Remembering to stop

This month, and I might even go as far as saying year, has been the busiest I’ve ever known it to be. I’ve felt exhausted and have had moments when I literally don’t want to see anyone. And that’s saying something, considering I was doing a Masters in Magazine Journalism last year. Journalism school is definitely a different kind of exhaustion.

For years I’ve been the worst at not being able to evenly space things out, I don’t understand how people manage to have a life full of enough, but not too much all at once. I’ve always done absolutely-everything-all-at-the same-time or absolutely nothing, and as a result get depressed, and feel that there should be more in my world than four walls. So, I then try to make everything happen and eventually burn out, because there is suddenly too much for my brain to process. I’ve never found the “just right” recipe. I know it’s there somewhere, because some people have managed to do just enough without being overloaded. Or so they want you to believe.

At the beginning of this year, money was running out, my energy was non-existent, I was missing friends that don’t live around the corner and I felt that good things could only possibly happen to other people. I had the prolonged post university feelings of “what now?” I generally, often have all of the feelings one person can possibly have at the same time, and as past experiences have shown, this is difficult for some people to keep up with, but this time it felt different. My answer to these feelings is normally “do something big” “go away” “Do something you’ve never done before.” This was probably why, aged 21, I went to India for three months, with 47 people I didn’t know. I was seeking adventure, or possibly to numb the nothingness I felt post university. It turned out to be the best decision of my life, and I speak of those times with fond memories often, but at nearly 29 I couldn’t just run away from it all, half way across the world again. I realised that I had to face realities. Doing big, random things isn’t always great for your mental health.

I sat down, and began to make a list. In the middle I wrote “what would make me happy?” and noted down work, friends, things to do, as answers to this question. I was at a crossroads, one answer to my current nothingness was to move 300 miles away for a job, to a town I’d never been to before but nearer to a few friends or to stay here, build my career, learn to drive and be more financially able to visit long distance friends. I eventually chose the second of those two options. It didn’t make sense to force myself to deal with everything in my life changing.

When applying for jobs this time around, I kept the question “what will make me happy” in my mind, and this possibly helped get me here. I’m coming up to being in both new jobs for a month now, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been but knackered. I also now have a driving instructor, and this will inevitably take a good portion of my time and money. In April, I’ve travelled to London for meetings, came away from youth sessions genuinely feeling that I’d done something great with the young people, my baby sister turned 19 (how I don’t know, I’m sure I was only pushing her around in her pram yesterday…) and volunteered to lead ice breakers at a conference again in June. I’m also very much aware that being knackered all of the time isn’t great for my brain, or anyone else’s for that matter. No-one wants to deal with an exhausted Alice.

We are conditioned to expect that by a certain age this will happen, I’ll achieve that or my life will look like this. For various mental health related reasons my life hasn’t looked like it should and I’ve been very conscious of this until as recent as last month. Hence the attempting to do it all mentality, and then breaking before I’ve made anything of what I was trying to do. I’m still doing it all, but this time I’ve remembered to stop. At a recent meeting we were asked “What are you going to do tonight for self care” A question I’ve always struggled to answer myself, but here I was in a group of people I’d only just met, about to explain my strategies to look after myself and my brain. I talked about my cats and sleep, two important things that help when I’ve had a particularly difficult day. The other day I recognised that I needed to go for a walk after work and I’ve been going to bed no later than eleven for the past few months. I’m slowly learning that to do it all, you have to take some time out for yourself too – and – touch wood, I’m doing well so far. Honesty is also a brill tool, I’m so much better at explaining to friends that – no I don’t want to see them – and that it’s not anything to do with them, I just don’t want to see anyone. You’ll find that the good eggs amongst the crowd, will respect that. And the best eggs won’t stop trying to contact you.

Hopefully once my routine with work/driving lessons/deciding the volunteering I can do without breaking has settled down, I’ll be able to see lots of you for proper catch ups.

I’m the happiest I’ve been in a while, and this is totally down to supportive people saying lovely things, realising that my life will look very different to other peoples and that it is absolutely okay to stop, so my body and brain can have time to recover. I feel so wise saying all of that, and I’m not even 30 yet…

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