Last winter I had a burn out. Really? I did? Yeah, it took me a while to figure it out myself. And once I had figured it out I was ashamed to admit it. First to myself, then to others. But you know me. When ever I feel something is wrong I start wondering why and can never keep my mouth shut about my findings. So what was going on here?
During my twenties I spent a lot of time in therapy. I was what one could call guano crazy. I was officially declared unfit for regular work and have been living on government benefits ever since. Not that I haven't tried to study or work. I have tried plenty. But every time I had to come to the conclusion they were right: I am unfit for regular work. So I shouldn't do that. I am coming to terms with that now, since I had yet another burn out this winter. Seems like I finally learned my lesson. Most people who are sitting at home actually want to do something useful. So do I. So even though I don't have to work to be able to cover my basic bills (and not much more but this is a different story) I do want to do something. I started doing volunteer work at the COC, the LGBT rights organisation. I set up a non profit gallery with a friend of mine. I thought group classes as several gyms. I continued making art. And I started my transition from female to male.
I got a shoulder injury and decided it was a good moment to take a break from teaching at the gyms. The gallery was taking up more and more time so it was a good excuse to quit at the COC where I felt overwhelmed. And then the gallery lost its major sponsor and we could no longer stay at the location we had. We decided to close down after 4 years. Honestly, I was relieved it closed. It meant I could take some time to myself and catch my breath. I took a week, and then another. It turned into a month and then two. And I am still tired. I tell people I can't really do anything right now because I am waiting for my surgery this summer. Honestly, that's not the whole story. I burned out last winter and I need some time to recover. I don't know how long this is going to take but it will take as long as it needs to. I'm not going to set any goals or deadlines. I'm going to take it a day at a time and if my energy is good that day I'll use it. If my energy is low I'll take it easy. I'm not going to let myself burn out again. I've done it too many times already.
I know what I did wrong. The next question is why. Lately half the time I'm on public transport I overhear people complain to each other or on the phone about the pressure at work and school. They are constantly being asked to do a little extra. Again and again. All those things are relatively small but they add up. To a lot. People are working extra hours to get all the work done and have to do additional courses to keep their jobs. Even if the course has nothing to do with their actual work. People are discouraged to call in sick when they really should. People are sacrificing their free time to catch up with paperwork. It seems like everyone is terrified of losing their jobs. At first I thought that was it: people want to keep their jobs and with unemployment as high as it is people are willing to do anything to not get fired. But why does this state of fear flows over into the school system? Kids are cracking under the pressure and they feel guilty about it. What's happening there?
When I was growing up our parents told us we could be anything we wanted. The choice was ours. This idea is still valid. But, if you want to be A, then you also have to be X, Y and Z. Even if you don't want to be X, Y and Z and they have nothing to do with what you are doing. The things you want to do are now pre packaged with a bunch of other stuff. There are conditions to everything. This isn't really something new. There are always things attached to everything. When you want to be your own boss and become an entrepreneur you also have to do all the paperwork that goes with it. If you love teaching and inspiring people it also means you have to prepare your classes and score the tests. There are always conditions. But these days it seems that the conditions overshadow the actual work. People are so busy with their check lists that they hardly have time to do what they wanted to do in the first place: the job they chose. Why do we allow this? Not just because we are afraid of losing our jobs. It's bigger then that.
This wave of pressure can be felt by everyone, even stay at home parents or people like me. The general consensus these days seems to be: you can be anything you want, if you work hard enough. If you fail you didn't work hard enough so it's your own fault and you don't deserve to be happy. I'm guessing this is why we put up with this nonsense. We want to prove we can handle it to earn our happiness. It's like a continual pissing contest. Survival of the fittest. A rat race. Maybe we are letting this happen because unemployment is so high. Maybe the "power corrupts" principle is being applied on a massive scale today. People are being told they actually do have control over their own lives. All they have to do is work their hands till they bleed with no reward, just postponed punishment. Orwell wasn't far off after all.
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