I’ve gone from day to day. First it’s Memorial Day and then the last week of school for the kids, and it all happened in the burst of seconds it took to write this sentence. Each day is a net I try to escape to just enjoy, relax a little, without being encircled and trapped. I have so many things due and in process; emails coming, asking for when, calls to return, deadlines to complete.
It’s been this way for a long time, years; but escalated to its current dizzying height after I took on a lot more work in late February. You know how it is when you’re self employed? You don’t want to say no to anything because you’re not sure if the work will be there the week after or for Christmas or back to school or when health insurance is due.
Every day, there’s something. I plain don’t recall a moment when I’ve felt I shouldn’t be doing. I talk to myself when I’m in the car, counting off the articles due; what I’ve finished; what’s in the queue. I’m in the dentist’s chair or a waiting room and my mind won’t allow me to read a magazine or shut down. I have taglines to imagine; creative briefs to send; calls to prepare. I notice my shoulders are eternally hunched around my ears or that it’s been 30 seconds since I’ve breathed. I open files on my laptop with lists and check marks and agendas.
It’s work I mostly love. It revolves around writing and pulling words out of thin air; of spinning and weaving sentences and scenarios, but the hours don’t accommodate it all. There’s a family who needs to eat and a house to be cleaned and kids who’d like their mother around more. I’m exhausted and guilty and shaky: there’s this paper, that edit, those forms. Always a thing to be done.
I manage it all until I can’t. That’s how it’s always been. I absorb, take in, and do, until my core ejects it all in a lava of TOO MUCH. It doesn’t matter though, there’s no time for TOO MUCH, so the head goes back down and the feet keep walking.
My body gave up before I did.
I knew I wasn’t doing so hot, but thought I was ultimately in control. I could finish this last batch of articles and then rest a little; I could turn the edits around in the requested 24 hours and take a little breath; I’d revise the script until it made me laugh. I could steer this ship. I’d be the sea captain high on smokes and caffeine, watching for inclement weather and icebergs, but I’d be awake and watchful.
I didn’t look behind me, I guess.
I started feeling most exhausted around Friday. I’d pushed to finish my work so I could prepare for our family camping trip and I’d done what I do: keep going, keep going, keep going. I ignored that not feeling good sensation blooming in my throat and made it through the weekend slightly antisocial and emptied of energy.
On Sunday, I lost my voice.
On Tuesday, my right eye turned red.
On Wednesday, my left eye followed suit.
Wednesday wasn’t a good day for me to lose visibility. I had two articles due, a report to edit, and scripts to amend. If I didn’t finish those tasks before me, they’d roll over into Thursday and then to Friday and ultimately meld with the big snowball of OTHER STUFF THAT WAS DUE IMMEDIATELY. I couldn’t fathom it. I only ever keep up by doing what’s before me and trying not to think about all the OTHER STUFF waiting right around the bend, preparing to crush me if it got too unwieldy.
That’s the thing about work snowballs lurking in the shadows: your other self doesn’t care. The invisible immune system, the cells that need sleep, the thin blood. All they care is that you worry about them. Or better yet, you let them worry about them and you don’t worry about anything.
So my doctor said: no work and no nothing but bed and sleep and just lying there. To help me along, I bought a People Magazine and 12 remedies I thought I’d need (NyQuil ended up the Holy Grail).
It’s Friday now, and I’m not better.
Whether this is because my body is stalling the net or trying to tell me something, I don’t know. My eyes are the lifeblood of what I do (and my fingers, which are thankfully not blistered and infected yet), so I wonder if I’m being instructed to stop for awhile.
I’ll never be able to stop enough because there’s too much. Do I turn away work I need? Do I rely on frozen pizza for dinner? How can I do everything? How do you?