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Mental Renovations

The cost of communal burnout.

A stack of neutrally colored books sit on a wooden table in the foreground, with more wooden tables with lamps on them and chairs between them extending back toward bookshelves in the background.
Sometimes your mental archive is closed for the day. Image from Wix.

Today was a day of doing nothing.

I didn't plan it that way. I had planned to work hard on all of the projects I have on the go. I love what I do - if I get particularly wrapped up in a piece that I'm writing, I might work on it for hours on end, only poking my head out of my little bubble to collect a cup of tea. I love being able to bring my clients' ideas into the written word and sharing them with the world all over the web. I also adore my own personal projects; I'm mid-edit for my second novel and can't wait to share that story, I'm compiling more poetry, I'm even diving back into my short stories to see if I can find a few more floating around in the archives of my brain.

But today, I arrived at my mental archive, ready to pull down the projects of the day, and found the doors barred. "No Entry - Renovations in Progress." I pounded on the doors, flicking through tabs of work and walking around my house, sitting down at my desk, getting up again until I was thoroughly annoyed with myself. I opened documents, typed a few words, erased them, and closed the documents again. I glanced at my half-edited manuscript and walked past it. I ate some food and stared at a wall, and even that felt like too much effort.

Today, I wanted to do things. I wanted to do anything at all. But I just...couldn't.

On paper, I understand why this is. We're a year into a global pandemic that brought life as we knew it grinding to a halt and threw it on its head. I've lived with constant fear for the health and safety of everyone I love and the aching loneliness of not being able to see some of the people I care most about in the world for so long that at this point, it's a constant pounding pressure in the back of my daily life. Still there, still glaring and painful, but fading into the background of the new worries that arise every morning. To say that I am as stressed as the rest of the world right now is an understatement, and yet it's true.

I understand that I'm experiencing burnout. I've never been a stranger to it; I worked myself half to death for the best grades, the best performances, the best pieces possible, to the point of occasionally collapsing into a heap of tears and screams and a twelve-hour exhaustion-fueled deep, unresting sleep. I'm also perfectly aware that this isn't healthy; I've worked on my coping strategies and my scheduling for years, being very careful to limit the amount of time I spend working and balance it with a good amount of relaxation and rest, happy in the knowledge that I have a very good support network to pick me up when I do fall.

But at the same time...

It doesn't really get easier to experience burnout. Now, actually, it might be harder than ever, because we don't have our usual outlets available to us and we don't have control over a lot of the things that are stressing us out. I can't fix the source of my stress about my family and friends, I can't do anything about the fact that I rarely leave the house anymore. This particular flavor of burnout is particularly hopeless, and honestly, that can be incredibly overwhelming.

But it isn't completely hopeless, much as it may feel that way. We, collectively, are working together to bring ourselves out of the quagmire; vaccines are being distributed, rates are dropping, and if we just work together to keep each other safe, we'll be able to pull ourselves out of this soon. Things are getting better, they're just getting better incredibly slowly, so it's hard to see it through the things that hurt in the moment.

Right now, I don't have any definitive deadlines for when I'll be able to see my loved ones again. But I do know that I will see them again, and I know that it will be so worth the wait if it means that we're all safe when we're together again. I know that I will be able to go do the things I love again, that I'll be able to travel and attend conventions and perform on stages again, even if I don't have a definite time for those things yet. I know good times are coming, and when I am at my most burnt-out and tired, I have that knowledge to tide me over.

In the meantime, I need to be kind to myself. I need to give myself the time to process what's going on and to step away from it when it feels like it might all come crashing down on top of me. I need to appreciate the fact that I have the ability to take time for myself when I need it, and respect myself enough to take that time so that I can do better when the archive opens back up.

So today, I'll heed the sign on the doors, and I will do nothing. And perhaps tomorrow, the renovations will be done, and I will be able to work again, from a healthier, happier place.


“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

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