I’ve been quiet.
But that’s nothing new- I haven’t been blogging regularly here in what- a year?
But it’s been a different kind of quiet.
You see, all of 2019 felt like a trainwreck. Business was booming, but I was unhappy. I was having health problems. My kids were having health problems. I was borrowing time from what should have been family time to get more things done- be all the things to all the people. Except I was failing miserably at the balancing act.
I wasn’t writing because there wasn’t time, but I was also beating myself up over it- over every little thing that I dropped. I wasn’t painting, I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t pursuing personal photography projects and I was barely photographing my own kids- just the bare minimum to NOT break the 365 streak.
It wasn’t rest, it was turmoil.
I considered deleting this blog altogether, deleting my website and my social media pages. I remembered that I used to find joy and healing and love in creative pursuits, but I didn’t anymore. All I felt was bone-deep exhaustion.
As I was scrolling Facebook- my favorite sort of procrastination, a habit that I’m still trying to break- I came across a post from author David Mack that made me stop. Like a full stop, mid-stride as I was crossing the room, breath caught in my chest type of stop.
I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about creative burnout and self-care. Because I think sometimes we all push ourselves too hard, and we all deserve a break.
There’s nothing wrong with stepping back from our work once in a while. Digging into one’s soul to tell stories, craft images, or to create anything, can be an exhausting process.
But life takes its toll on all of us. Health concerns, financial worries, family obligations, other full-time work … they all put stress on us. Mentally, physically, and emotionally.
I sometimes feel as if our field puts too much emphasis on the need to make measurable progress every day. Write “X” words every day. Post a certain number of tweets. Produce, produce, produce.
Artists are not machines. We need to recharge. To rest. To think. To dream. Sometimes, what we think is “writer’s block” is more than just a sign of a problem with our project: in some cases, it’s a warning of burnout.
Too many of us have been conditioned to stigmatize the idea of stepping away from our work, not just for a day, but maybe for weeks, or months, or longer. There are those who make us feel like failures if we do.
I’ve been my own worst critic in such situations. Beat myself up emotionally for not working when what I really needed was to embrace the downtime. I needed time this past year to process bad news on multiple fronts.
What I’m trying to say is, cut yourself some slack. If you can afford to do so, be willing to walk away from a blank page. Self-care — whether physical or psychological — is not sloth. Downtime is not a sin.
When you’ve healed, when you’ve regained your strength, your focus, your time … you’ll know it. Your muse will return. Ideas will flow again. But first you need to care for yourself and those around you.
There’s no sure-fire, one-size-fits-all formula for recovering from burnout. Maybe you need medical care, or talk therapy. Or the right chat with a friend. Maybe you just need time and solitude.
But when it comes to survival, you owe it to yourself to be a little bit selfish. As they say on airplanes, put your own mask on first before you try to help others. Catch your breath.
Remember: the creative life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Pace yourselves, my friends.-David Mack, January 23, 2020
Let’s repeat that highlight, friends:
Self-care is not sloth. Downtime is not a sin.
This is important.
It’s okay to stop the juggling act. It’s okay to take a breather. Doing your best is not working yourself to the point of dropping from exhaustion.
So in the past month, I gave myself permission to breathe and embraced the downtime. I put my focus on healthy sleep habits. I did not sit down in front of my computer unless I wanted to- I let emails go unanswered, I didn’t guilt myself once about this blog, I didn’t edit photos. I exercised. I put my attention on organizing the physical chaos and clutter of my home. I took up meditating and restarted my yoga practice. And in giving myself permission to not be creative, the creativity returned.
Rest and self-care isn’t just escaping the world via Netflix and a bowl of ice cream- it’s really stopping and assessing your physical health, your mental health. It’s allowing time to rest and to play. It’s rediscovering what brings you joy. And it’s one of the most important things we can do for ourselves.
Your value is beyond your production capacity. I encourage you to take the time to rest, to play, to find joy. And I’m willing to bet that by cultivating these things, you will end up as I did- back in the creative saddle and ready to go.