From Borderline Burnout To Something Like Satisfaction

This story begins sometime not now.

I’m not sure when it started or what are its actual ingredients. But the symptoms have persisted through the years. That is, I may be bad at resting. Or maybe: my priorities can be really out of whack. Or maybe: if I can’t summarise it, I can’t tell it fully. But I can tell you the results.

Last two months of 2018 were the hardest ever, workwise (aside from first two months of 2018, but that’s a separate story). I had two shows, two pub quizes per week, an emotionally and physically demanding full-time job with autistic children and my own artistic practice. Rather tellingly, all the work I was doing required being very Out There for other people: whether I’m hosting a pub quiz or working in the school, there is always an audience that I perform for. And I love that; it plays to my strengths. And yet.

Above me in the shows: Behind The Scenes at Studio Mandelbrot (a charming improv sci-fi set in alternative 70s) and Snow Q (a blend of fairy tale, poetry and performance art, in which I was the solo actor). I loved doing both of those!

There are people who routinely work 70-hour weeks. I have the greatest respect for those people and I presume that it takes a unique combination of endurance, determination and balance in creating efficient work routines as well as building in self-care. This is something I understand in abstract, but when it comes to work, I just expect myself to take everything on and excel. To make this more complex, I really do enjoy a demanding, fast-paced environment: I cook lunches and organise myself ruthlessly and – thrive. But in the last months of 2018 things got out of control: my motivation was flickering, I was angry, sad and got sick all the time. I kept trying to rest; I reserved Wednesday evenings for soothing baths; I refused social invitations, because between quizes and rehearsals I was out way too much – but I was also missing my friends and had no time to see them. All of these attempts were too little, too late. I was hoping that I’d rest during Christmas, but despite a wonderful holiday I came back to work with a sense of doom and unhappiness.

And so I had to deal with it.

First week back to school I asked for risk assessment for my injury – something I postponed, because the injury didn’t seem very serious and me being put on risk assessment would put pressure on the rest of my team. I followed this by three days of sickness absence and a decision to go from full-time to four days a week. I quit one of my two pub quizes. I quit the improv team I was heavily involved in. I started quitting things left and right, and saying “no” to more things cropping up. I quit media (as you know if you read my previous posts), I quit reading about politics especially, I quit trying to make all of my art projects at the same time. I quit, I quit, I quit. And then I quit some more.

There is more to it, of course. I have injuries that needs physiotherapy and general dealing with. I’m in my thirties now, which seems like a good time to get some spine muscles and improve my posture: I will likely keep that spine for next 30-50 years, so it’d be nice to maintain a decent user experience. My mental health could also use a tune-up – another thing that I’ve been postponing, but inevitably will need more if I don’t look at it sooner rather than later. All these things require time and effort and I had to make space for them.

And there is British citizenship – something I keep being scared about and need to do research on. Miraculously, my tax return actually affords me the money to pursue it. I hope that’s a sign of some sort.

So what now? Last week was my first week on a 4 day contract. On Friday I slept in, did some admin and went on a date to a museum and to see a show. Saturday was taxes, Sunday – brunch with friends and quiz. I try not to worry about citizenship, if only because it won’t help. I think twice before accepting any invitations, but also have more energy to be social as well as some actual time to enjoy London. Chances are I’ll be earning less: on average this move cost me some serious money that I hope my freelance work will absorb a little. But overall, I am happy: my personal life is thriving, I have plans to finish a play this year and maybe learn how to apply to Arts Council. I found some small satisfaction in things being as they are. I keep reminding myself to enjoy it.

A mostly vegan brunch: large frying pan with chickpeas, a smaller one with tofu, also olives, hummus, tomatoes, guacamole, goat cheese (non-vegan), fruit, tea and several mugs. All set on a table with some feet/legs visible around.
May 2019 include more brunches with nice people!

My Phone Is Boring. Also Brexit Sucks

Okay, it is time to admit it: I started to miss social media. My phone, aside from the “call” and “text” functions (okay, and WhatsApp) seems like a glorified clock. Well, I do still use the camera. But anytime I take my phone, I might look into the browser (there are things that I might read Someday, there), I can clear some data, take a selfie and check emails… and then I run out of things to do. It is not a little eerie that a thing that used to occupy many of my precious HOURS is now seemingly useless.

A grinning selfie of Rita wearing a cowlneck sweater standing in a white walk in wardrobe with a steel pole for hangers shining above her.
Here is one I took in a hotel wardrobe in Peterborough. It’s a long story.

