Burnout

Burnout is constantly feeling like I’m late to something, even when I’m not, rushing through an activity because I just want to get to the end and “be on time”.

Burnout is thinking that I have to get through just a little bit more, hold out a little longer, and then realizing I’m not even sure what it is I’m holding out for.

Burnout is when, instead of doing the four very simple tasks before me, I do nothing. I just… do nothing. And then I panic about not getting the four simple tasks done, so when a fifth task is added to the list, it seems like the most arduous, overwhelming task in the world.

Burnout. My therapist asked me to work on trying to identify burnout in my life, so that I can recognize when it’s about to happen, and prevent it. I have reached burnout so many times in my life, and usually I only take action when I’m in its midst — eliminating stressful factors from my life once they’ve already grabbed me by the throat and thrown me to the ground. But to stop the problem before it occurs… well, that’s an idea.

I’m an activity girl. I cram more and more things into my schedule — not social experiences, but activities that may produce social experiences but whose main focus is productivity. I don’t know why I do this… the comfort that I’m looking for is never in quantity of activities, it’s in time spent. I know this. But somehow, activities seem like a more tangible, achievable thing — it feels easier to plan a get together than to actually convince people to spend time with me. I plan because I have social anxiety, I plan because I don’t want to disappear off the radar.

In the times I’ve felt burnout, I have pared back on activities, because activities so quickly become obligations for me. I made a list once of all the monthly obligations I had related to improv, film-related events, meetings, practices, etc, and the count came to more days than there were in a month.

There are things I’ve neglected hardcore in my life because I just move from event to event, activity to activity. I have been absolute shit at writing this past year, because it has gotten bumped down on my list of priorities. I also have greatly ignored friendships, or watched them grow distant, because I don’t know how to fix it and I don’t have the time to figure it out.

And I have neglected being in the moment. I have neglected spending time outdoors, I have neglected people watching, I have neglected peace of mind.

My friend once chastised me for not making enough time for myself, but I think that’s because my introspection happens when I’m looking outward. Being alone with myself is something that’s really hard for me, because I don’t really find joy in being by myself. I enjoy being around people, and soaking in their energy, and this is probably why I jump at so many opportunities to be a part of so many things — because then I can be around people for those things.

And maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I shouldn’t formulate an idea of who I am internally by looking at the world around me. Spending time for myself allows me to get a grasp on who I am, once I strip away my reactions to other people.

So I’ve been trying to spend more time by myself. So far this has meant watching a lot of Netflix, which I don’t think really counts as “by myself”, but it’s a start. It’s at least a sabbatical from the act of hiding behind my schedule.

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Night Terrors

It starts with a tightness:
You wake to feel your heart
Coming out of your chest,
As if manipulated by some unseen force–
And that is what you believe,
If only for a moment,
As you’re sprinting down the hall,
Legs caught up in bedsheets,
Slowly embarrassing yourself into stopping
Before you reach the stairs.
Sometimes you manage.

And then it’s back to bed,
Forget, forget,
Do what you can to become unimportant again,
Don’t let yourself be the center of attention
In this darkened, quiet room–
Let other things take precedence,
Like sleep, and peace,
Not turbulence and fear and
Worry for your sanity.
Let dreams rise above, let sleep take over.
Rest now — you are more useful that way.
Let the clock tick by unnoticed,
Let tomorrow be
The next moment
In your mind.
It’s over now

–though there’s no guarantee,
For the moment you sleep is the moment you’ll be
Attacked again by your own anxiety.
If it happens again, please don’t jump out of bed,
Just breathe and wake up, and get out of your head.
You felt an effect and created a cause,
But you can’t work out truth
While running down halls,
Or gathering items to save
From your crumbling house–
Or perhaps from yourself–
Or panicking over
Indecipherable events
That only exist
In your head.

Dear heart,
My dearest, only heart,
Please stop rousing me in the middle of the night.

Things That Seem to Help:

  • Writing.
  • Sleeping.
  • Being with friends. 
  • Listening to sad songs. Even if they’re different kinds of sad.
  • Watching sad movies. Even if they’re different kinds of sad.
  • Closing my eyes. Taking a deep breath.
  • Listening to other people’s problems and worries.
  • Dyeing my hair.
  • Cutting my bangs.
  • Looking in the mirror. Seeing my cute hair.
  • Watching birds.
  • Feeling sunshine.
  • Feeling the wind, sometimes.
  • Crying.
  • Stretching.
  • Hugs.
  • Laughing out loud.
  • Massaging my face (or at least my body thinks this is helpful. I haven’t decided whether it is yet or not).
  • Lying down. Being horizontal.
  • Making things.
  • Watching people I love do things they love.

