), true rest isn’t something that you can buy.

From a Druid perspective, this lack of focus means lack of connection. You’re too frazzled to really engage with anything, which means that nothing gets done well. Your To-Do list might slowly be ticked off, but are the results really of value, or just ‘good enough?’ Has your doing really been the best that you can do? Is the Universe telling you something, but you just can’t hear over the noise of your own activity?

We all feel driven in some way, I think. We have families to care for, jobs to do, responsibilities and cares. None of these are bad, not at all. It’s when we lose ourselves in the morass of obligation and ‘To Do’ that things become difficult.

I was told years ago about the importance of separating Work time from Home time. This was when I worked essentially from 7.30am until 7.30pm (at least), with gym before and other commitments after. Home time was a bit of reading or television before bed.

Then I found tricks to help me change from one ‘mode’ to another. Shedding work clothes for my comfortable jeans. Stepping out into the garden, or getting my hands stuck into bread dough. Yes, I had time. See? My time.

Recently, working from home has made that difficult. I can’t really change clothes, but I’ve made space that is specifically ‘work’, which encourages that attitude and allows me to focus on writing, for example. But there’s no way I can hold a routine, a 9-5, because of my partner’s shift work, and the simple demands of what I do.

The error here, however, is something that I have to keep reminding myself of. You can’t really separate your time in this way. One hour may be for ‘work’, one for ‘family’… but you’re still you. The goal may be different, but you’re still using up your own energy, modifying your own perspective as needed but with the same subconscious thoughts going on. You’re still you.

As I said above, the difficulty is not losing your Self in whatever it is you’re doing. While putting your own needs aside for those you really care about is one thing, losing your life to lesser demands just makes you feel even worse.

I used to submit my annual holiday request form in January (for Druid Camp in July). Two weeks before Camp, my boss in London – a kind and generous man, but incredibly driven – would ask if there was any way I could put the holiday off, to stay in the office, because he needed me. I always said ‘No’ and tried to laugh it off – but it made me both sad, that he was asking, and guilty, because I said no. One year, I was actually on the field at Camp when a friend’s phone rang – it was her boss, asking for her help with something which he couldn’t do himself. That is life subsumed by work in the worst of ways.

When work is seen as more important than life – than your own well-being (expectations of coming in while sick), than that of others (sharing that sickness), or simply for the bottom-line – you are contributing to a system that is itself very sick. Sometimes saying ‘no’ it itself a revolutionary act. I remember my supervisor’s face when I told her that no, I couldn’t come in on that May Bank Holiday, because I was performing a wedding at Stonehenge. If I didn’t go, it didn’t happen. She gaped like a fish – there was simply no way to argue that office needs were more important. I was more than just another worker; I’d just marked myself out as an individual.

But I didn’t start by talking about ‘work’ (ie a salaried job), did I? That’s because doing – as in, doing something of value – is virtually synonymous with work. ‘Real’ work. Which, it was suggested recently, is not what I do. Is it?

Let’s leave aside the issue of remuneration. Let’s suggest that tasks undertaken, no matter what they are, have value concurrent to the effort put in. So, if you rush something and do a half-arsed job, the result won’t be as valuable/good as if you had given your all. The result may actually be indistinguishable, but you, in your heart, will know the difference.

I don’t want to be doing that anymore. I want my doing to be worth something – to others, maybe, but certainly to me. If I can’t do something properly, that’s the time to take a break. I need to resume the habit of realizing that focusing on my pleasurable activities is just as valuable as those big events on weekends.

Returning to focused daily practice. To times when the ever-present internet connection is put aside. To simply following the words on a page, or the clicking of needs, or kneading of dough. What do I have to show for those actions? Bread, a shawl, and inspiration. Food, warmth and ideas.

What am I doing, indeed.

I may have obligations and responsibilities. I will fulfil them, honourably rather than half-heartedly. I try my best. Those who truly know me will understand that. Those who criticise without thought or truly seeing, those who attempt to take advantage… well, yes, it hurts, but consider that lesson learned. Give and take has to be on both sides, and if I’m treated badly for my efforts, that will inevitably colour our relationship in future.

Part of this is fearlessness. Not feeling terrified of messing up, of getting something wrong, of missing deadline, of an anticipated look of disappointment (real or imagined). Part of it is rising to a challenge – to remember that what you are doing in life is for you as much as anyone else. Not selfishness, just personal truth.

At the end of the day (not metaphorical – actual bedtime), can you look back and be happy with what you did? Likely good things and bad, but that’s life. Can you sleep well with that? Because there’ll be more tomorrow.

Are we ready for whatever we’re doing next?

We step forward. A constant challenge.

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