Burnout tells you when you must finally put your well-being first

I stare at my computer, tabs open for five different jobs and projects. This has been my life for many, many years, but now my brain is paralyzed. I cannot concentrate. My heart is beating rapidly. I go back and forth, not really accomplishing much of anything. 

My voicemail greeting says, “You’ve reached Karen Mykietka, the woman with many work hats…” This is too true. Paid and unpaid, I have been involved in many things over the years, mostly in these communities.

Because I live, work, and play in my community, I don’t really ever stop working. I cannot go to a neighbourhood event and simply enjoy it. I am always on the lookout for possible news and stories or networking or representing the RCP. When I see something that needs to be done, it’s hard for me to not do it. I am an organizer, a doer; I don’t sit still much unless it is sitting at my computer and working, usually multitasking on numerous projects.

When I’m asked “How are you doing?” it seems like the only thing I’ve been replying for years is “I’m busy.” I help organize and promote community programs and events, but I hardly ever fully participate in them. I tried doing fitness with some ladies at Alberta Avenue last year, but usually ditched it because I had a meeting or I worked in the office on my always growing to-do list. I was excited to see a cycling group start up last summer, but in the end I didn’t make it to even one ride. I had a meeting or something every single week. Sigh!

I’ve had some weeks with no meetings, but that’s rare. Normal for me means two to three meetings a week. Sometimes I’ve had a meeting every weeknight or even multiple meetings in an evening. I also work with some very busy people and sometimes we can only get together to meet after our other meetings at 9:30 or 10 pm.

I enjoy most of the work I do, but there’s so much of it, I end up working day and night—literally. I work at work, I work in the car, I multitask at meetings, I think about my meeting while eating supper, I think about all the things I have to do while wasting time watching TV, and I even work in my dreams.  

Well, you can guess all this work and meetings have put a little stress on my family and home life. I just can’t keep the pace I used to. Is it age? Or cumulative stress? Likely both.

So take a vacation to de-stress! Taking a vacation is a huge added stress. I work in the non-profit world where I do a lot of everything and there is no one who can cover my job completely, or sometimes at all. I have to choose my vacation days around a not too busy time (so not at press time and not when there are rentals needing my attention at my hall manager job and not when I have important community meetings to attend or chair). That’s pretty slim. 

I need to get caught up on overdue items. Then I need to find someone to cover the essentials and be on call. And even then, I can’t remember a vacation where I didn’t monitor my nine email accounts and deal with urgent business and trash the junk mail so that I wouldn’t be facing inboxes overflowing with emails upon my return. I’ve often returned from vacation and gone straight to work or a meeting before even going home.

I don’t share all this to be a martyr or be lifted up on a pedestal. And I’m not saying this is a good life to lead. But this has been my “normal” life for years. Now I’m feeling the effects, feeling the need for a break, a rest. But how do you accomplish that when you’ve committed yourself to many things? I have a hard time breaking my commitments even when it is to take care of myself.

The last few months I’ve really been feeling the stress pile up. I was feeling unwell and stopped at the pharmacy to have my blood pressure checked. It was high. Too high. This, right before my two busiest weeks of the year. Not surprising, I guess. But also no opportunity to slow down and rest.

More and more frequently, I was feeling utterly overwhelmed with work and life in general. I knew it would be best to take a few days off, or ideally a week or two. But when you work contracts and non-profit jobs with no benefits, there really isn’t an option for a mental health day or stress leave. You work or you don’t get paid. 

But when you’ve hit your wall, you have to make changes. I hired someone to help me out with my work for a few weeks. I dropped what I could. I ditched some meetings. I took some time for myself. I even attended the barre class at Parkdale. 

I’m not only dealing with burnout, my partner also just had surgery and I will soon be having major surgery. There’s no putting off taking care of myself any longer. If you don’t take care of yourself, sometimes life will make you. 

I’m planning a leisurely spring and summer feeding and nurturing my body, mind, and spirit. I think I’ll actually follow through on my plan to slow down this time. I have no choice.

Featured image: Too much work can lead to burnout. | Pixabay