I am one privileged woman.
I have a couple of degrees and do work that feeds my soul. I have a supportive husband, a cozy home, three healthy daughters who do well in school and make friends easily. I have smart and caring friends myself.
Who the hell am I to complain about anything?
Who am I to feel crazy and overwhelmed, confused and stuck?
I have always known that I am way too lucky in my life to complain about the “inconveniences” I experience. My cross-country move and the unexpected struggles of house, kids and missing support that came from that. A giant shift in our parenting structure… I could list it all out, but really, does it matter?
There are people out there who have no home, not enough food and kids who are sick.
These are real problems.
They experience violence and other horrors regularly. Even my childhood – while there were awful, scary and traumatizing periods – was mostly safe and comfortable.
When you live with the kind of gifts in your life that I do – shelter, food, love around me – and you are even remotely conscious, you learn how important it is to be grateful for what you have. There is even research to support that gratitude is the way to happiness. You learn that if you wallow in the “small difficulties”, you certainly won't manifest the “good things” in life we seek.
Focus on the good. Be grateful for what you have.
Do not complain about your “white people problems” (just do a search of that phrase to see what I mean.)
One day, in the haze of immense overwhelm that I had no right to feel I turned left in my car in front of an unsuspecting woman going 40 mph down an edge-of-town road.
I never saw her.
I was so busy looking up at that green light, saying out loud to myself (because I couldn't hear well enough in my foggy, overstuffed brain), “It's green, it's green, it's green.”
I forgot to say that part about “turning left” out loud. So, I never heard it. I turned right in front of her.
There were airbags, emergency vehicles and huge traffic backups. People came to my car to check on me, walk me to the side of the road.
I was petrified to look in the other car, to see what might have happened to the driver.
I am so lucky that she wasn't badly hurt.
I am so lucky that I wasn't badly hurt, either. I am lucky for a lot of things that I am too afraid to say out loud (like the imagination of a school bus coming down that same road that haunts me still today.)
I spent the next two months in absolute internal horror.
I couldn't hate myself more for what I had done. I told myself all day long how terrible I was:
I knew I wasn't safe on the road.
I knew I wasn't thinking straight.
But I just didn't know how to explain it. I thought I could strong-arm the overwhelmed, confused feeling – “grateful” my way out of it.
One afternoon about eight weeks after my accident, I opened a copy of “O” magazine
It was laying on a side table in my living room. I was hoping to find some distraction from my internal angst. In it was an article by Martha Beck on burnout. Although “burnout” sounded like a lightweight problem to me at the time, I decided that reading some Martha Beck was better than listening to more of my internally violent self-talk. So, I turned to the article. As I read along, my mouth fell open so wide that midway through the article the whole inside of my cheeks and tongue were nearly cracking with dryness.
This article was about me.
I read the line: “By now you may have a serious illness (heart disease, an autoimmune disorder) or have been in a car accident.” and my head began to spin (just on the inside – I think.)
I was simultaneously comforted and confused. “THIS is burnout?,” I thought. I had been “burnt out” before but it was mostly on things like Thai food, or romantic comedies or any other preference I had previously overindulged in my life. This did NOT feel like that kind of “burnout.”
Burnout as a psychological and life issue is completely misunderstood and under-treated.
When I dug into burnout further, I saw so many indicators that I was experiencing in my life. I also saw pieces of my friends lives and my clients lives in the descriptions.
Here are some of the other burnout symptoms I experienced:
- I gained 25 pounds. Anxiety-eating
- I awoke tired (but antsy to get up)
- I felt confused and had a very hard time making decisions
- I had low self-trust
- I had very little patience (this can get confused with professional “drive” but don't let it fool you)
- I fought with my husband way more than usual
- I couldn't hold onto a “happy” feeling for very long
- I felt really, really, really stuck
I wonder if any of these are familiar to you or someone you know who is feeling really stuck in their life? (Please note: these symptoms can be signs of other psychological and physical issues as well, so if you have a bunch of them – do get them checked out with a professional. I am not an expert on this topic, to be sure.)
Given that these symptoms are so familiar to me – and I can think of at least three people that I know with whom that list would resonate immediately – Why don't we talk about this phenomenon more?
Why aren't we shouting from the rooftops the dangers of letting the stress pile up inside of us like this?!
I suspect it's because – like me – so many “privileged” people don't believe they have a right to see their stress and overwhelm as a real problem. They don't have the right to “complain” or seek help when there are so many “worse” problems out there.
Let me be clear here: food, shelter and safety are bottom-line essentials for life. Every single human being deserves these. I do not mean to hold these problems up against each other in any way.
Everyone deserves peace, too.
In fact, without Inner Peace, we can be dangerous to others and ourselves. I learned that in a very scary, visceral way first-hand.
Inner peace deserves radical focus.
The good news is, in the six months since this difficult period of my life I have found some amazing strategies to re-embrace my sanity again (and again and again.) Many of them actually help me feel significantly better immediately. I invite you to use as many of them as feel great to you.
- Go for a walk outside. Walk fast, for as long as you can. Study the trees, flowers, cars… tell yourself all about what you are seeing. Stay focused on the world outside your head.
- If you can't go outside, close your eyes and picture going outside for a walk in a place you love. Do the same as above, including only focusing on telling yourself about what you see on your imaginary walk.
- Put on uplifting music and sing along. (ONLY uplifting music is allowed. Sad music will make you feel worse.)
- Paint, write, or otherwise engage in artistic expression. Do not write about the pain. Take yourself somewhere else.
- Breathe deeply into your belly – such that your belly extends outward – then release all of the air completely. Do this slowly, three times at least. Feel your body relax.
- Do some yoga or meditation, if those feel comfortable and supportive to you. (Now is not the time to beat yourself up for not being able to “let go of thoughts.” If you struggle with this part, then go do something that helps you let go of thoughts like the first or second activity in this list.)
- Check your self-talk. So many of us have gotten used to an internal voice that beats us up a lot. It's this crazy ingrained thing for so many of us. Begin listening in – and rephrase those mean thoughts into ones that are more loving and supportive. Tell yourself the truth (you won't believe or trust yourself if you try to do otherwise) – just look for the compassionate truth, like you would for a good friend who needs support. **This is a big one. Do it every day.
All of these immediately available strategies have helped me get unstuck from the worst of this “burnout.” While I still fall into the struggle at times, I can quickly get back to relative peace by picking something from the above list and doing it ASAP.
Today, I feel unstuck. I feel open and ready to flourish. I have let go of the burnout.
And it's clearer to me than ever before that my greatest job in this life is to be peaceful, open and brilliant.
That to go to the next level in facilitating maximum self-expression in my clients and in my own life, it's time to open up the inner flow bigger, broader and more expansive.
So from now until the end of summer, my world revolves around Inner Peace.
The Summer (and Spring) of Inner Peace.
~Project: Inner Peace~
I will read, write, sit, walk, dance, yoga, meditate (quite imperfectly, you should know), and commune with nature in whatever ways facilitate Inner Peace.
I will build sand castles in the backyard sandbox with my daughters as shrines of Inner Peace.
I will cook meals and walk my dogs in homage to Inner Peace.
I will swim with the dolphins (okay, my three squiggly girl-shaped dolphins) to promote Inner Peace.
I am doing this for me, yes. But I am doing it for you, too. I am doing it for the world.
~Peaceful me, peaceful you, peaceful everyone, everywhere.~
I'll be sharing the journey here on my blog. I hope you'll join me.
Thank you, Jurvetson, for this beautiful dolphin image.