Important update (2)

As I write this, the sun is peeping out. I can hear the dawn chorus. I’m planning a story about apple blossom for The Royal Parks. I feel as if I’m coming out of a long dark tunnel, it feels great to be able to tell stories again. This week I stood up in front of an audience for the first time in three months.

I am a bit of a workaholic, maybe you are one too? Maybe you know how tempting it is to keep on saying ‘yes’? 2023 was a gift of a year, crammed with fascinating, joyful ‘non performing’ projects as well as a ton of gigs.

Okay I was busy so I hired an assistant, the amazing Jo Cooke. I also employed other storytellers to delegate much of the work to. However, having help just meant I said yes to even more. The joy started to become opressive. I found myself waking up with urgent to-do lists running through my head. I didn’t have time for my loved ones… and with new projects around the corner, there was no end in sight. I knew that I should find a way of stepping back from something but it didn’t seem possible. They NEEDED me!

Guess what? I couldn’t handle it. In retrospect, the signs were there but I ignored them.

On 1st of December, I noticed my voice was hoarse. I cancelled a couple of gigs and got my head down to try and finish up my most urgent projects. On 15th December I completed the last one… and, immediately on pressing ‘submit’ I discovered that I felt incredibly ill. I couldn’t get up, go out, eat or speak. For the next month, I stayed at home, doing nothing at all. I had no idea what was wrong and when (or if) it would get better. It was scary. There was no question of me working. All of a sudden, I had no choice. I had to abandon amazing projects and cancel cherished events. It was like being inside a house of cards.

If I had only attended to those early signs, I would not have fallen ill and I would have had some control over which events were cancelled and what I stepped back from.

Doctors ruled out serious conditions and I am well on the mend at last. My voice and my energy were taken away but it was only temporary. I am incredibly grateful, it could have been much worse. I just needed to rest. I’ve learned a valuable lesson, to pay attention to warning signs.

For those of us who don’t have alternative income, it can be even harder to say ‘no’ to work (but even more important if you want to avoid a total collapse.)

Anyway, if you are, like me, a bit of a workaholic, maybe this list will be helpful for you too!

Do you think you are irreplacible and the world can’t manage without you?

Do you find it difficult to concentrate / do you make silly mistakes?

Are you too busy to do simple things like watch tv with loved ones / are you too busy to meet friends?

Do you wake in the night with your head full of to-do lists?

Do you feel overwhelmed, with no idea when this busy time will pass?

That’s my list of warning signs. Is there anything I’ve missed? I’d love to know what other people think about this important subject. In any case, I’m happy to say that my workload is much more managable now. Long live the magic of stories!

EDIT: a few people have commented to say that similar things have happened to them and that the “break” when it came, actually allowed them time to step back, think, plan and be strategic. Basically, they are saying that it wasn’t all bad. I love that optimism and, in fact, this is also true for me… I also took the chance to rest, rethink, plan and make changes… but I certainly would have preferred to have *chosen* my break!

6 thoughts on “Important update (2)”

  1. I’ve been where you are, experienced much of what you said, and at one time answered “yes” to all those questions. Different symptoms, same endgame. They are tough learning experiences but valuable. I’m so grateful that things have taken a turn to the good for you. Not sure when we’ll be in England but I hope it is when you are doing a story experience! Meanwhile, stay well.

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    • Thanks for your comment. I’m very glad you are safe now! (And also, I don’t understand why it’s SO difficult to stop. Even as we know we are doing too much, we continue!)

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  2. It sounds like you’ve gone through a hard time, I feel for you. I had a burnout when I was doing my PhD. I think it has made me very careful with work-life balance to the point of being on a career shift. Pausing and resting are now sacred. I still fail to listen to my body as much as I would like to – I was close to burnout last year again. But I try not to blame and shame myself for it, it’s a learning process and I’m making changes. Things are uncertain in the face of changes, but I feel more authentic, and more on the right track. I hope you are recovered now – I hope to see you tomorrow!

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    • Thank you so much for your comment, so true. I do think that, like freelance creatives, academics are very prone to burn out (and I have observed a culture in academia which prizes ‘doing it all’ and herculean feats of endurance!) In fact burn out can happen to anyone can’t it? See you tomorrow at Society of Antiquities 🙂

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