“I’m just so done.”
This week in my practice, more than ever before in the entirety my career, this has been the sentiment expressed by my beloved clients. Some feel done with homeschooling or debating the divison of labour with their partners. Some are done with not being able to see friends and hug their family. Some are done with financial struggles, worrying about the stability of their career or how to make the mortgage payment this month. They worry about their children’s mental health and their own ability to cope. This is burnout writ large.
What I am hearing, squeaked out between tears, whether on calls or zoom, is I can’t do this anymore.
It’s an anguished statement, barely above a whisper. There is no more energy. The tank is empty. There’s nothing left. It might feel like pushing a boulder up a hill, threatening to be crushed to death if you even pause. Or perhaps like pulling a little red wagon full of heavy, stinky trash. The stench is overwhelming and the muscle strain of pulling dead weight burns. Then we add in the holidays – holidays that many people find stressful in the best years.
You’re right: you can’t do this anymore, it’s not working.
But that doesn’t mean quitting. For most people, that’s not really an option, to opt out. We can’t say to our kids, “hey, know what, I’m outta here, I’ll be back when the pandemic’s over.” Or to say to your boss, “this is all too much, I’ll catch ya on the flip side.”
But we can find a new way.
First off, please recognize this:
This year, I will not make decisions based on what other people think of me.
Repeat that. Again.
What other people think about you and your decisions is absolutely none of your business.
Let them think what they will. Let them judge if that’s what brings them joy. Let them carry that, it doesn’t belong to you.
This is the time to pause. It may be for a day, it may only be for 15 minutes depending on what life looks like and what’s available to you.
I know, this sounds nutty, a pause. Completely counterintuitive. ‘You want me to pause when I’m already stretched and strapped for time?!’ Often when we’re completely frazzled and spinning our wheels it doesn’t seem like an option to slow down. Our inner driver yells, “Hurry up! Hurry up! Hurry up!” Trust me, it will be worth it. You need it. We all do.
Let’s begin with a collective sigh. An exhale that lets our shoulders drop and our minds settle.
What we also need is permission.
Permission to sob. Permission to sleep. Permission to serve cereal for supper. Permission to make this holiday season whatever you want it to be. Perhaps this year will be The Great Reckoning when you decide what is (and is not) actually important.
Many things will be different from other years anyway, now that the events, activities, and gatherings that may have been standard practices are out the window. This opens up space for us to ask, “what feels right for me and my family?” What brings us joy? Connection? Meaning?
There is no pat answer, no “one size fits all solution.” How you connect, how you recharge is deeply personal. Perhaps it is around food, movies, or traditions. If calls and social zoom sessions fill you up and feel good, have at it. If (like me) calls and zoom sessions deplete you further, it’s time to start saying “no thank you.” Do you love writing Christmas cards? Crank up the holiday tunes and fill your boots. But if it feels like a performative obligation, ditch it.
My bias is to send everyone outdoors, to lakes or rivers or oceans.
Seek a forest or field or even a big tree in the middle of the city. Watch for birds and stars, bear witness to the sun going down or the moon coming up. Listen to the wind and breathe in big gulps of crisp air. Assess and reassess what feels right. Don’t be afraid to change your mind or change course. May this be a practice that you develop not only over the holidays, the winter, or until the pandemic ends, but forevermore. The practice of reflecting on what a life well lived looks like for you.
Please embrace it and honour it.
Give yourself permission.
Jennie is a Toronto based Clinical Social Worker in private practice. She enjoys working collaboratively with clients to help them gain clarity, insight, and meaning in their lives. When not at work, Jennie recharges through wandering the woods, devouring books, or backcountry canoe camping with her family.