But here is the one thing I don’t miss: Brexit. Even with my limited media intake at present, trying to actively avoid knowledge of it while preparing for its eventual presence, it is ubiquitous. Friends send links; my radio/alarm clock device talks about Theresa May with relish while I blearily try to get my bearings in the morning; randomly picked up newspapers share that David Cameron bought himself a cottage to write his memoirs. Nice job if you can have it, I suppose.

A cutout of a small article from a Tube newspaper with a picture of visibly older David Cameron, captioned "I'd promised; David Cameron yesterday" and the following text: "The 52-year-old has kept a low profile since standing down and has bought himself a £25000 shepherd's hut, with sofa bed and wood burning stove, in which to write his memoirs at the family home in the Cotswolds". There is also a cut off headline: "(I have no) regrets over calling (the referendum). I do regret result."
David Cameron doesn’t regret the referendum. How nice for him.

The word on everybody’s lips appears to be… Brexit (sung to Chicago’s “Roxie”, of course) and while I understand why, I’ll admit to being weary. I would like to be more of an activist, and when I rebuild my mental health and good online habits, I will likely look into pragmatic and not-burnout-threatening ways to engage; however right now self-care and showing up at a heavily understaffed workplace (my current line of non-artistic work attracts a lot of immigrants…) take up all available energy and time. I am doing small things, like cooking and essential oil baths, and bigger things – like applying for festivals and figuring out my artistic plans; I might, at some point, resurrect F*cking European as it is undoubtedly timely. What I refuse to do is be buried in a news avalanche. I have good sleeping habits; I intend to keep those.

A Vispring Luxury Beds ad, featuring a beautiful king size bed with a blue decorative throw and a tagline "Don't let Brexit keep you awake at night/Sleep well. Live better."
This is an ad in a free Tube “style” magazine, usually safely devoid of political matters. Now they have political mattresses.

For now, three weeks in this self-imposed fast, I find myself reflecting on the power of boundaries – a topic that has been more and more relevant of late. In trying to consciously engage, I have refused to be drawn into the information miasma, refused to be swallowed by the clickbait monster. In the attention economy, I am hoarding my precious currency, mostly because – tired as I feel – I want to spend every penny on things that matter. In this last stretch to Brexit, many things matter less… and things that used to be less important matter more. Example: I take joy in throwing things out and arranging them to my satisfaction: it’s a physical representation of the streamlining process that my life is currently undergoing.

A square Ikea container with dividers, stuffed with socks and underwear, all stored vertically.
Marie Kondo would be proud.

I discovered of late that while I could go to Berlin or Warsaw and start everything anew, I value the life I made; I have found friends, career and love here; I want to stay. Working towards a sustainable life that would allow me to do that occupies a large portion of my attention. It feels terrifying and vulnerable to admit that much; to be attached; to be at the mercy of Home Office in this way. But that’s the way my path seems to lie. I’ll tidy socks, make a freezer dinner and start learning for the Life In The UK Test. At least my pub quiz career has given me some preparation…. and while I live the uncertainty, I don’t know how to finish this post. It’s hard to say that I am purely hopeful; but I’m being pragmatic and taking care of myself. As per site policies, right now that is good enough.

Being Off Facebook: Good, Bad And Tedious

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: yes, I will publish this post on my Facebook, so feel free to chuckle at the irony. All done? Good.

I don’t know why I called the post that when the results are mostly good. Turn of phrase, really. It’s my blog, so there.

It’s been a week since I went off my social media (mostly) and while that doesn’t seem like much, I know for a fact there are people for whom that’s a long time – and that I am one of them. I used to get offline at my Mum’s, as she steadfastly believes WiFi is harmful to the brain and refuses to get one (there is a USB modem), but nowadays the data on my British phone costs the same within EU; so I didn’t get offline this Christmas. Sadly. I guess I had to fix that!

A selfie of Rita gazing at the camera with a half-smile while wearing a pink bowtie with navy blue polka dots and a black top.
Christmas: didn’t get offline, did get a bowtie. Worth it!

What changed with going offline?

