Time to Recalibrate? Here’s what that looks like for me…

My mother would have definitely frowned upon my posture. I was slumped in to the cushions of the couch like a moody teenager, legs stuck straight out in front of me as far as possible. Definitely not the way a grown woman sits in the living room. The sun had set on yet another day, counting down the handful of days left until Christmas, and my mind slowly giving up the fight on all the items still left to do on my never-ending to do list.  My husband was running out the door to the final choir practice before their big Christmas concert and he noticed my face. “You okay?”

“I don’t think so,” I replied, almost wondering if I was or wasn’t.  “It just hit me.  I think I’m done.  Too much.  I’m emotionally and physically spent. And there’s still so much to do.  I don’t see how I’m going to get it all done.  And I just don’t even care.”

“Ouch.  That’s not you.  That’s not like you at all. Time to regroup” he asks?  That’s the awesome beauty of this man.  He knows me.  He can see stress and exhaustion as it registers on my face and in my body and my language and he checks in with a “you okay?”  He knows when I’m not me, when I’m out of my healthy rhythms, and when I need to recalibrate.

These last couple of weeks have been draining. Part of it was the kind of draining that comes from good things – being with friends, meeting for coffee and conversation, having visitors come to stay, and a long holiday weekend that we spent hiking and having great fun outdoors.  Good stuff!  Good stuff takes lots of energy.

Then there were a few tough days that were the “real” tough days… hard relational stuff, difficult meetings, stressful conversations.  Add to that two days with back-to-back meetings all day long, a reading assignment, six hours in the emergency room with a friend, and two big group project meetings. Those things take a different kind of energy and cause a different kind of stress.

So, as I slouched down in to the corner of the couch, I realized that I was done.  Dry.  My cup does not runneth over – it’s empty.  I’ve been here before.  And every time I swear I’m going to pay more attention next time and not let it happen again. Yet, here I am. Ugh.

Time to recalibrate.

Emotional exhaustion is my downfall.  I don’t usually get to a point of physical exhaustion.  This girl has never had trouble sleeping!  I can sleep in the car at the drop of a hat (much to my husband’s chagrin). If I try to sit in my favorite chair and read, I’ll be asleep in minutes.  Movie theatres are nap time death traps for me! And if I curl up with a quilt and warm socks and the dog, there is no Netflix show known to man that can keep my eyes open.  Nope – physical exhaustion is generally not my thing. Me and sleep are besties!  But – the emotional stuff? That jazz just wipes me out and knocks me for a loop.

I can’t tell you what will be your magic elixir for getting back on track.  It’s different for everyone.  But I can tell you about some tried and true awesomeness that works for me.  And maybe it will get your creative thoughts going and help you find a few gainers that will help you reset and refill your cup.

Rest

Okay, okay… don’t laugh and quit reading.  I know that finding a way to rest is tough. I’m a mom and have several full-time gigs running at the same time.  And I just told you that I can sleep without even thinking about it.  But REST is different for me.  Rest is finding a way to turn off my brain. I need to do something calming, something that induces peace in my head and my heart.  Sometimes that means sitting with a good fiction book. And if I can do it in the garden, cha-ching! Score!  Because nothing calms me more than sitting in the sun surrounded by plants and flowers and birds singing. Bad weather? Candles to the rescue! Me and a cup of coffee and candles and a book = pretty dang close to heaven.

Music

This is one I forget to incorporate in my daily life, but it makes such a huge difference in my emotional status.  With Spotify and other streaming music sites available, I can tailor the music to the mood I need.  Smooth jazz, a good Blues playlist, some Rat Pack, or some Ruthie Foster are my go-to musical saviors. My daughter’s number one calm-down music is the classical masters… Mozart, Bach, Tchaikovsky. If I hear her streaming those guys, I know her studies are getting stressful.  And to be perfectly honest, sometimes I need some seriously upbeat tunes or some good stand-up-and-fight music.  Those are on stand-by in a special playlist.

Exercise

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? You’re already exhausted, so why would you exercise?  But trust me, the chemicals produced in the brain in response to exercise are vital to your energy and mood! Do what you like to do… take a walk, go on a jog, spend some time with your yoga mat and get in a really good stretch, ride your bike, or on a hike.  It doesn’t matter what you do but do something for 20 minutes or so.  My dogs love me when I can take them out on a walk for a bit or go to the park and throw the ball for them.  We both benefit, and that’s a win-win! Hint: I use YouTube and stream exercise videos every day.  It’s amazing!  I just type in what I feel like doing and how long I want to do it and I get a whole list of videos to choose from.  Sometimes I accidently choose some evil gym queen who I’m pretty sure makes videos after she finishes training fight dogs as her day job – but the beauty of YouTube is I can go *click*, “Goodbye Evil One! You are not welcome on my yoga mat today” and I feel like I really just saved the world.

Get clean

Not gonna lie, sometimes the last thing I want to do when I’m emotionally caput is think about clothes and makeup and hair. But it’s amazing what a good bath or shower can do for your mood!  Add some candles to the bathroom (are you feeling a theme here?) and some really great scents (I’m a sucker for spearmint and eucalyptus aromatherapy from Bath and Body Works, or anything vanilla or coconut… okay, food – I should just bathe with food – HA!).  Somehow, after a good hot bath and some yummy clean smells, I feel like I might be human again.

Friends

This one is really hard for me on the tough days.  I’m an introvert at heart, and when I’m emotionally drained, my default is to go in to full-on turtle mode and withdraw.  If I have to go out, I wish I had the Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter so no one would see me or talk to me.  But, this is one of those times when WE NEED COMMUNITY.  When we are emotionally toast, we actually need people.  Be choosy – choose people who fill you up, who make you laugh, or who speak truth and beauty in to your life.  I may text a friend and go have coffee. Sometimes, physically going out to meet up is not an option for me, but I have a couple of friends who I can video call on Messenger or Skype and they are instant energy boosts for me. The key here is to be as close to real life face-to-face as possible.  Texting back and forth isn’t the same as FaceTime or a video call.  You need to see someone’s eyes and hear their voice and laugh together to get the full effect of those great anti-stress hormones that are released when we find joy in connection. I have one friend who can make me go in to that middle-school slumber party kind of non-stop ridiculous laughter, the kind that makes your sides hurt and your face starts to cramp.  She is one of my go-to video calls in stressful times! She is important community for me!

