Like A Thousand Suns Burning.

Published / by violet / 2 Comments on Like A Thousand Suns Burning.

Recently I was interviewing someone for a position on my team. This is a hard thing for me because I don’t actually believe in interviews – I don’t think they’re a great way to figure out who will be good for a particular job (unless the job is being interviewed).

When you ask people questions, they answer them in the way that they think you want. This is not helpful.

I generally default to telling the person everything I think they need to know about the position (the good, the bad, the potential, etc.) and then I demand that they ask questions. The questions they ask, the things that concern (or excite) them, give me a lot more insight into their perspectives and their priorities.

During this interview, one of my coworkers asked the interviewee the question: How do you know when you’re burning out? How do you know when you need a break?

As the interviewee was answering, I was mentally checking things off on a list inside my head. Huh.

I do not think that I am burning out.

I do think that my job is pretty intense at the moment – chock full of controversy and angry people and death (in the literal sense) – and that I need to be careful about taking stock of my life in order to sustain a reasonable level of energy to put towards my job.

My job is really incredibly good for my brain – it hits all of the right buttons to keep me motivated and interested. Some days are super easy and other days are super hard. Some days I do things that scare me and most days I do things well-within my comfort zone. I meet a lot of people. I get to provide education about a big topic. I chat with the media. I get to write, to speak in public, to create empathy and understanding.

The people I manage are phenomenally self-motivated and focused on what they do –  so I get to pop in to help trouble shoot and do some admin and otherwise mostly get to enjoy the entire team.  All of my coworkers are, in various ways, committed and passionate and range from ‘really good’ to ‘fucking amazing’ at their jobs.

The thing is, I also work a lot. Many, many more hours than my contract (ha) and often my default when I have some downtime is to do more work. This is my own fault – there is no one standing over me insisting that I work all the hours, all the days.

Part of the problem is that my job is never-ending – there will never be a time when my work is finished. All of the projects that I work on are ongoing, with varying levels of attention needed on any given day/week/month. If I’m not working on Project A, there are 5 things I can do for Project B, etc.  My email inbox is never, ever empty for more than 5 minutes. There are presentations and workshops booked nearly every week and I can tweak them constantly. There are flyers to create, spreadsheets to update, reports to send to various places. There are meetings for many committees and groups – locally and provincially.

Literally, I could work 24/7 and still have stuff to do.

This means I prioritize urgent things, of course, but it also means that I have to work really hard to stop working.

The challenge I have right now is that my work is doing such a great job of hitting all my good buttons that I am struggling to do things that aren’t work-related. My brain gets a big flood of happy chemicals when I accomplish work things (some more than others, obv) that it’s hard to find the internal motivation to do things that don’t result in that same happy chemical dump.

And since the bulk of my day is being “on” in various ways, it’s hard to hit the switch. When I do manage to shut it down, my brain is just.. empty. I could sit and stare at a wall, in silence, for hours.  I feel myself creeping toward the ‘high’ of work stuff again out of boredom.

This is a weird place to find myself. I have always – ALWAYS – had a ridiculous number of varied hobbies. Some big, some small, some done well, and some done really (really) badly – but things that could occupy my mind and generate some contentedness.  I do not want to be bored with non-work time – that’s ridiculous.

Right now, for example, I know there are a bunch of emails in my work inbox – and I could, should?, flip over to that tab (it’s pretty much never closed) and reply to a few. By not doing it right now, I’m prolonging the inevitable and probably pissing off someone who was hoping for a quick response. One email will turn into 10. It’ll require me opening up my calendar and finding space for more work, inevitably.

But I’m working late tonight – until at least 9, if not a bit later – so true balance would mean that I’m not touching work things until around 1:00 at the earliest.  Instead, I’ve been trying to putter around the house and eat some breakfast and read some articles I’ve saved.

Sounds good, right?

But I googled a work-related thing early this morning.

Then I updated my work facebook page.

I wrote a thing on my own (personal) facebook wall about something work-related.

I checked my work email this morning and checked my phone for texts.

And now that I know some of what’s lingering out there, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

It’s been very easy for me to say that I’ll just “flex my time” which is.. well, at this point it’s a bit hilarious. There are days when I am able to do that, but mostly I can’t – – because even when I say that I’ll “take Tuesday off” I’ll get an email telling me about a meeting that I need to attend… on Tuesday.

