Self-Care is Fundamental to Your Writerly Health

I’m writing this blog from the end of the road, the bottom of the barrel, the length of my rope.  You see, I’ve been neglecting my most important asset for the last month: me.  I’ve not been sleeping well, I’ve not been eating well, I’ve been overworking myself, I’ve been skipping the gym, I’ve been pushing when I knew I had nothing left to give.  I’ve been on empty and there wasn’t anything for it.  I continued to plunge ahead.

If you stay in this business, this life, for long, you’ll find that this state of workaholism isn’t unique to me or something to admire.  It’s a kind of sickness that some of us get.  We forget to stop.  We get wrapped up in the work, in the thrill of the keyboard, the rush of a new project (never mind the old one isn’t getting finished because you’re spread so damn thin).  I’ve been pretty good to keep it at bay, but I met a fella recently who brought me some really special projects and there it was, peeping at me from around the corners.

So, my fucking friends, today we’re gonna drag this ugly beast out of the motherfucking shadows and talking about the thing we don’t talk about.  Because tomorrow it might be you, it might be the person you’re collaborating with, it might be your best fucking friend.  Freelancing draws a certain kind of person, they’re often quite intense and have quite intense reactions to life.

Workaholism and Burn-Out: Where We Are Now

I collapsed from exhaustion this week.  At my desk.  I am ashamed to admit this, but I need to own it because that’s literally the only road out of this pit.  If you’ve fought the battle against workaholism, you know what I mean.  You can’t pretend that you’re just really hard-working or that it’s just that you’re really interested in *this* project.

It’s a full on obsession with creation, breathing life into a world that never existed until you strung the words together like so many fairy lights.  But if you don’t own your shit, it will absolutely kill you and take everything you love.  Burnout is real, my friends, and it’s mighty unpleasant.  Mental collapse is awful.

I don’t know where the act of creation turns into the act of self-destruction.  There’s a line there somewhere… but it’s fuzzy.  It’s easy to cross over, it’s easy to get too deep into that and forget to eat and shower and take care of the basics in life.  That’s where you start dancing with burnout and all the nasty stuff.

American culture elevates work addicts and workaholism, but it’s one of the most dangerous compulsions you can possibly have.  Like with compulsive eating, you have to work, so you’re always sort of risking it, every day.  Is today the day I’ll slip?  Is tomorrow?  Am I already in a downward spiral?  These are the things I have to ask myself to keep my head above water.

Your Daily Self-Care Checklist

I’m writing this blog more for myself than for you, but I figure that if I’m having this issue, some of you are, as well.  I know a few of you are also serious workaholics and will hurt yourselves to make deadlines and so forth.  I once believed that was admirable, even something to aspire to, but time and experience have shown me that self-immolation isn’t sustainable.  Self-neglect isn’t cool.

Or, as I like to say to people who aren’t me, you can’t fill others’ tea cups from an empty pot.  In actuality, you can’t do shit with an empty pot except smash it and if you break your teapot, well, you’re in a lot bigger trouble than you realize.  So, step one and step two and step three hundred and fifty six is self care.  Every single day.  I made a checklist.  It’s for me, but maybe it’s for you, too.

Self Care Checklist

Shower.  Take a real shower.  Shampoo your hair.  Then put on something nice that makes you feel like a person and not a slovenly zombie.  Shoes, too.  Be fancy.

Breakfast.  Protein shakes and meal replacement bars are ok for breakfast.  Just do it.  Swoosh.

Meds.  Eat them pills.  They make you strong.

Exercise.  Every day.  Monday, Wednesday and Friday, take the dog for a walk/jog around the neighborhood.  Tuesday and Thursday, go to the pool at the Y and thrash about like you’re drowning.  Eventually you’ll learn how to swim properly this way.  Saturday and Sunday are for adventure walks with the whole crew.

Don’t skip lunch.  You do this a lot.  Don’t do it.  When the bell sounds, you get up and go find food.  Even if it’s a cookie.  Cookies can be lunch if there’s other good stuff with them.  Take the time to find the good stuff.  It’s good and it’s stuff, what’s not to like?

Dinner promptly at six.  Don’t eat so close to bedtime.  It just makes it hard to sleep and you really need good sleep.  You can always go back to writing after.

Movie time.  From 8 pm to 10 pm, sit and watch TV with the fam.  You deserve a break, you’ve worked hard today.  You work hard every day.  You work yourself to death.  Learn to let yourself have some fun to death.

Weekends are for exploring.  Stop working on the weekend.  That’s exploring time.  You need to figure out where all the good stuff is, but you can’t if you’re always working on the weekends.  Just stahp.

Get enough sleep.  You’ve been neglecting this one big time.  That extra hour you’re getting to work in the morning is literally killing you.  Your brain can’t function on six hours of sleep, it’s pretty evident from your heart rate monitor and general mood.  Sleep until you’re done, or at least eight hours.  Eight hours.  Zzzzzzz….

Above all else, listen to your inner Homeland Security Advisory System.  If you’re on Red Alert, you need to stop right the fuck now.  If it’s a blue alert, keep on keepin’ on my friend.

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