Make it fit

I have other little things that I do. Journaling, painting, baking.  My best friend gets out a jigsaw puzzle when she needs to chill – that makes me even more stressed, but it works for her.  And that’s exactly my point.  You need to find what works for you, what fills you back up, and what calms your spirit.  It doesn’t matter what you do but do take the time to invest in yourself and in your own mental and emotional health.

Hey – Newsflash: You are not the only one.  This is normal.  We all get to the end of our rope. We have all been there and used up all of our energy and our reserves at one time or another.  It’s okay.  Just pick yourself up and refill that cup. You’re worth it!

 

Center Field

I used to play soccer.  I played a lot of positions over the years. I was a forward for a bit, but I wasn’t quite fast enough to break away.  I played midfield and sweeper for a while, too. I settled in at defense, with a strong leg and the ability to think ahead and know the mind of the offensive player and outwit his next move.  I love the excitement of the play, but there is something about standing at midfield – at the center line – and anticipating the kick off.  It’s ground zero.  No one is ahead or behind.  It’s that one moment when there is no offense or defense.  It’s dead center.  It’s the starting point.

That’s where I feel like I am right now.

I’m really excited about how I feel right now.  It has taken me more than three months to get to this point in my recovery – see The Slow Burn(out). It has not been an easy road, for sure.  But I’m feeling really good right now.  I learned a long time ago that you can’t always look at achievement in terms of completion of the goal.  Sometimes you have to look at the BNI – the barely noticeable improvements – and celebrate those milestones.  Right now, my BNIs are probably only noticeable to me and my husband, but they are HUGE milestones for me.  I’m feeling really good as far as my stress levels and my ability to rest and gauge my day.  I have, on several occasions, had next to nothing to do and zero on my list or radar, and I am perfectly fine with that!  Now, if you know me, you know that in the past, that was NOT fine… that was a sign that I wasn’t working hard enough and should find something to add to the list.  But not now.  It doesn’t evoke the least bit of stress or worry or a need to figure out what else I can do or accomplish today.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and studying during this time, I’ve been indulging my creative side, I’ve been exercising and tending to the house and gardens as needed, and I’m perfectly content. I have been making time for relationships that I have not tended for months. I have rested. I have done a lot of writing.  All of this was part of a restoration process that was long overdue.

It has, in many ways, reminded me of the old Victorian farmhouse we restored when we lived in Texas.  Years of neglect and abandon had left her in terrible condition.  The plumbing was non-existent. The foundation had to be completely torn out and redone. Every time we opened up a wall or started a new project, we found more and more issues that had to be dealt with.  It was like peeling off layers of an onion.  Termites, rotten wood, faulty wiring.  You name it, we fixed it.  It was not a quick fix, either.  We worked on that Old Girl for 15 years!

I feel like that old house right now.  Every time I start to dig in to something in my recovery process, it unearths something else that needs to be dealt with.  My foundation has been dug up and is being restored.  And there has definitely been some faulty wiring that we have had to work on! But I’m feeling pretty good about all of it right now.

I know that I am, by no means, “there” yet.  I feel that I have turned an important corner, maybe.  Like I’m not winning, but I’m definitely not losing… I’m at center field.  I don’t feel like I’m working from a deficit anymore, and that feels really good.  I have spent so long feeling like I was exhausted and had nothing else to give, yet giving more and more each day and ending up spent and cranky and in worse shape than I was the day before.  Compared to that – I’m feeling awesome!

I realize that there is still a fair amount of work ahead of me.  I still have a lot of work to do on myself, on my faulty wiring, on getting used to the new wiring.  I still have some tender and raw places that I feel like need to be protected.  I still wince when someone asks about my schedule or what I got done today or what’s on my agenda, because that is exactly the battlefield I’m working on, and it’s still pretty easy for the Enemy to make me feel like I’m not getting enough done and I’m not working hard enough.  The BusyMan (he’s my Boogie Man) seems to always be waiting around the corner. But I recognize him now.  He’s in my headlights.   And that’s another one of my BNIs… I recognize him and the threat, and just shedding Light on him is a big step.

I have a fair amount of fear to still work on. Fear of the BusyMan.  Fear of our upcoming furlough and the pace of life in the USA.  Fear of saying no to some things and some people, but knowing that I need to protect myself and continue down the road to recovery and not relapse into busyness and stress-filled days and full agendas. Fear of my own will power… am I strong enough to stand up for myself and say no and not fear disappointing others? I’ve mostly done all of my recovery within the confines of our little home and community – in a ‘lab setting’, so to speak.  How will it play out in a bigger setting?  I don’t know, but I’m ready to test it out.

I’m not there yet.  There’s a lot of self-work still to do. But I’m feeling really good about where I am. Barely noticeable improvements.

*this is part 5 in a series on my burnout recovery… see The Slow Burn(out) for part 1

Let’s talk about no

Let’s talk about no.  It’s such a little thing.  Two letters – n and o.  Yet I have lived for too many years in fear and trembling of putting those two letters together and saying them out loud. Okay… maybe I said them a lot when I was parenting little people, but I haven’t said them much when I’ve been out there in the big blue world.

Why?  What is there to be afraid of?

There are so many answers to that, I couldn’t even begin to write them all in this little blog!  I’m working through them.  It’s a process.

There is actually some science to it, a lot of research to it, and a lot of serious identity lies and junk involved.  And I have a LOT of the big psychological markers – I’m a first-born child, I’m a female, my personality tends toward achievement and perfectionism… we could go on and on here.  I hate to disappoint people.  I can’t stand conflict.  I am highly capable and highly responsible to a fault. I thrive on challenge and proving that I can do it. I never learned how to fail.  “Quitters never win and winners never quit” and “Second place is first loser” and “Why did you get a 95 on the test?  What did you do wrong?” are all things I have carried in my heart.  There’s a lot of systemic junk here.  The point is, I have to learn to manage who I am and my history and my circumstances or it’s going to kill me.  It’s all manageable, but I have to be willing to learn and grow. And, to an extent, I have to learn to swim upstream and say no to things that our culture values.  Our culture values efficiency and effectiveness.  It values hard work. It values high achievement and people who readily take on challenges.  It values return on investment. It values people who push through, who work harder and longer and say yes to more work.

But here’s the thing… every time you say yes to something, you say no to something else.  Maybe not out loud, but it is how the formula works.  It’s an equation.

Yes + a = No + b

Therefore, “yes, I’ll write that article for your publication” = “no, I don’t have time to go to coffee with my friend today”.

“Yes, I can do a 7pm meeting” =  “no, I can’t make dinner or be home with the family”.