I’m not burning out in the sense that I’m losing compassion for our clients, or that I can’t find the motivation to go to work in the morning. But all of my mental energy is being used up at work and that seems like a problem.

Is there a solution?  I don’t know.

Another List.

Published / by violet / 3 Comments on Another List.

It is unpopular to openly daydream about what sort of life you’ll live when your children move out, but that doesn’t stop me from indulging from time to time. Here, then, are a selection of things I anticipate enjoying:

More room. There are two bedrooms being occupied by children in my home – both of which can, and will, be someday repurposed. Perhaps a true guest room (instead of the combination guest room, sewing room, cat-litter-box room we currently have). Perhaps a home office. My beloved husband daydreams of a home gym of sorts.

Storing things in logical places.  One of the children steals things from around the house, destroys those things (or simply takes them outside of the house, never to be seen again). He wipes snot on things. He rifles through things. Someday, however, I will be able to store things in the upstairs bathroom (where the shower is) instead of hauling them up from my bedroom. Someday I will be able to put pretty things on display without worrying they’ll be ruined. Someday I will not be (reasonably) paranoid about my important things disappearing.

Buying and using things that are not purely utilitarian. Someday my beloved husband and I will have conversations about purchasing nice things that don’t end in, “Well, the kids will just wreck [new items] anyway. Might as well wait before we replace [existing shoddy thing].” I mean, I’ll still have the same husband, so I can’t get too crazy here.. but things will have a better chance of survival even if they’re pretty.

Eating whatever, whenever.  When we had no children, we ate random things at random times. Then we had to make sure to make actual ‘balanced meals’ for the children and serve these meals at designated times. This has begun to ease, somewhat, now that one child is often working late hours or sleeping over at a friend’s home – but there is still a need to purchase specific foods and make sure other foods have been clearly identified as “for children to eat as snacks” and “for children to take to school for lunch” and whatnot.

Conversations that are not whispered or in code. Anyone with children will know what I mean by that and it won’t need any elaboration.

Fewer people to work around. Did you want to shower now? Too bad, there is a person in there. Did you want to make yourself breakfast? Too bad, someone is in the middle of unloading the dishwasher and taking up the entire counter. This will not end, completely, but instead of three people to schedule around, it will be just one. Neat.

Less laundry, less dishes. Totally self-explanatory.

Spur of the moment adventures. This, to some extent, depends on our pet situation – we currently have 900 pets – but we’ll be able to create our schedule fully based on ourselves and each other. No worries about which kid has an appointment, who’s going where, who’s home for the day, who’s working. And no guilty feelings if we go do something fun without the kids.

Gratuitous nudity. ‘Nuff said.

Many of my friends have young children (and a few have infants) and I am exhausted thinking about that. It is kind of amazing how much better life is, already, now that the kids are getting older – one is out of the house altogether, one is incredibly independent about pretty much everything, and one is inching closer with each passing day. We worked hard to teach our kids life skills pretty early – in part because I was so overwhelmed by becoming an ‘instant parent’ to THREE kids all at once and in part because that’s one of the things we consider(ed) important.

I am not wistful for those early hard days – I remain intrigued by what my kids will do. One has been out of contact for a few years, now, since he moved out and made his way back to his biological mother. Another is figuring out his life path – what he wants to do when school is over, how he wants to pay his bills, all that good stuff. The other is figuring out how high school works which, in and of itself, makes for an interesting year.

I do not miss afternoons spent watching endless children’s shows (or listening to someone beg me to watch endless children’s shows). Sticker charts. Fights that ended in someone being sent to their room while the other screamed. Figuring out how to navigate the elementary school system (much, much harder than high school). Dealing with the precarious nature of small children’s friendships.  Trying to figure out how to put together a ‘balanced meal’ when I was mostly just wanting to eat a chocolate bar, myself.

It is far, far more interesting to see these human beings becoming.. their own people. Their own lives, their own secrets, their own skills. The goal of parenting, for me, is to see them leave the nest – gracefully, ideally.

 

Sometimes.

Published / by violet / Leave a Comment

Sometimes – Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.

Stomping Through The Sod Fields.

Published / by violet / 1 Comment on Stomping Through The Sod Fields.

As a kid, I spent a pretty decent amount of time alone – we lived in the countryside, I was an only child, and my parents weren’t big believers in entertaining me.  There were 7 kids living within biking/walking-distance from my home, and only 3 of them were the same age as me (the rest were younger siblings) – and I really only liked one of them.

