I guess I’ve led a charmed life because, until a few weeks ago, I never felt the dreaded sensation of burnout. However, the combination of teaching, finishing a novel and writing for the newspaper suddenly became too much. I quickly learned my misery had plenty of company. Fellow-sufferers gave me excellent advice, starting with, “Step away from the computer!”
My problem is I’ve always been a grinder. I don’t pay much attention to the season or day of the week; I just keep plugging away at my projects. I never thought it would catch up to me but it did with a vengeance. Suddenly, I hated words.
This was very disturbing when you consider I make my living with words. I couldn’t stand to read my novel and had to force myself to write a column. Correcting student papers? Eek! I was advised to take a walk. I was told that action is the enemy of anxiety.
Walking certainly helped. I was hoping to run into some people I knew on Madison Street and did. As we were conversing, though, it hit me that conversation also involved words and I was on overload. So I went to Hallmark to pick out a birthday card for my wife. Even this was too much — I couldn’t bear reading the cards.
Aside from my emotional burnout, I found out feeling bad is physically exhausting. The smallest tasks were daunting. I couldn’t stand looking at my calendar — teaching eight classes a week and tutoring all day Saturday. The job that had previously given me the most joy suddenly looked overwhelming. I spoke with a CPS teacher, who told me she feels burnout about 20 times a year.
It’s comforting, in a twisted way, to find so many people who have burned out. They gave me so many coping mechanisms. The most helpful was focusing on the present and not looking ahead at the giant snowball of work. But I was still shaky when I had to get up early on Monday to teach.
I hadn’t got much sleep and suffer from a constitutional reluctance to climb out of bed when it’s still dark. I tried to give myself a pep talk as I trudged to the Blue Line. Again, walking was very therapeutic. It was also helpful to be surrounded by misery on the train. It occurred to me that most of my fellow travelers were feeling like me. Monday morning blues are almost universal, so I felt … normal.
My spirits rose as I walked to my school. A lyric from an Ella Fitzgerald song helped: “Things are looking up. It’s a great little world we live in.” Then I had the hopeful thought that I might get energy from my students. Sure enough, we had two lively, laugh-filled classes. I thought if I could teach under these circumstances, nothing can stop me.
It only took me a day or so to get my mojo back. I was very careful not to overburden myself or look at my calendar. I was even able to read the newspaper again. So the lesson I learned is that we all have our limits and grinding away is not always the answer. My daughter has often told me that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we’ll have nothing to give to others. I finally know what she means.
I had just regained my sanity when my computer crashed.
I don’t know about you but I’m going for a walk.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.