In my head, I have always known this truth.  But.  There’s always a But. But, I haven’t been so good at heeding my own warning.  But, I don’t practice what I preach. But, I still have lived a life of saying yes to lots of things, too many things.  And, in the process, saying no to lots of things I really love, too.

I’ve said yes to writing a thousand articles for various people, and I’ve said no to being with friends who I love dearly.

I’ve said yes to teaching seminars and classes and study groups, and I’ve said no to family time.

I’ve said yes to writing curriculum and leading workshops and running meetings, and I’ve said no to my own physical and mental health.

My yes to one thing has been a no to another. And now, see where I am?  Burned out and unhealthy both physically and emotionally, and fighting to recover and rebuild my life and reshape my identity. I have been the queen of burning the candle at both ends, and I never really thought about where that scenario ends – it ends with a puddle of melted wax and nothing left to burn.

It’s not that any of the things I said yes to are bad.  Heavens no!  In fact, they have been things I love to do.  They are things that I am gifted at doing.  They are things that usually give me lots of joy.  But just like cake in and of itself is not a bad thing, I shouldn’t eat an entire cake!  A cookie after dinner is probably not going to kill me, but eating an entire box of Girl Scout Thin Mints is not a good thing.   Same with my love of teaching and writing and leading… any of those things on my agenda can bring great joy and life to me.  It was when I overindulged on them that I became joyless and began to burnout.

I’ve been living by a very ‘church cultural norm’ that tells us to give and sacrifice, give yourself away, give more and more, because you can’t ever out-give God and all that he’s done for you.  I’ve been living a life of sacrificial giving. People even use language that says, “I think we (ministry workers) should keep giving and keep serving until we’re all used up.  If we give it all we’ve got and die in His service, then that’s a good way to go.” This was actually said to me a couple of weeks ago.  Okay, I get it, and it makes sense, sort of.  But, I don’t think that God asked me to give and sacrifice to the point of neglecting my family or not having time for relationships or being so frazzled that I’m biting people’s heads off, because somehow that is not ‘love my neighbor as I love myself’.  I don’t think he asked my pastor to neglect his wife and spend every waking hour at the church.  I don’t think He wanted me to do so much for so long that I actually damaged my cognitive processing in my brain and could no longer form a complete sentence without blanking out!  We’ll talk about the biblical principles here another day, because this has also been a time of some deep study and searching for me.  But let’s stop laying our cultural filter on to our church filter and telling people that they need to give more and sacrifice more… just stop.

Now I am in a season of learning.  Learning to dial it back.  Learning to say no. Learning what my capacity is and what healthy rhythms are and exactly how much I can carry.  It’s a process of ‘right-sizing my life’, as Shauna Niequist calls it.

It reminds me of backpacking, actually.  I’m 5’1”. To backpack well and be able to withstand the pack and have the endurance I need, my body is only supposed to carry a certain amount of weight.  So, when I get ready to go out, I have to carefully fill my pack and distribute the weight.  I have to account for the weight of the pack itself, the weight of the water bottles I’m carrying, and the contents of the pack – my sleeping bag, my clothes, my gear, etc. Now, I can act like some deranged superwoman and overstuff my pack and exceed the weight calculations for my body, but it is going to play out poorly down the trail, trust me!  I’ve been there!  A too full, poorly distributed pack will eventually break you down.  The body WILL keep score!  Your knees will pay, your back will pay, your shoulders and neck will pay.  Then the attitude.  Then the relationships with others.  I’m not kidding.  It gets ugly when your pack isn’t right and you try to carry too much.  And it ends in exhaustion and depletion and brokenness.

This season of no is not easy for me.  It’s a time of wrestling with decisions over what to keep and what to let go.  I’m having to fight a lot of guilt. I’m having to learn to accept help.  I’m having to say no to some teaching and some writing that I really love to do.  I’m saying no to some travel and some visits that I would like to be able to do. But this is not a season for yes.  Because I need to say a lot of no so I can rest.  I need to rebuild my life. I need to learn some healthy rhythms.  I need to say a lot of no so I can recover my physical and mental health. I need to say no so I can get back some joy.

Saying no is still not intuitive to me.  Yes is my default, and I need to learn to reset and reboot and think through my decisions before I say yes.  Because my yes will mean no to someone or something else.

In this season, I’m saying yes to rest and recovery and getting my life back.

*This is part 4 of a series on my burnout recovery.  Go to The Slow Burn(out) to read from the beginning of the series.

A Good Week (and Foreboding Joy) – part 3

I don’t want to jinx it (I don’t think I even believe in that, you know…), but I had a really good week last week, the first ‘good week’ in months.   And that’s VERY good timing because I’m getting a little worried about an upcoming trip my husband is taking for work and my own emotional state of being at this time – am I ready to be at home alone?  So having a good week is a very good thing right now! Empowering. It almost feels like maybe I turned some sort of proverbial corner.

And yet…

Brene Brown talks about foreboding joy, “Joy can feel like a setup.  We wake up in the morning and think, Work is going well. Everyone in the family is healthy. No major crises are happening. The house is still standing. I’m working out and feeling good. Oh $*#@! This is bad. This is really bad. Disaster must be lurking around the corner. Our first thought is Too good to be true. What’s the catch?

It’s the ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’ idea.  Yes, I had a really good week.  And yes, I’m terrified that it was a fluke and it won’t last.

What constitutes a good week nowadays?  Well, I didn’t have any crying breakdowns. I didn’t have to be rescued from any conversations or group dynamics where my brain just quit working. I didn’t have any days where my stress level seemed out of control or when I felt the anxiety creeping up my shoulders and in to my head.  A ‘good week’ started with a life-giving soul-restoring day at the beach. A good week looked like days that had elements of tasks accomplished, time connecting with friends and family, time to rest, and even time for creativity.  There was a day or two that probably held a little more activity and brain-work than I should have allowed at this time, but the good part is that I recognized that and dealt with it.  I dialed it back, which has definitely NOT been the case in the past.  And, at one point, I even asked myself if I was feeling good because I was doing too much and therefore the adrenaline was kicking in = my drug of choice nowadays.  I was able to evaluate and reflect and that’s a step in the right direction, I think.

