I think you’ve experienced a burnout” my rosy, Afrikaans, steadfast therapist uttered. “It dawned on me last night that that’s what I think you’ve been through.” I stared at her blankly as her face started to defocus and fade into her fussy ornaments in the background.
Blink. Blink, blink, I heard my eyelids monotonously unfurl and close back up again. A burnout, I thought. Can a 34-year-old really even go through that? I know that I feel like I’m just the dregs and leftovers of my former self but does that mean I’m prematurely mid-life crisis-ing all over the place? And have we commercialized having to feel so god damn spunky and frolicsome that whining about exhaustion automatically means we are physically and mentally ill?
“What I think you need to do is take a break. For a week, a month. Eat, swim, laugh, be”, “you need to stop. Not forever but for a beat”. I slithered out the room. Like a slug leaving it’s syrupy, tacky trail behind so they can find their way home. Except I felt like I couldn’t find mine.
Ironically, I wasn’t unhappy. Quite the opposite. My newly found craving for existential literature had left me in a perpetual state of wonderment and fascination as I made it my mission to uncover the layers of my own fragile soul. So then why was I so bone-achingly weakened? Why was my brain numb to any creative inspiration? And how did I get here.
2017 looks very different as a woman. We somehow are still in the stale trenches, banally, monotonously fighting to have the equal rights of our male counterpart – with the only difference being the genitalia we were born with – but fortunately, the gap of archaic ideology is closing. The fateful near miss of the could-have-been peachy American presidency proves that women are being noticed, celebrated and even glorified. We are attaining the jobs we want, designing the lives we want, and who knows, maybe at some point just like Viagra, tampons wont be taxed and we can buy the feminine products we want.
So what the hell are we whining about. And why, some days, was my body so agitated and raw and my brain so uninspired? Then it dawned on me. I came to this conclusion.
The narrative for women is changing but the biology of women is not. To “have it all”, a woman must work just as hard as a male, if not more, to prove that she is worthy and qualified. Then in our “spare time” pop out a few kids with zero pain and zero help (because you chose to have a child, so why the hell should anyone provide you aid). And if that isn’t enough, the cacophony of people’s opinions on years long breastfeeding and better child development co-sleeping leaves one in a self-defeated, wasted mess.
So here I was, blissful but faint, content but haggard. So now that I had identified the problem, what was I meant to do? I had been so conditioned to move at lightening speed on autopilot that I had to relearn what guilt-less self care looked like.
So I decided to take my therapist’s advice. To put on my own oxygen mask before attending to anyone else’s.
It didn’t come easy, quite the opposite. The almost painful chatter in my right side of my brain made it borderline impossible to stop. But like riding a bike, self-care started to become a minuscule part of my daily routine. From a seemingly sinful yoga session to drawn out meditation to one too many nourishing massages, little by little, my health (both mental and physical) became less of an indulgence and more of a necessity. I stopped trying to pretend to the other full-of-it “perfect“ working mothers that the Wonder Woman movie was a mirror of my life . And I even took three days off. Three days. Three whole, blissful, rapturous, noiseless days staring at the endless ocean as its continuous crashing became the only soundtrack of my life.
You see, to change the way that woman can possibly “have it all” we must realize that we need to make space for ourselves. This was the first time I decided to take my own advice.
And for the first time I didn’t feel guilty. And for the first time, in a while, I became inspired. And for the first time since March, I started to feel better. For the first time.