All of these things are things I already do on a normal basis. Eventually, when this all blows over, this list will return to its original title (Things That Make Me Happy).

All Shapes and Sizes

Man. These past two and a half weeks.

I went to Massachusetts twice — first for a funeral, then for a wedding. The funeral was not completely unexpected, but it happened earlier than I would have liked. My grandad was still in the rehab center — the nature of such a place I will still resent for the rest of my life, given past circumstances — and was not doing well. He suddenly was very not well. And then the next day, he was gone.

I took the call at an improv practice. I sat outside in a shaded corner of my friend’s yard, crying and hoping that no one would come check on me. Then I took a deep breath, went inside, and continued with practice. One friend seemed to note the shift, and asked how I was doing after practice. I am grateful for friends like him.

I had the next couple of days off of work, and ironically, it was not at all convenient. I spent Friday doing absolutely nothing — I cried on and off in the morning, and then around noon, I dried up. I watched a movie on my projector instead of improvising onstage at the HIT that night. At various points, two of my friends came over to check up on me. I am grateful for friends like them.

On Saturday, I held auditions for a friend’s film project, and then I performed at the HIT. On Sunday, I hosted Buffy Night at my house. I got my shift for Wednesday covered and rearranged my office hours to be on Monday before my behind-the-counter shift instead of Tuesday. Grandad’s visiting hours would be on Thursday; it was pointless to go to MA early, if I would miss more work because of it. I couldn’t take a full week off of work — I was already taking a long weekend the next week for my mother’s wedding.

I flew to MA on Tuesday. On Wednesday, my mom and sister and I tried on our dresses for my mom’s wedding, and then went shoe shopping. On Thursday, we had the visiting hours. There was no open casket, and it’s the first time that I wish there actually had been one. A bunch of people gave me their condolences, and I smiled sweetly and thanked them for being sorry.

I flew back to PA on Friday, and literally ran to a non-stop night of improv at Gamut’s Improvapalooza. On Saturday, I went to a screenwriting workshop that I was supposed to help run, and then did improv/watched improv at the HIT until three in the morning. On Sunday, I performed with Phlegminism before Down in Front (because how much more improv could I cram into a weekend?), and then went to a game night, in which the company was wonderful and I only hope that I didn’t make anyone feel awkward for being the “new friend”. I am grateful for these new friends, and ever hopeful that they will continue to let me be their friend.

Monday through Thursday, I had extra work shifts to make up for the week before. Friends and acquaintances asked how I was doing — to some, I was honest; to some, I lied. I took two improv classes, resulting in very little downtime. On Thursday night, I ran the filmmaker meet-up and Open Screen. And on Friday, I flew back to MA.

My mom got married on Saturday. I screwed up and left my bridesmaid’s bouquet at home, half an hour from the church, and had to drive back to get it, making the service start late (not too late). I stuffed my face with cookies and chips at the reception. When it was over, my mom and her new husband went to a hotel, and I went with my sister and cousins to the house and drank smoky scotch and played games. I am grateful for family like them.

To put those two and a half weeks in some context, the majority of that time my emotions were all out of whack. I wanted to cry — I felt crying would be appropriate — but I couldn’t cry… I was bracing myself to be sad in the midst of a wedding, but instead I just felt on edge.

When my grandmother died, I cried for weeks. At work, at home, in the bathroom, in bed, by the river. When I was finished crying, I made really dumb judgment calls. But now that Grandad has died, my heart has forgotten how to work properly.

Maybe it’s the busyness. I’ve had so much happening, I haven’t had time to feel. And then the wedding… I wasn’t allowed to be sad. Not really.

A friend messaged me yesterday, and asked how I was — mentally, emotionally, psychologically. He just wanted to reconnect, since it had been a while. I answered: “Mentally, needing to slow down, which I’m not good at… Emotionally, kind of backwards… and psychologically, I guess all right? In that I’m not on the verge of a breakdown… I have contradictory emotions but at least I know why I have them.”

When I hit send, I started to cry.

I guess mourning really does come in all shapes and sizes.

Happy April, everyone.