I, by no means, think that because I had a good week then I must be all better or healed.  HA! Not by a long shot.  This is a marathon, not a sprint. I had a good week. Period. Just like a week sober is a great thing, but by no means makes you ‘clean’ and healed. And the signs are still there that prove to me that I have a long way to go. Just yesterday, after facilitating a very intense class with very controversial themes, taught in my second language, with some extremely passionate voices at the table literally yelling their opinions at each other… I managed it and felt like I was ‘on’ and back in my teaching and facilitating groove. But the second the class was over, so was I.  I was toast. My brain was done and it just shut down.  And that was that for yesterday.  One good hour of class was all I was capable of.  The rest of the day was necessary recovery time for the physical and mental exhaustion that one passionate hour of discussion created in me.  The one hour felt great – it was great to be in my element and in my groove. But the energy output that one hour took was enormous.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Much like my time on the Camino, I’m learning that every day is a new day and every day holds its own challenges, its own hurdles to overcome and its own decisions to be encountered. There are good days and there are tough days, there are days when I feel like I got a long way, and days when I just can’t keep going and have to rest.  The trick is learning to listen to my own mind and my own body and know when to stop and fill my cup.

This is Part Three of a series on my burnout recovery journey to read more:
Part One – The Slow Burn(out)
Part Two – Two Steps forward, One step back

Two steps forward, one step back (is this Two-Steppin’?)… part 2

How am I doing? Where is this burnout and healing process going?  Well, I don’t really know.

Almost two months ago, we came to the realization that I was in a pretty major slump.  Actually, slump doesn’t quite describe the emotions and the physical symptoms that came crashing in on me. I knew things weren’t good.  But I don’t think I realized how truly ‘not good’ they were.

Burnout for me has been ugly.  It has been a time of so many mixed emotions and actions that I can’t keep up.  I have my days.  Days when I feel like I’m doing better and I’m making healthy decisions about stress and work and stress levels.  Then I have days when I feel crazy waves of anxiety for what appears to be no good reason at all.  Days when I suddenly feel like I’ve forgotten to do something important, when my whole body tenses up and I start going through the mental list and calendar and trying to figure out what I’ve missed or what I should have done today.  Then I’ll process that and get that back in check, and have another good day.  And then I’ll get blind-sided by a conversation that makes my brain completely short circuit and shut down, or I won’t be able to find the words that I’m trying to say because it feels like everything around me is going triple speed and my head is on double-slow-mo.

Yesterday was one of those days.  I had a great morning!  The sun was out.  The birds were singing.  The house was clean.  I cut fresh flowers for the table and cooked a yummy breakfast casserole to share with our friends who were coming for a little bible study time.  We laughed.  We had coffee. We looked at our study together.  It seemed like all was right with the world.  And then, somewhere between Nehemiah and the orange juice and colored pens, my eyes just glazed over and my mind shut down.  I was somewhere else, but where?  I couldn’t tell you.  I didn’t even realize it had happened.  I just zoned out. My husband saw it.  And my best friend saw it.  They’re both really good at reading faces and body language and they both realized at the same time that something was off.

I hate that. I hate that it happened.  I hate that all the beauty and fun of the morning just stopped, and suddenly people were focused on me and if I was okay.  Please… anything else… anything!  But don’t look at me like I’m broken.  I can’t take it!

We talked about it and I shrugged it off and covered it up.  For a while.  Until my afternoon walk-and-talk with Hubby.  It’s one of our daily rhythms right now.  We take a 5k walk and we talk and process through things together.  He wanted to talk about the morning and what happened and how to help.  What triggered the shut down?  What feelings was I having?  What do we need to do differently?  And in all of that, I felt a sudden wave of fear.  Fear that I don’t know why it happened.  Fear that I don’t know what to do differently next time.  Fear that I don’t know how long this recovery process is going to take.  Fear that people around me are looking at me and thinking that I’m broken or unintelligent or mentally ill.  Fear that Hubby won’t always be there to notice that I’ve shut down, that he can’t always rescue me from the situation.  Fear. Loss of control. Loss of competence. With the fear and the loss come the tears.

I’ve always been the one who had it all together.  The smart one.  The one who was two steps ahead of the game.  The strategic one.  The one who could troubleshoot anything and figure it all out.  The one who wasn’t fazed by crisis. The steady one.  The leader.  .  A strong, determined, independent, confident woman who could take on the world at any given moment. Now I feel like none of those things.  Who am I now?

On some days, I feel like I’m making steps forward.  I notice when my stress level goes up. I notice when I need a break.  I pay attention to my inner voice and the lies that I tell myself.  On some days, I think I’m getting better and I feel good about it.

Yesterday wasn’t one of those days.

So, two months in.  Feels a lot like two steps forward and one step back.  Some days feel like going back to square one. And some days feel great and I feel ‘like myself’ again.  My days are like waves and I never know if the sea is going to be gentle and calm, or roll over me with emotions I didn’t see coming.

What I would give to feel 100% like me again… where is that girl who can do just about anything, do it at the drop of a hat, and do it with excellence? I really wish she’d come home…

*part 1 The Slow Burn(out)

The Slow Burn(out)… part 1

How did I get here?  How did I go from being vibrant and driven and passionate about this work to an overwhelmed, frustrated, joyless person?

I know some of the answers to this question, and yet, I feel like I know nothing.  I can hear the statements that people have said to me in the past few years and how those statements have become mantras that I use when I teach and train others, yet somewhere along the way I quit actually hearing them or listening to them for myself.

“Your ‘yes’ to one thing is a ‘no’ to something else. Think carefully before you say ‘yes’.”

I have preached this over and over, yet I have continued to say yes to things that I shouldn’t have.  Because I’m afraid they won’t get done.  Because I know that I am capable to doing them and doing them with excellence. Because I don’t want to let down the person who asked me.  Because I feel obligated. Or because I can’t stand the idea of not meeting the expectations of others – because I have always met and exceeded expectations, and I don’t know how to not do so.

“Our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses overused.”

I’ve probably said this one so many times that people started to think it was my motto.  Sadly, I quit hearing it somehow.  I have been quick to pull it out of my toolbag and use it in coaching sessions with clients.  It is absolutely true!  Sadly, it’s true for me, too!  So when my top five strengths include Achiever and Analysis and Strategy… yes, that combo can be deadly if I’m not careful. And I haven’t been careful.  I have let those strengths run rampant, like a horse with no reins. That, on top of my personality bent for perfection and improvement and excellence… it was a perfect storm just waiting to happen.

