After a week back at work, I can definitely say that I miss being on vacation. Normally, I am glad to be back to my routines and my habits, but I definitely miss my leisurely days and lack of anything but time and a list of things I’d like to do. Work is fine, of course, but I miss the feeling of being in command of my schedule and feeling like I am the master of my day-to-day fate rather than someone swept up in the rigors of modern life. I do not miss sitting on the couch and watching Psych for 12 hours while also playing Legend of Zelda from when I wake up until I go to sleep. I just miss feeling like the day was entirely mine to spend.
That being said, I still don’t really feel different from how I felt before the vacation. I took the whole week off of work and writing because I felt burned out and used up. I needed to rest and recharge, to let myself unwind. However, whatever I expected didn’t really happen. I thought maybe I needed to go back to work for a bit, to see how my weeks contrasted, to really appreciate the change my break had wrought. Unfortunately, I still feel no different from before. Maybe a little less burned out, but not any less cosmically or existentially tired.
I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy my vacation. I enjoyed the shit out of it. I read a bunch, went on walks every day, actually got a good amount of sleep each night instead of just making do with 4-6 hours like I do when I’m trying to write and work 10 hour days. I cut way down on my caffeine intake, spent time away from the internet, and took the time to just let everything go for a while. I spent most of Thursday just existing. Sitting in my armchair, watching the cat jump at leaves blowing past the sliding door and staring out at the bare trees and empty blue sky. It was peaceful and an excellent change of pace.
Afterwards, though, I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering what it will take for me to feel more relaxed. To escape the feeling that there’s always something more I could be or should be doing. I’ve even spent some time wondering if I ever will. If I’ll be able to look back and say that this was good or that was what I wanted. If I’ll ever be able to not wish that I’d done or was doing more.
Part of me wonders if that feeling was a result of so many people in my life telling me that I was going to do great things and change the world when I grew up. Maybe I’ve got unreasonable expectations. I’ve spoken about it with my therapist and she recommended that I focus on the times I used words like “should” to describe the items on my to-do list. None of those things are really “shoulds.” They’re “coulds,” at best. If I’m constantly recriminating myself for not getting something done, I’m being too strict with myself. Yes, I enjoy feeling productive and actively pursuing my goals is the only way they’ll get done, but I could probably stand to give myself a little more slack.
I’m not very good at that. No one has higher expectations for myself than I do. I’m pretty certain that’s at least part of the problem. I expect so much of myself that any time taken to rest or recover from how hard I work is time wasted. I know exactly what will happen when I start drinking energy drinks every day at 5pm. I know how depressed and worn out I will get if I don’t get enough sleep a few days in a row. I know nothing good comes from a caffeine dependency and worsening depression. I really don’t have enough nights where I felt energized and productive as a result of these things to make it worth it. I have some nights and those nights feel amazing, but I have many more days of lethargy, exhaustion, and depression and those feel horrible.
And yet here I am. One week after the end of my vacation and I’m barely sleeping enough to get by each night, drinking more caffeine than usual to keep myself going, and trying to fill my nights with work on any one of my several writing projects just so I can silence that voice in my head that says I’m not doing enough. I am doing enough. I’m doing too much. I work harder than most people I know. One day it will pay off, but I can’t forget that this is a marathon and I’m never going to win it unless I learn to take care of myself the entire time. I need more breaks, more mindfulness, more time to rest my mind each day. I need to push myself enough to get things done, but not so hard that I don’t have the energy to do some reading every night.
That last thing is probably the most important. I need to read every day. Even with the caffeine and the lack of sleep, I’m feeling stronger than I normally would because I’ve taking the time to read. As long as I can make sure to do that, I think I’ll be able to keep myself on track. Reading is the ultimate self-care for me because I never feel guilty for spending time reading. Exposure to new stories and different writers will make me a better writer over all. So long as I am reading, I am enjoying myself and investing time in improving myself.
I don’t think I can say that I’ll get through a book a day or even a book a week, like I do when I am on vacation, but it will keep me going longer than rest alone.