As stated in my other post, I didn’t really have any personal story to share that I haven’t already shared. Or so I thought…
I remembered something as I was reading about burnout. A thing that happened to me during my second semester at university. Something that taught me that overworking myself had the great potential to harm me in ways I couldn’t even quite grasp.
Second semester. I’m taking four classes, one of which is Chinese (and anyone whose taken a language class will understand that the amount of work and effort they take is disproportionate to class time, or at least it is when you aren’t so great at leaning other languages, like me). For the first time in my life I also have a social circle. Friends. I’m also actively dating at this time (but which is a really new experience for me). I’m working two jobs for a combined total of around 30-35 hours a week.
Sometime around September (I started university in January), I…. essentially stop eating. More or less. I’m drinking about six or so cups of coffee a day and smoking a lot. October-ish I start dating someone new. I think I also moved around this time. The man I’m dating is…. really not a healthy choice for me. I really REALLY stop eating bc, for whatever reason, I don’t want to eat in front of him.
By the end of October we aren’t dating anymore and the end of that was……. really emotionally hard on me. Really. At this point, I’ve lost about… 15 lbs? Enough weight that when I show my body to the man I was dating in August, he’s shocked at how much weight I’ve lost. I’m quickly moving past skinny into emaciated. Still working. Still doing school.
I think its sometime around this point that I get a stress-induced outbreak of exczema. A bad one. It is bad enough that I’m waking up in the middle of the night scratching and bleeding because of too much scratching.
Start dating someone new. This man is a really nice and kind man. But I’m still at the point in my youth where kindness fucking terrifies me. Where that soft look that ppl sometimes get when they look at you is so unfamiliar that I feel a low-grade type of panic and terror the entire time we are dating.
(Oh. I feel like I should mention that, at this point, I have undiagnosed autism, anxiety, and depression.)
Life goes on. I get progressively more tired and fatigued as I keep losing sleep over exczema that keeps getting worse. I’m stressed in a way that I can’t even quite understand, not ten years later.
Things get a little jumbled. Did I break it off with the guy by this point? Not sure. What I do remember really clearly is standing in my kitchen holding a knife to my thigh and being poised to cut. Deeply.
(I can’t even recall what my mental state was leading up to this moment.)
I’m standing there. My hands are shaking. And this is the only thing I want to do. Somehow. For some reason. I put the knife down. I immediately leave the apartment. I start walking. I’m twitching uncontrollably and I think I remember I was talking to myself. Out loud. At one point, I get on a bus. People are staring. So I get off. I smoke and I walk. And I twitch. And I cannot remember what I was doing or where I went.
Eventually, I end up at one of the places I work at. I’m still shaking uncontrollably but my mind is somewhat starting to piece itself back together. I eat some food and, my god, it helps SO MUCH. I talk with some of my co-workers and… he stares at me like I’m crazy.
Within a week, I quit one of my jobs. With no notice. I just call in, say I’m sick, and never ever speak to them again. From this point on, I make sure not to work more than 20 hours a week. I only take three or four classes a semester. I’m terrified of having another experience like that again.
What happened? Still not quite sure. I’m pretty sure it was a psychotic episode. Thinking back, I’m actually really surprised that no one called the cops on me. Or that I didn’t end up being institutionalized. But… ppl tend to ignore ‘crazy’ people unless we are being overtly aggressive and ‘threatening’ (as in trying to interact with other people in pretty much any capacity).
I didn’t seek any mental health services. I was autistic and had been kicked out of the house while still in high school. My dad was an immigrant. I had zero fucking clue how to navigate the healthcare system. It never even occurred to me that this was something I could do.
I know I’ve written about the unicorn job ads and how… the amount of work they write seems impossible to me as a disabled person. This experience? Is the number one reason why, despite what people tell me, I don’t even bother applying for those positions. I wish that burnout was really my only concern. It isn’t. I hear the kinds of expectations and shit fulltime librarians have to deal with and somewhere deep down inside, I know that I’d probably literally go crazy in the same situation.
When I talk about real and functional limits to what I can do, this is the sort of thing that I mean.
I think about my current life. Where I work part-time. But I do most of the home labour (cleaning, cooking, shopping). I’m the sole income earner.
Since finishing my MA and starting my MLIS, I’ve either been burned out or at the very precipice. I feel overwhelmed and like sometimes… maybe if I wasn’t alive I could just stop and rest. The funny thing about all of this is that I know that if I did stop, I’d end up dying anyway. Because that’s what suriving is about.
You either live or you die. You keep going even though you’re exhausted, you’ve lost all hope, you’ve torched your career, you’ve seen every single one of your dreams be systematically and methodically crushed under the weight of reality…. you just keep going. Stopping is death and you’re not quite ready to die. Don’t even have a reason for it. You don’t want to be alive but you don’t want to be dead. So you live this twilight life in between life and death.
You survive. And that’s all you do.