I think about the teaching of one of my mentors, how he so carefully has explained to me on several occasions about Jesus’ life and teachings and how even HE had specific people and relationships that were of high focus for him.  He spent more time with God and with his closest friends and family, and less time with ‘the masses’.  Even HE pulled away for times of renewal and rest.  And yet, I have continually allowed that to flip-flop in my life, and I have spent more time and energy on pleasing the masses and worrying about the results and expectations of people whom I barely know.  I have worried about finances and goals and to-do lists and making sure that it all gets done and everyone is happy.  And sadly, I have spent less and less time in renewal and rest, on friends and family and relationships and God.

So, that brings me to the spiral.  It was slow. So slow that I didn’t really see it. I felt it subconsciously, but didn’t see it. My body completely knew what was going on.  Have you ever heard the adage that “the body never lies”?  There’s another one – “The body keeps the score.” Even though I was working 6 days a week and going 100 miles a minute and wearing 15 hats and juggling 25 plates, doing it all while I hosted people in my home and attempted to look like some deranged Martha Stewart / Rachel Ray / Brene Brown mix, my body was quietly putting up the tally marks. I was doing a good job on the outside, but I was slowly paying the price.  So slowly that I didn’t realize it.

Sometime back in the Fall of last year, 2016, I started feeling less than joyful.  Less than passionate.  Well, to be honest, I either felt all or nothing.  I was either void of passion for my work and just going through the motions, or I was so passionate that I wanted to scream because no one else cared enough. And on those days, the days when I was overly emotional and ‘passionate’, I was ready to quit.  Not quit and go home to Texas, but quit banging my head against whatever was in the way.  At times that was the church, at other times it was the mission agency, at other times it was just life in general.  I felt like I was expending so much energy and time and seeing very little return on that investment.  I felt like I cared more than anyone else, and I was so done with being the only one who cared.  I was feeling like I saw no results for loads of output.  I have had a lot of days when I looked at God and said, “Why? Why did you send me here? Am I not doing what you wanted from me? If so, why does it feel so awful?”

Those were the bad days.  On the good days (if you can call them that), I was feeling confused.  It was my Analysis strength kicking in, trying to figure it all out.  I just couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with me.  I do feel like I am exactly where God wants me and has called me.  I do feel like I make a difference (on my good days, I feel that). I do know that I am working within my strengths and my personality and my giftings.  I’m teaching, I’m administrating, I’m leading, I have lots of opportunity to do lots of things in my sweet spot of my unique design.  So why do I feel nothing??? Why do I feel flat and joyless and overwhelmed and confused?

I can remember specific conversations with one of my coaches and a few of my peers regarding these exact questions. I talked to my husband, Billy, about it a thousand times.  No one could ever put their finger on it.  So I just continued to feel odd and out of sorts and overwhelmed and confused.

There were physical symptoms, for sure.  Once the body had put up enough tally marks, it began to play it’s hand.  Randomly weird excessive weight gain.  Odd sleep habits. No response to extreme diet restrictions. And the worst was when I started having memory lapses, when I could no longer multitask even the simplest of things, and when I started mixing up languages or stalling during sentences.  It was like I just couldn’t think, and I was terrified!  I went to the doctor and had lots of tests run, to which they found absolutely nothing wrong with me. Nothing.  Possibly some early menopause symptoms, but nothing else.  Nothing that would show a cancer or tumor or heart issues or stroke or thyroid trouble or diabetes or any of the gazillion things I was fearing.  The only recommendation was that my metabolism may be a little wacky… “eat healthy and exercise more; otherwise, you look like a normal 50 year old woman.” Thanks.  PS – I don’t do ‘normal’.  I don’t do ‘average’.  I do ‘exceptional’ or ‘outstanding’, but never ‘normal’.  There once was a time when a surgeon told me that upon examination, I was ‘unremarkable’.  I was appalled!!!  I have NEVER been ‘unremarkable’!  He then explained that was a good thing… unremarkable means there was nothing ‘wrong’ with me and that surgery was not necessary.  I think he needs to find other terminology!  Unremarkable is no way to talk about people!  But I digress…

Things continued following the same route.  Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, I just couldn’t shake it.  Then, in a conversation with my Billy, he said, “Are you sure you aren’t depressed?  This seems something like depression to me.”  And it hit me… no, I’m not depressed. The symptoms aren’t quite right and it doesn’t quite fit.  But burnout?… that’s it!

I immediately pulled out the research and all the articles on burnout and showed my husband.  I hit every single marker except one.  EVERY SINGLE MARKER!  In fact, every comment or quote about feelings and emotions and thought processes that people suffering from burnout say and feel, I had literally said within the past two days.  EVERY ONE! My eyes filled up, as did his.  We knew we had finally landed on what was wrong.  We also knew from our training that this was big, and coming out of it was going to be even bigger.

“I had the sense that my essential self, my best self, was slipping away, and the new person in her place was someone I very much didn’t want to be.  She was shaped out of necessity – tough and focused enough to bear the weight of my work life, when the real me, tender and whimsical, would have crumpled under the weight.”
~Shauna Niequist   Present Over Perfect

Today, almost three weeks have passed since we finally named it.  My boss has been told, mostly because recovery is going to mean saying a lot of ‘no’ to a lot of things and she needed to know that.  And my local team knows because I’ve had to pull back from some things. I’m meeting with my psychotherapist, who specializes in working with people in our line of work.  She’s being pretty strict and straight forward with me about what I can and cannot do right now.  And she has literally prescribed actions (and inactions) for me to begin this process of recovery.  She’s so cute… she actually wanted to write it out on her prescription pad for me so I could show it to people so I don’t get flack.  I told her I have good people around me who don’t need to see a prescription to know that I’m telling the truth.

Billy is my rock and my shield right now.  He has already had to be a tough disciplinarian and keep me grounded and remind me that I cannot do things.  He has helped me clear my calendar and prioritize what is allowed to stay and what has to go during this season.  And a few things must stay that shouldn’t, but he is helping me to cope with those in healthy ways and work through them. He shields me when he sees that something is becoming too stressful, or when someone is asking me for something that I can’t or shouldn’t do.  And he protects me from myself, A LOT, because the truth is that I am my own worst enemy – my superwoman syndrome takes over and I think I’m all better and I can handle it and I can take on the world.  He gently drags me back to reality and reminds me that my therapist was painfully honest and strict… this is, on average, a 4-6 month journey to recovery that is going to take very serious rest and recalibration and retraining of my mind and body. *sigh*

I don’t like that.  I don’t like it because I don’t know how to do it.  I don’t understand rest.  I don’t know how to recalibrate.  I feel useless and worthless and helpless.  I just want to be productive and efficient and helpful.  My life is about service and loving others.  I’m having a tough time with saying no and being told no.  Let the pouting and frowning begin.  I’m an awful patient, ask my family! I don’t like this season. Not one bit. And that sweet talking doll of a therapist told me that I would feel like this – because I’ve become an adrenaline junkie and my body has been wired so high for so long.  And withdrawal stinks. (How can she be so sweet and such a darling and say such tough things to me?!  It completely throws me off guard. She just called me an addict!)  Anyway… it is what it is and I have to deal with this season.

