Burnout

J. Dianne Dotson – Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer – Burnout

There are more words said in a sigh than in a book. I find myself sighing a great deal lately, and maybe that’s a good thing, because I can’t write a book right now.

It’s not writer’s block. You can find out what I think about that particular mythology HERE.  It’s more of a spirit block. Or a spirit break.

In other areas and vaguely on the blog, I’ve talked about the undulation of my life events over the past several months. I would have loved to have entered [the arbitrarily designated date of] New Year’s Day with the affirmation that I had left it all behind me in 2019. That I could start over fresh. That things would get better.

They haven’t.

Over the holidays, someone near and dear to me was diagnosed with cancer. The news of this hit me like impalement. Even if all else had gone well in the prior months, it would have. But to be exhausted and hurting physically and mentally? I was laid low by this news. It was the last person I would have expected, the dynamo who keeps family running, who took retirement as a sign to work harder and do more. How?

Then I fell ill. I have a knack for that at Christmas, it seems. Santa brings me illness each year. This year I rallied, trudged to urgent care on Christmas day, then over to Rite-Aid (I could have–and probably should have–hummed “Hello darkness my old friend” since I had done the exact same thing the year before, on the same day). Then I was home, and taking medicine while cooking Christmas dinner. I don’t remember it very well, but I did it.

In the feverish aftermath and in the wake of my shock at my family’s news, the following days felt like some netherworld. I wanted to go to sleep, wake up, and have it not be true. That didn’t happen.

Since I used to work in cancer research, my mind bounced around, wondering about what treatment my loved one could get, what the pathology was, if there would be genetic testing, anything I could get hold of and try to understand on some level. Because writ large, it was too much to comprehend. As of this writing, my loved one has begun chemotherapy in a wonderful environment, and it is the best possible scenario, given the circumstances. I feel like I can exhale just a bit. I am hopeful.

Now it’s time for me to talk about some of the other stuff that’s been eating away at my writing desire. I’m sitting here in sadness, which just really doesn’t fully go away, because of all the things that went wrong. There were course corrections and big decisions I had to make, particularly when my leg began to hurt in everyday function to the point I needed treatment. (I’m starting my fourth month of physical therapy soon.) Everything was of course connected: a move to LA to try to move my career forward up there, being away a few days a week from my children (who, while used to my being away on events quite often, knew this was different), the transit between the two cities making the leg injury worse, and the unfolding realization that I was not wanted up there. I had had a supportive person who suddenly went through his own extenuating circumstances, and he could not help me anymore.

I also had one of the most important talks of my life, at Kings Road Café in Los Angeles. It was my first time meeting a relatively new friend (Noah Kinsey) I knew from Twitter and Instagram. We met for coffee, and I listened to him talk about his experiences in The Industry (aka Hollywood). As he spoke, I could almost hear my dreams come crashing down. This was not his fault. He had no idea what was going through my head over the innocuous coffee. What he was doing was the best favor anyone could ever do for me: he was telling me the hard truth. I needed to hear it, and I needed to hear it RIGHT THEN. Suddenly I realized I had gone about everything wrong. I had not, as my counselor from years ago said, “arrived in style” and I had in fact rushed to try to make things happen.

Don’t do this.

And it’s a cliché, but if things sound too good to be true, that’s a red flag. Far too many “too good to be true” things happened in a very short period of time. Those chickens came home to roost, and they raked some sharp talons across my soul. Things began to collapse quickly. I won’t go into all the gory details. Maybe one day, but I’m still not ready for that yet.

I knew what I had to do. And it’s one of the hardest things a person can do: I had to admit defeat. I had to admit I had messed up. The timing was wrong. My body was broken, my heart as well, my finances perhaps irreparably for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t be able to publish my third book in the time frame I wanted, thanks to all of this. It was time to pack it in.

By sheer luck, two job leads approached me without my having applied to either. Both remote. I accepted both gladly. But it took me until now, months later, to be able to start ramping up my work for them. It’s been one thing after another, a brutal onslaught of problems, and I could only do so much.

With all the heartbreak, disappointment, anxiety, fear, physical pain, poor sleep, illness, and just outright exhaustion, fiction withered for me. I just couldn’t write my way out of this one.

So I simply chose not to.

I did other things. I painted watercolors, I baked, I rested, I started walking more and more, and being able to withstand the pain for longer, or it lessened, or both. Exhaustion didn’t go away. It still hasn’t. There’s still too much to process. There are times in which I am overwhelmed by sadness over so many things that went wrong.

But I have to think, I can’t beat myself up over this. I put my all into my goals. I had the purest intent, which long-term would mean that I ensured my children went to college, and that I would “break big” for them, ultimately. That the income wouldn’t all vanish every month to bills and debt and rent.

At this moment, I’m in a burnout phase. Logic tells me, with a Vulcan eyebrow raised, that it will not last. Trudging through a slurry of ashes mixed with tears is not a fun walk. But the tears will dry, and I will sweep away the ashes one day.

I also know I’m not alone, and I know I am supported. My family loves me, for which I am forever grateful. Some dear friends have checked in on me daily. I notice I feel better when I step away from social media for longer periods of time, too.

It really is okay to take a break.

Even though it hurts quite literally, I’m putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. Planning to go to conventions, to panels, on trips. Putting things on the calendar so I can cross off the days to get to them.

Once I get past this part of my life, I will sigh again, and it will be from relief.

 

Image Credit: Photo by J. Dianne Dotson Copyright 2020

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