IMG_1700

The Perfect Audience (or, Connections)

There is something that improvisers will say after a night of performing that may just be to soothe our anxiety, but also may, in fact, be true: “You did great, it was just a weird audience.” You’ll hear this phrase when an improviser had a particularly great night, but the audience was low-energy. Some people even admit that the energy of an audience affects their performance — while immediately following up that “it shouldn’t; we should be able to give a great performance regardless of what the audience gives back to us.” But improvisers are, after all, human, and sometimes a little encouragement from the audience goes a long way.

I often feel very self-conscious walking offstage after a show where the audience won’t give you any feedback. Scratch that — I feel like a failure. Even if I’ve given a decent performance, I can’t shake that feeling… They didn’t laugh, I will think. They weren’t invested in our story. We did not succeed.

Sometimes it’s actually a legitimate reason that the audience is low-energy. A couple years back, I was performing in the second half of an hour, and a performer in the first half decided to be racially insensitive onstage. My team was backstage for the last few minutes of the set, so when we stepped onto that stage, we had no idea what was in store for us. You could’ve heard crickets — the entire audience had shut down, and rightly so. I remember after our performance, we went backstage, and our coach, who normally would give us a few minutes before joining us to give notes on the performance, was already there, waiting for us. “That was not your fault,” he said. He explained what had happened, that the audience had just gotten their feathers ruffled hard.

On the other end, sometimes you have a great audience. It’s not just the size of the audience that matters — in the above scenario, it was a full house, whereas I’ve played  with that same team for an audience of two and had such a great experience, because that lone couple in the audience was vocal in their enjoyment.

img_1655The good audiences are the audiences that, simply enough, will laugh when they think something is funny — they won’t just laugh at anything, but they sure aren’t waiting to be told to laugh. It’s like the scene in FINDING NEVERLAND where J.M. Barrie plants orphans in the audience to make the rest of the crowd appreciate the play. The older, stuffy audience doesn’t understand the tone of the play; they need the young, societally unaffected children to show them what it’s all about.

It’s always a delight to be able to pinpoint a regular in the audience of the HIT just by the sound of their laugh. It is a great reminder that there are people out there who want to see you succeed, who want a good time and are ready and willing to reward you with a hearty laugh if you provide the context.

Last night at the HIT, there was a member of the audience who must have been new — or at least I just don’t recognize their voice yet. Whoever it was, they were having the time of their life. The fact that they were enjoying themselves so much, and that I could recognize that onstage during the performance, lifted my spirits so much.

Everyone needs someone like that, both on the stage and in life. Everyone needs that encouragement, to remember what it’s all about. We all walk around, unsure of our “performance” amongst acquaintances because we feel they will silently judge us. Maybe they won’t understand the punch line of your existence, and will stare back at you in stony silence. When we find those precious few who clap for us, for the way we live our lives, however simple the scene may be, it feels good. It’s not about finding that one trick that will make someone laugh, it’s about the joy you experience when they do laugh. And we begin to look to those people to tell us if we’re screwing up. They are the beacon of light in a stormy world — they will illuminate a clear path, while not being afraid to also show you the rocks.

I suppose that makes life feel more like a performance. A lot of people view it that way, sure. But for me, having someone engage with you, to feel comfortable enough to laugh when they want to laugh, or open up when they want to open up, is such a good feeling.

Maybe I should replace the word “laugh” with “connect”. In improv, laughter is just an indication that the connection has been made — making connections on stage is what connects us to our audience… and in life, it is the same.

She Thinks Too Much (She, Part Two)

I’ve been in a poetry mood lately, guys.

She thinks too much.
She philosophizes and soliloquizes,
and when nobody’s looking,
she writes things down.
She analyzes
both what she does and what is done to her,
and she chastises herself for the majority of it —
but then she stops.

She realizes that the vast size
of her responsibility has been elephantized
to the point of disjointed reality,
and she then tries to organize
her guilt into her new frame of reference:
I am me.

I am me.
I am who I aim to be.
And if my aim is the same as what they want me to be,
Then there is no harm.
But if they want from me what is not me,
Then theirs is the shame, for I am the same.

And in her eyes,
To internalize the external pressure
Would be to compromise her soul.
And this would be the demise of her hold
On life, on love, on the pieces of herself that make her
imageHer.
Herself.
Her heart, her voice, her body.
Her.
Hers.

But they tell her otherwise:
You are a prize
(not the winner, nor even in the game).
This enterprise, built by lies,
Still surprises her today.
They tell her,
You think too much.