“The more I listen to myself, my body, my feelings, and the less I listen to the ‘should’ and ‘must’ and ‘to-do’ voices, the more I realize my body and spirit have been whispering all along, but I couldn’t hear them over the chaos and noise of the life I’d created.  I was addicted to this chaos, but like any addiction, it was damaging me.” 
~Shauna Niequist  Present Over Perfect

That’s where we are.  It’s going to take time – 4-6 months at least.  It’s going to be a process.  I’m not quitting my job or my life here.  I have stepped back from a few things.  I have delegated a few more.  I’m doing some things a little differently for a while.  I’m still involved in the local work here, and our team has been exceptionally wonderful at telling me to step away for a bit and let them pick up the pieces during this season.  I remain committed to the coaching work and to leadership positions in the agency, but am working a more limited schedule for this season. Doctor’s orders. I’m only doing one or two work agenda items per day, and seriously limiting multitasking and the hours I work in a week.  If we must travel or work doing hosting (both are 24 hour a day stressors), I am mandated to take several days off afterward to recoup.  Not easy for me!  Since the bulk of the communications and newsletter and thank you notes falls on me, we are going to drop down to sending a newsletter every other month this year instead of once a month, and partner communications / thank yous will probably back down a bit, too.  Our upcoming furlough / home assignment will look different than in the past, with a pretty strict diet of rest and peace, family and play, and very specific days of meetings and speaking and ‘work’.  I don’t like it and it’s not optimal for speaking engagements,  meetings and fundraising and partnership development, but it’s necessary for my health…we either have a strict schedule of rest and peace and low-stress, or we cancel our trip home completely to avoid the high stress that furlough usually brings.  I don’t want to cancel, so we’ll have to go with strict.

“I think that every once in a while, we reach the end of being of our highest service. At that point, it’s time to pull back. It’s appropriate to give ourselves some space to be in our lives and to dream.
I know that I want to continue to be of high service for a long time to come. So right now, it’s time for me to step away and go to be in my life. It’s time for me to fill my own cup, so that I can offer healing and sustenance again. I have to give to myself for a short while, so that I may continue to give to others.”
~Christy Tending   Self Care and Sacred Rituals for World-changers

I don’t really know how to end this entry, I think because it’s not an ending.  It’s actually not the end or the beginning, but somewhere along the journey. And I think I like that idea, because most good things happen ‘along the way’ – not at the beginning, nor at the destination, but in the middle somewhere; the in-between. So join me in a toast:  here’s to ‘the in-between’ and the journey. Here’s to renewal and recalibrating and finding a new rhythm and pattern, a way forward that is healthy and restorative.   Salud!

*part 2 of my burnout journey

Connection is Life-Giving

“I needed this. I really needed this time.”

Those words were spoken so many times in the last two weeks that I started to feel like God was trying to make a point. We’ve had a really full, really stressful and hectic few weeks of trying to prepare for a conference (actually 3 concurrent conferences that happened in one week!). Once the date had finally arrived, I was so ready for it to be over. Do you ever feel like that? Like you’re so excited for a thing to happen, and you’re also so ready for it to end? I was thrilled to see my colleagues from all over the world, and I was so ready to reconnect with people, and I was really looking forward to some productive strategy meetings that would set the stage for the year to come. But at the same time, the getting ready and the build up and the logistics and the output of energy just exhausted us and I was ready for it to be over before it even started.

Then they arrived, and within hours, I was renewed and refreshed and on my way to that special therapeutic healing that can only come from connection to people who ‘get it’ and understand you and want to listen and love deeply. “Ahhhh… I needed that. I really needed that.” My soul was happy and finding peace.

It wasn’t just me saying it, though. It was people who sat down to dinner and had good conversations and shared what’s going on in their lives – and at the end of the meal there were hugs and those words, “I needed that. Thanks for listening. That was great.” There was a night of playing games and telling stories and laughing till our sides hurt and tears were streaming down our faces – and then, when the time came to break up the fun, the words, “Oh my goodness! That was awesome! I haven’t laughed like that in ages. I really needed that!” There were some particularly difficult, vulnerable conversations about the tough stuff, about when LIFE happens and you’re broken and don’t know how to get back up again, when empathy and love are the only things that will help, when hearing someone say, “you’re not alone… I’ve been there… I’m here for you… I got your back” – at the end of that, there is a deep sigh and a relief and deep healing and those words, “I needed that. I needed to talk about that. I needed this time. Thanks for listening.”

Yesterday, we took four of our colleagues up to one of our favorite places and we went on a long hike. It’s a beautiful place, yes, but it’s also a place where deep connection always happens. There’s something beautiful that happens when people walk alongside each other and talk. Somehow, the daily stuff of the world melts away and the real stuff bubbles up and comes to the surface. Suddenly you find yourself talking about the deep longings of your heart, the wounded places, or telling the stories that you’ve never told each other before. And pretty soon, the awesomeness of being connected and sharing and listening occurs… and you feel lighter, you feel like burdens are being lifted, you feel like you’re not alone, you feel heard, and you feel like healing is possible… like you can keep going another day because you just found a piece of your soul that you were missing.

“I needed that. I really needed that.”

How are you REALLY?

A very wise mentor of mine was speaking to a packed house of care professionals. The room was filled with counselors and coaches, therapists and pastors. I knew he would be good, but I had no idea that his very first words would burn right in to my heart.

“How are you?,” he asked. Then he went on to turn his head and stare directly at me in the audience and follow up with, “How are you REALLY?”

I’ve never forgotten that seminar. The rest of his talk was amazing, but it was the first seven words out of his mouth that captured my heart. Words that have stayed with me forever.

You see, as a missionary, most of us are experts at wearing the happy face, at being stoic, and at putting on our best performance. We are accustomed to being performance driven and most of the questions that are asked of us are questions about work, about duties, and about how much success we are (or are not) having.