When I wasn’t in school, I spent most of my time reading books, playing with various toys (barbie, hot wheels, lego), or aimlessly wandering around the fields, orchards, and small forests around my home.  I built forts. I dug holes in the potato fields. I climbed trees. I skulked around the sugar shack.

I enjoyed being alone. I still genuinely like it.

There comes a point in most days where I absolutely need some time to myself. I can feel myself getting more and more irritable and short-tempered. I need to not hear anyone else breathing or talking. Ideally, it’s a time when I can let my focus shift and my brain can relax – not driving or working from home, but just slacking. Listening to my own thoughts.  God help anyone who interrupts me once my brain has shut down for a spell. My nerves need to regenerate, or something.

I have often wondered how well I would do living alone, without in-person social contact. I don’t mean solitary confinement-style – that sounds awful – but the sort of life where I didn’t see anyone for days, or weeks, or even months on end. A cabin in the woods, say.

I suspect I’d get weirder than I already am; I maintain a pretty loose grasp on social skills at the best of times.  But I wonder where my thoughts would go. I wonder how I would fill my days if I wasn’t forced to socialize and then have my ‘alone time’ limited simply by nature of living around other people.  Assuming I could get past the weirdness of being fully self-reliant, assuming I didn’t spend my days and nights curled up in a panic-ball waiting for a murderer to come crashing through the forest.. what would happen?

There are plenty of times when I enjoy being around people. I love my husband and I really like seeing his face and snugging up to him. I like my friends.  I enjoy my clients’ presence. I like chatting with the grocery store cashier and the random person in line with me for shawarma.  I am not averse to human beings, generally.

But would I go back to aimlessly wandering around in the woods? Would I start playing with barbies again and have long, drawn-out conversations at their staged tea parties? Would I devour thousands of books in a year?  Or would I just be lonely and weird and eventually become some sort of Unabomber-esque shadow person?  How long would it take before I reached my limit of weirdness?

 

Deep Breathing Makes Me Cough.

Published / by violet / Leave a Comment

I thought I was being pretty smart – I booked two extra days off on top of an already 3-day weekend. One of those extra days was to celebrate our ‘dating-iversary’ and the rest of the 4 days I had intended for a nice combination of relaxing and sorting out my life.  The last bit of February and the beginning of March are full of big, busy things. Events. Presentations.

And so, of course, the universe heard that I was planning a bit of downtime – and knocked me fully on my ass with a nasty cold. I spent all 5 days either asleep, in a stupor, or wishing I could sleep. There was codeine cough syrup involved and a lot of cold meds. I went through a lot of kleenex. I whined at my beloved husband a lot – whenever I had a voice with which to do so.

Today I returned to work – unenthusiastic and still under the weather (but much better). My energy levels are so low. I’m exhausted.   I kicked the day off with a meeting and, in spite of it being really important, part way through I just wanted to put my head down on the table.

I’m also anxious and overwhelmed.

This isn’t a good combination.

A few nights ago, I kept waking up in mild panic attacks. All night. The reasons for the panic were either unidentifiable or completely ridiculous. I’d go back to sleep and bolt awake again. Over and over again.  I would have been happier to have one full-on panic attack instead of 20 little ones. Jeezus.

I am trying to take (metaphorical) deep breaths. Focus. Baby steps. Make a list. Make another list. But I feel like I am scrambling. I looked at my calendar for tomorrow and realized that I had 3 meetings booked – with no space between them – in two different cities.  I felt like a jerk having to cancel one, but even as I was sending that email another request came in for me to speak at a FOURTH meeting on the same day.  I declined.

I have scoured my calendar for some days that I can take off, even if they’re not consecutive, in the hopes of giving myself some breathing space. I am trying to figure out what I can drop, what I can set down for a bit, what I can hand to someone else (and I’m having a hard time with it.) I am hyper-aware of all the little strings I am clutching at the moment and sort of praying that none of them fray until I’m on solid ground.

When I’m sleeping well again and when I’m not exhausted and when I can take literal deep breaths, none of this will feel as dire and awful as it does at the moment – I know this. I am not normally this worried about letting someone down, fucking something up, or forgetting something really big. I just need to find my way back to solid ground.

In the meantime, I’m going to be sneaking off to nap in my car any chance I get.