  1. I was calmer right away. My job(s) carry considerable tensions on their own (I work in a special school as well as being a self-employed artist), so any stress reduction is very, very welcome. I expected that would happen, but not the extent.
  2. I missed Instagram soonest. I guiltily flicked through during first two days of this media fast, turning it on for two seconds and then switching it off. On the flipside, I’ve been taking more pictures, even though I can’t post them!
  3. I got lonely! I called my Mum a lot this week, definitely more than usual, I also reached out to my brother and friends. And even though I listened to podcasts before, now they’re a voice that I’m inviting into solitude. When my flatmate was away, I was putting the music on very loudly to chase the feeling away.
  4. Books! My book reading habits made a slow reappearance. Missing the written word and the information is definitely A Thing. I also read my favourite newsletters with more focus (Mark Manson and Frugalwoods currently, if you were wondering).
  5. Feelings! Whenever I experience discomfort I have to deal with it like a grown human because There Is Nothing To Do On My Phone. Only so much email I can read. Although sometimes I can lose myself in some photo editing, but it’s not an obsessive or frequent activity. So when things feel Not Good, it has to be journaling or meditating or exercise or talking to another human or any other way of Dealing With It (spoiler alert: also been cutting processed sugar, so not eating my troubles just now).
  6. Poetry. I started leaving for work a bit early, just so I can get a seat on the Tube and write some poems. I probably wrote more poems this week than in the last six months or so. Having a dedicated time and a lack of other options decidedly helps. I also managed to write down some comedy monologues – if you open the door, things come in!
  7. Productivity has benefitted, no question. Recently I applied for an artistic residency four (FOUR) days before the deadline. For a person like myself, who is no stranger to frantically pressing “send” at 23.59 before the deadline turns the potential application into a pumpkin-flavoured disappointment, that is a Big Thing.
  8. I’m making other changes. It’s January and I have a couple of important months ahead of me. Can I obtain British citizenship or is it too late? Can I stay in my current employment or is it not feasible? I have already made some decisions on several fronts, and I usually tend to procrastinate over those while Scrolling Through Stuff. The New Year’s energy likely helps (new beginnings!), but so does the clarity of not having the online escape.
  9. My brain has slowed down. That is a good thing. My brain usually straddles the line between “lightning fast” and “all the directions, all at once”, and then it beats itself to death with its own grey matter. I never ever want to take cocaine, for Reasons.
  10. I’m up-to-date with most housework. I have reasonable amounts of dishes to clean, and while the laundry isn’t folded, it has been done regularly and properly. I’m hardly perfect in that respect, but…. it’s been easier.
A picture of a lunchbox filled with cooked salmon on bed of rice, with visible sugar snaps, broccoli and cherry tomatoes.
This is some serious foodporn, amirite

I do miss my social media, but there is a strange satisfaction in holding off checking them. I even went on Facebook event pages a couple times when there was no other way, copied the hours and address and exited without scrolling through my timeline or checking anything. Guess resistance can feel good… Maybe it is a little tedious, stopping myself every time I would have accessed the easy pleasure of reading through people’s lives (and links!). But so far the results have been worth it.

I have as of this writing 72 notifications on my Facebook. I wanted to check it today as I’ll have little time tomorrow, but maybe should hold out for a hundred…?

I’m Going Offline! Well, Kind Of. Mostly.

My name is Rita. I am a solo artist.

There is a chance you knew this about me. I do solo shows: comedy, mostly, often with swear words in the titles, but also theatre and poetry (got something cooking right now!). As a solo artist, the only way to work with others is when I get cast in somebody else’s work, or when I hire someone. So most of the time, I work alone.

I. Can. Not. Get. Stuff. Done. For The Life Of Me. And if you tell me that I do, I’ll rephrase: I get Some Stuff Done, Sometimes. The ideas/creation ratio is deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.

fuck-it-instagram
Me in 2017, swearing in my first show’s title.


Facebook and their compatriots put some serious work into reprogramming my brain. I will humbly admit that I may be on the susceptible end of the spectrum: I like to read, I’m procrastination-prone… I was made for loving you, baby…! (Internet). My intense reading habit – something my family spoke with half-admiration, half-exasperation when I was a child – has shifted online almost completely. I’ve been paying library fines for about 6 months, because I do, in fact, want to read those books about history of hip-hop and British class system (two different books, though that would be a fun read….). Bottom line, I NEED TO STOP BEING ON-LINE, PRONTO.

Am I deleting my Facebook account? No. Not that simple.

As an artist, I need an Online Presence. As a human, I enjoy easy access to my friends and finding out about events I might attend. Overall, I can’t be fully offline – I have work that comes via email, I have things that need to be promoted. Rather than disappearing, I want to show up consciously, when I have someting to say.

So what I’m choosing to do is, from 4 January for about a month, get on Facebook once a week – to publish a blogpost. Twitter and Instagram will also benefit from my blogging, but that will be the extent of it; there will be no Netflix, YouTube or NowTV. I even plan to download albums off Spotify, so that I can remain offline from it, too.

I’m leaving my burgeoning podcasting habit alone. I tend to clean when I listen to podcasts, so that makes them good in my book.

Will it be worth it? Will it, as I hope, shift my focus a bit?

I have a lot of work on my plate this month – completing my tax return for one. It will definitely be interesting to see whether I feel any different or function better. For now, I invite you to hang out with me as I’m trying this thing out. The next post might be all about my favourite YouTube shows, just because I’ll miss them…!

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