Most of the time, the question “how are you doing” is really asked with the motivation of finding out “what are you doing and how successful are you at doing it”? The times when people are most intent on listening to missionaries are when they are on ‘display’, when they are on home assignment and are asked to preach or speak at a dinner or be the guest speaker at a fundraising dinner. The stage is set and the script is prepared. The questions revolve around customs or food, what are the living conditions or questions about specific ministry initiatives. But the deep, “how are you REALLY” questions are not there. It is a rare and precious bird, indeed, that asks “how are you” and really means it with complete sincerity, who follows it up with the time and space to actually listen to the response.

Listening with your heart is perhaps the best gift you can give. It is a skill that must be practiced in today’s hustle bustle society. Listening requires focus. Listening is not a multi-tasking skill. You cannot be truly focused and listening with your heart if you heart and brain and ears are divided between your cell phone screen and your lunch date and your to-do list at work. The friend who asks “How are you?” and then waits to hear the answer, who looks me in the face and leans forward to hear my response, who engages in asking good questions and listens to my emotions – that is a true friend who is giving a blessing of a gift.

I have a good example from our home leave assignment this past year. Home assignment is always a whirlwind of speaking engagements and social events and trying to squeeze in way too many appointments into way too little time. It’s exhausting, honestly. One Sunday during home leave, we were asked to deliver the sermon at a local church. The time went as usual – we arrived early to do a sound check on microphones in the sanctuary and to chat with the pastor about the order of the service, then we milled about and socialized with the congregation as the pastor introduced us to folks when they arrived. At the appropriate time during the service, we were introduced and we gave the message. At the end of the service, the pastor announced that we would be available after church to stay and have a time to chat about missions and to answer any question, and all were welcomed to stay. The last hymn was sung and folks left the sanctuary. Only one woman stayed behind to talk.

My husband and the pastor’s family went to the foyer to chat while I stayed in the sanctuary and sat down to chat with the woman, Susan. I was prepared for the usual questions… what is Spain like? What is education like for your daughter? What do you miss about Texas? How many people are coming to your ministry initiatives? Etc. The usual stuff. The things I can answer in my sleep. What I didn’t expect was 45 minutes of really good questions! What blew me away was a woman who sat with me for 45 minutes and asked deep questions about really tough stuff. I hadn’t ever met this woman before, and here she was asking me honest, gut-level questions that had me digging deep for answers that I had not ever put in to words before. She leaned in and listened to my every word. A couple of her questions had my eyes filling with tears. No one had ever asked those things before, and I knew that this woman really cared about who I was and how my soul was feeling. No one, in our 9 years of being in Peru and Spain, has ever gone so deep in to my soul… and she did it in 45 minutes.

Susan honored me and blessed me beyond measure that day.marauz_good_listening-1

The next time you sit down to talk or Skype with a missionary, give them the gift of listening. With thousands of miles separating family and friends, mission partners and supporters, it’s sometimes tough to know what to say or how to listen well. Try a few of these tips:

  • Give your full attention. Put away the smart phone. Don’t get distracted by your surroundings.
  • Get a cup of coffee and settle in. Act like we’re sitting together in a café or at the kitchen table together.
  • The only agenda is to be a good listener. Try not to put the missionary in the position of being on display or being the guest speaker for your phone call.
  • Ask good open-ended questions that have depth and are not superficial. Good questions followed by good listening shows that you really care. Try a few of these:
    • What has recently made you feel loved or appreciated?
    • What has made you feel good about yourself lately?
    • In what ways or situations have you felt alone or unworthy lately?
    • How do you currently measure success? What has made you feel successful this month?
    • What about the culture in (Spain) is the most difficult for you right now?
    • What thing about your life is the most wonderful right now?
    • What has rocked your world this month?
    • What is heavy on your heart right now?
    • Who is your closest friend in (Spain) and why? What do they mean to you?
    • If you could change one thing about your schedule this week / month, what would it be?
    • Name something that you are currently struggling with / fearful of… talk about that a little bit so I know how to pray for you in that situation.
    • How are you resting / relaxing? How do you take care of yourself? Who takes care of you when you need love and attention? Who cares for you?
    • If you were by yourself and could do anything that you wanted to for one day, what would it be?
    • What are you most grateful for this week?
    • Who has been the kindest to you?
    • If you could ask God for one thing today, what would it be?

Listening is an incredible gift you can give to a missionary. To be focused and to listen with your whole heart, to give the gift of time… this is a priceless blessing.

Transparency? Or secret life?

A photo of a woman walking on a sidewalk, returning from a morning on the beach. It wasn’t a very good photo.  Not very flattering.  I’m sure she hated it when she saw it. She’s a 70 year old woman who just spent the morning sitting on a windy beach with her family.  But when it hit social media, it blew up the feeds. Breaking news. Trending.

“How could she do that? “

“I can’t believe she is on such a lavish vacation.”

“Where did she get the money?”

“This is outrageous!  She is not fit for service.  Disgraceful.”

“Must be nice to be spending Monday morning at the beach.”

All this, because she is the mayor of one of the most important cities in Europe.  Her life is under a microscope.  Her country is in economic crisis. She is very conservative and has been quick to cut budgets and refuse for government to pay big money for non-essentials.

Last month, she cut out special benefits and government spending for public officials.  She cut her own salary.  She cut her own perks.  No accepting gifts or special treatment for government officials. She put her foot down.

The media had a heyday with her one-week beach vacation. They tried to crucify her, but without the facts, and when the facts came out the story went quiet.  Crickets.  You could hear a pin drop.

You see, she shared her beach house with 8 other adult family members and several children, each family paying their share of the rent from their own pockets.  She did not take her government appointed vehicle or use a driver.  She drove down to the beach with her daughter in her daughter’s car.  She returned to the capital on a public train in a regular seat which she paid for herself.

So, this 70 year old mother and grandmother went to the beach with her family for a week of summer vacation.  Now it sounds just like any other family, doesn’t it?

This story really hit me this month.  I felt for this woman.  Life under a microscope is hard.  Living a ‘normal’ life when you have a less-than-normal job is exhausting.  Being a paid public servant is tough.  Always knowing that every move you make is judged and scrutinized, that people are always thinking that you are misappropriating funds.  People think that you are having too much fun and you should be working… no matter that it is Saturday, or Sunday, or your child’s spring break, or a national holiday… you should be working.  That’s what we pay you for.

