Burnout #WorldMentalHealthDay

posted in: life, photography | 0

I’m burnt out. As it’s World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d write a blog about it.

Now I know some people find writing about their mental health to be a therapeutic activity, but I really don’t. Some people find putting down words – in blogs, in songs, in poems, in plays – to be a useful way to support their mental health, but I don’t find that it does a lot for me. Reflection definitely helps when I’m tired, but I find the act of typing/writing to be a chore, and I am only doing it now to procrastinate (and ensure that I produce at least one blog post this month).

It’s no surprise I’m burnt out really. I’ve had a none-stop couple of weeks. I have a tendency to do this fairly regularly – work solidly for two or three weeks with no down time, then force myself to stop for a few days. It’s both a benefit and drawback of self-employment. A large part of the problem is that often I’ll not have enough work to pay the bills in any given month, and then out of nowhere several days’ work will appear and I’ll be left with little choice but to accept it, even if it means working twelve days straight.

Then there’s the other work that I have to take. You know. Opportunities to develop the personal projects that I’ve committed to. This has been happening a lot with both my photography and my podcasts.

The audience at 3VA's "The Big Event"Since leaving paid work in the community and voluntary sector I’ve really missed the opportunity to help people, and I’ve missed feeling like I’m giving something back. When I realised that I needed some portfolio pictures for the events section of my photography website, I put a call out to the sector and offered to cover a few events for no charge. Bang: two birds, one stone. The problem is, of course, that covering events results in hundreds of photographs being taken. And hundreds of photographs equals lots of hours of editing. Thus, part of this feeling of being overwhelmed it linked to the backlog of photographs sitting on my hard drive waiting to be edited.

Another contributory factor is the lack of time I’ve had to spend with my partner. We don’t live together for very boring independence reasons. In short: she’s has MS. If we move in together she potentially loses her carers, plus many of the benefits, and I would have to support us both on a salary of less than £12k while also taking the role of unpaid carer. Yeah, like that’s gonna work. My salary wouldn’t even cover the cost of rent on the two-bed property we’d need to live together, and neither of us wants to lose our independence.

But this brings pressures. I have to plan my weeks with military precision – knowing which nights I’ll be at home, and which nights I’ll be at hers. Throw in a dynamic diary, expected or unexpected deliveries of essentials for the work I’m doing (depending on how organised the agency I’m working for is), constantly changing work locations, plus working out what kit and equipment I need to take from my home to my partner’s house – sometimes planning up to three days ahead – and you can see how easily I can lose track of what’s going on in my life. I often wish I could just go home to my partner after a full day’s work and not have to worry about whether my camera/laptop/guitar/work shirt/smart shoes/gym gear/notes for my new show/scripts are at my house or hers.

I have to say, despite what I said about writing not being therapeutic, as I read that back I was mildly impressed with myself for being able to keep my head above water at all. This is not how I envisaged living my life at 39 years old!

Then there’s the acting, the comedy, the writing, the wrestling training, the music, the rehearsals, the line learning, the Sussex Actors website, the self-employed admin and the cooking, cleaning, washing and shopping.

Fucking hell. How does ANYONE survive these days?

I’ve had a couple of songs floating around in my head for the last few days. They’re from The Greatest Showman – a film that I absolutely fell in love with the first time I saw it, and a film that I’ve watched numerous times since. One – A Million Dreams – is sung by a young PT Barnham at the start, and his childhood dream is something that I refuse to let go of:

Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colours fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make
The other song is from the end of the show, and reminds me that I’m an adult:
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for

That one’s not perhaps as poignant as I’ve never chased praise. I just do what I like doing, and if people like it, great. If not, I honestly don’t care. But it does remind me that I want to constantly build towards a future, even if I don’t know what that future looks like. I guess there are pressures involved in going against the grain though.

I’ll be honest – I’m incredibly tired and I’ve lost my thread. I’m not sure where this post was going or what my point was. I do know I set out to say one thing here though – look after yourself. I’m a strong believer that if you put yourself first (which ISN’T selfish so long as you’re not doing it at the expense of others) then everything else will fall into place.

In fact I’m not just a believer, I’m living proof.

Edit/Addendum

I realised after I posted this that it was really a big rant, so here, in the interests of trying to be a bit more helpful, are some further reflections and my coping strategies :

That was a bit moany, so I just want to add that I know this will pass. I know I’m not the only one going through these things, and I’m actually the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. The following might be helpful for others, so here are my top coping strategies:

1. I practice being grateful. This blog was a moan about all the things that can push me over the edge, but I also take time out of each day to be grateful for the things that I have.
2. I schedule breaks when I need them. Sure, not week-long breaks, but when I see my diary filling up, I schedule a day in diary for me to do nothing.
3. I make time for my passion projects. These are the things that I am doing solely because I want to do them, with no outside interference. They fulfil me creatively and when I go long periods without progressing any of them, I get quite down.
4. I meditate. I know a lot of people that think meditation hasn’t worked for them, and I know people that don’t really understand the point of it. All I know is that the more often I do it, the better I feel. It’s a chance to switch my mind off, and that’s invaluable to me.
5. I do things for others. As I mentioned, I like doing voluntary work when I can. It helps distract me and whatever voluntary work I do, I often find myself learning a lot about myself at the same time.

There are other things too, but these are the ones that spring to mind right now. I’ll add more or maybe do a new post in the future.