I have had the saddest conversations with missionaries all over the world.  People who constantly grapple with what to share and what to hide from folks back home, from their supporters, from the church, from Facebook.  People who constantly fear that a photo of them having a fun outing or a picture of their dinner date with friends is going to start a whirlwind of doubt and gossipy chit chat about how they are off in another country having fun and not working and wasting good ministry money.

Last week, we had a similar conversation in our home.  Our daughter has wanted to learn to SCUBA for quite some time now.  My husband dives and both of my older sons are divers.  She wanted to learn to dive, too.  Upon looking at our budget (our personal budget), we surprised her with a SCUBA course and her certification dives.  So, on the afternoon of her first dive, as any proud parent would do, we took photos.

My husband started tapping out a message on his phone and I asked, “What are you doing?”

“Sending these pictures to the boys on Facebook.  They’ll be proud of her.”

I commented, “I’m always afraid when we do that.  What will they think?  What will others think? I don’t want it to look like we’re off having a great time and have people thinking we aren’t working, or that we are spending ministry funds on personal fun.”

“Baby, We can’t live our lives like that.  We have to share our lives. Especially with our families.  We can’t live being worried about what others think of us.  We know that we aren’t doing anything wrong,” he said.

Okay. So I popped one off to my mom (the granny) via Facebook, too.  The boys texted responses back about how cool that was and how they thought it was great.  My mom loved it and shared it with her friends.

Then, a few minutes later, my husband says, “Where did you share that photo to your mom?”

“On her wall on Facebook.”

“Oh.”  Silence.

“Why?  Didn’t you just say we needed to share our lives and not live in fear of what others think?  I did.  I shared it.  Why?”

“I didn’t share it publically.  I shared it privately in their message feed, not on their walls.”

Frustrated, again, by this dance of what we should share and what we should not.  Confused again by trying to figure out where the line is.  I want to be honest.  I want to be transparent.  I want to be authentic.  I want to be a proud mom like every other proud mom sharing pictures on Facebook.  If my daughter was taking SCUBA lessons in the USA, we wouldn’t have even had this conversation.  We wouldn’t have even thought twice about whether or not we should share a photo of her.  I watch photos of my friend’s summer vacations scrolling across my screen every day.  I watch them go to other countries, go hiking, go boating, go to the beach or to Europe, or go on cruises.  No one thinks twice about posting those photos. Fun family memories.

Yet we are slaves to that very dilemma.  When to share our fun day off?  When to share the photo of our daughter in her extra-curricular activity?  When to share our short vacation?

We are mission workers, yes.  We rely on mission funding from outside sources, yes.  But we are also real people, normal people.  We work real schedules (real crazy schedules!). We receive a salary and we put away money in to savings, like real people. We get a day off each week, like real people (actually, not like real USA people who get a weekend off from work, but like Spanish people who only get one work-free day per week).  Our contract states that we are required to take vacation time each year, which we pay for out of our own pockets.  We are bound by law to use ministry funds for ministry, nothing else, and we have to prove every cent we spend and turn in expense reports, just like real people in real jobs.  We are accountable to federal tax laws, just like everyone else.  Our personal expenses are just that, personal.  It comes from our pockets.  Groceries. Clothing. Sarah’s piano lesson each week.  A meal at a restaurant.  A Saturday morning at the beach.  All personal money.

Missionaries live very ordinary lives in extraordinary places, but sometimes that gets flipped around on them and folks back home put them under a microscope with a special lens that says, “you are living an extraordinary life in an extraordinary place under very public scrutiny”.  So they make the choice to self-protect and to go into their shell and hide their lives so as to not invoke the public judgement of their normal lives.  They choose not to share the fun day at the water park, because someone might not approve of their day off.  They choose not to show their child winning a ribbon for her sport-of-choice, because someone might think that it is a luxury that missionaries shouldn’t be able to afford.  They have quiet conversations about whether or not they should share the photos of their cultural trip to a nearby historical site, fear of rejection and judgement overtaking their excitement and joy at having this opportunity to learn new things and go special places as a family.

I felt terrible for that mayor on her family beach vacation.  I feel sad for every missionary who tells me about a wonderful weekend that they had, and then tells me how they will show me the photos later because they aren’t going to post to Facebook for fear of supporters and churches back home.  And I feel sad for MKs (missionary kids) whose parents don’t share their accomplishments like other parents do, who live in a private, self-protective world where they have to know the ‘rules’ of what gets shared and what doesn’t and with whom, and they wonder why life is such a secret.

Anyone else have any answers?  How do you live an authentic, transparent, honest life?  How do you stay real?  How do you weigh it all out and decide what you share from your lives?

What Soul Care looks like for me

A couple of years ago, a really good friend and I were on parallel paths.  Only my path was going one way and her’s was going the other.  She was coming out of a time of struggle and burnout, and I was headed deep into the heart of ‘ugly-ville’.  I had been trying to ignore stress and tension and all the tough stuff for far too long, and it was finally taking over my soul.  Living on different continents and not having lots of connection at the time, I didn’t know that she was recovering from the exact issues I was now battling.  I thank God that through a random set of circumstances and meetings, we reconnected and I was privy to her wise teaching via experience.

She began to share with me about her practice of incorporating life-giving rhythms back in to her world. She shared articles she had been studying and books she had been reading.  She was vulnerable with me and shared her struggles over the past months, about the difficulties and health issues and how stress and pressure and tension had robbed her of energy and joy.  I went to a workshop where she taught other cross-cultural workers about what life-giving rhythms are and how they had restored her to a form or emotional and mental health that she has lost.

I knew that I needed to do something.  I was lost and hurting and worn out.  So, what did I have to lose?

I picked up some of those articles and books.  I read everything that my friend wrote or blogged.  I began to try to figure out what gives me life and how I could find ways to get back in to a rhthym of having joy and beauty in my life instead of always feeling stressed and always being in a state of emptiness from giving and teaching and working and caring for others.  Truth be told, I wasn’t doing any of those things well, because I was so empty and I had nothing to give any more.  The old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy”… in my case, all work and no play makes me dead and lifeless and actually physically injured and sick.

I have come out the other side of that time of burnout and emptiness.  It took almost a year to recover and get back into rhythms that work for me. I now have things in place that help me restore my soul. Some things I do daily, some weekly, some less frequently.  But I do them.  And I’m conscious of the fact that they are important to my own emotional well-being and my own soul… they help me center myself and relax and smile.  When they are absent, I feel them and it starts to show in my attitude and my physical stress levels.  I need these things in my life.

So, here are a few of them…