breaking the surface

I remember swimming at the lake by our reserve. My brothers and cousins and me, we would dive deep, after we had swum out far enough that we couldn’t touch the bottom anymore. We would hold our breath, trying to be the last one to rise to the surface. I remember opening my eyes and floating in that space between light and dark, watching the sun shimmer through the water in soft waves. Looking at the light, feeling the burn in my lungs, and finally, finally, breaking through the glass of the water, gasping, sputtering, wiping my eyes and laughing.

This last month felt like I constantly trying to break through the surface.


And it’s hard for me to admit that. I’m not superwoman, but I do “a lot.” I’m in my PhD. I own my own business. I write and manage this blog. I’m a single parent. In the middle of all this, I also write. I’m doing a play. I’m writing a poetry manuscript. I’m tentatively outlining the plot to a novel I’ve been thinking about for the last year.

All these things though, I love. I love my life. I am happy. So why am I so overwhelmed?


I would understand if I disliked any aspects of this life, but I didn’t. I don’t. I would study and feel content in following a dream I’ve had since I was a teenager. I would photograph a family and smile at the back of my camera, seeing the captured emotions and realize that I love this job. I would cuddle up with my daughter, kissing the top of her head, and try to remember what it was like before I felt this love, before I became her mother.

But slowly, slowly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t feel the joy. I couldn’t feel the passion. I felt… grey. Nothing. Absent. I went through the motions and denied that anything was wrong. Or I would sigh and shake my head, because even if something was wrong, there was nothing anyone could do to “fix it.”

In between worrying about money, moving homes, my child starting kindergarten, studying for comps, and writing on demand instead of with passion, I finally sat down and said, enough.


Fuck this.

Fuck feeling like this.

I cannot, and will not, go through my life like this.

Something had to change.

I had to change.

I work with an amazing thesis advisor, and we had a sit down, as we do every week. She asked me, as she often did, “How are you?”

“I’m burned out,” I admitted quietly. She looked at me, eyes a little wide. In all our time together, where she has warned me to take it easy, to not take on so many projects, to be selfish with my time and energy as a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint, this was the first time I had ever admitted to being burned out. To saying enough.

“OK. … What do we need to do?”

I wanted to cry, with relief. Instead, I took a deep breath.


Saying “enough” wasn’t quitting. It wasn’t a weakness. It didn’t make me “less smart” then those who had come before me.

So you may, or may not, have noticed I stopped writing here for a minute. I needed to step back, and when I did, the women of this blog stepped up. They said ok. They rallied, texted, messaged, and made up for my absence.

And I could breathe.

I took a look at my business and identified what I love doing, and what I do simply for the business. I developed a new business plan, going into effect in January. I identified key goals, and things I could let go.

And I could breathe.

I looked at my PhD with a critical eye. I drew a very badly designed map with crayons, showing where I was in my academic journey and where I needed to go. I’m a visual learner, it turns out, and I need to speak with my community, as soon as possible. So I did the paperwork that needed doing, and soon, very soon, I can start my interviews.

And I could breathe. And smile.

And while I’m still “too busy,” I feel like me again. I feel ambition. I didn’t realize how absent that was until I could feel it again. I felt desire. I felt joy. I felt silly and sarcastic and smart and sexy and powerful.

I feel.

And it’s good.

 – tenille campbell



This post was written in October 2016. I let it sit for a while because it felt too raw, too vulnerable to admit any weakness, but I knew eventually I would be okay with it.

It’s okay to show the cracks. 

101 thoughts on “breaking the surface”

  1. Wow! You’re an achiever. Admitting that you’d stretched yourself almost beyond limit- not only that. You also found a solution that stopped you from going overboard- that’s wisdom. I believe you’d achieve anything you set your mind on because- you’re practical enough to admit vulnerability and smart enough to search for suitable solutions to problems. The combination of those two can only breed “success. ” A nice piece author. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This post was everything I needed to hear and more. Thank you for being transparent and vulnerable. I am thrilled to hear that someone else is going through something similar to me. I can’t thank you enough for writing and publishing this for strangers to read.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for this wonderfully raw and honest post. The list of things I enjoy doing is far too long to fit in a day so I feel very inspired by the experiences you shared, but especially by the steps you took to reclaim the balance and passion of your life. I will be taking a closer look at myself to discover how to do just that. Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes that’s the most important thing we can do, breathe. That’s it. I love stories of reclaimed joy. The only good that comes from feeling everything but joy is how magnified joy becomes when we find our way to it again. Once we find our joy, it’s easier to get back to it the next time we lose our way.


  5. It takes courage in our culture to just BE and not DO. Our culture touts productivity. But sometimes the most productive thing to do is to not be so productive. Best wishes on your journey!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really appreciate this post. I’m working on my PhD as well as juggling a career and family. I’m not to my dissertation yet but it often feels overwhelming (even though I’m incredibly happy and excited to be in school, love my job, etc). It feels like there is no aspect of my life where I can make changes to make things less overwhelming (part of that may just be my perception of the situation). It’s encouraging to hear about a time somebody said “enough” and it wasn’t the end of everything that was worked for. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good on you for realising and sharing how overwhelming life can get sometimes! I loved your post! We need to be open and share in order for us and others to understand we are not alone in feeling this way! Loved it!


  8. Like probably many other people, I want to thank you for writing this post. We all get here and we all need to say it and to know we are not alone. I think it’s important that you point out that you can be burned out by doing things you love. That’s always the net that ensnares me. I look forward to following this lovely blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you SO much for sharing. I am amazed at all you juggle and totally feel you on being burnt out. I’m not a single parent, in grad school, and don’t own my own business, and I still get burned out. You’re amazing! And even more amazing for taking care of YOU! Keep rocking!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for your story! So inspiring. I’m so glad I came across your page. Please check my website and blogs as well. I look forward to reading more of your posts 🙂


  11. I truly appreciate your openness and honesty in your post. Over the past few months, I have found myself experiencing many of the same emotions, the same greyness… I am grateful that I was able to recognize it before I went too far into that dark territory. Thank you for sharing your journey, your experience. It may just be the moment of sunshine in someone else’s otherwise grey world that will help turn them around. Be strong!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. You sound like a superwoman to us! You sound just like our mummy. She does a lot too and they are all things that she loves and sometimes she gets stressed too so we try to make her smile when that happens because she is our best friend. She is our superhero. We think your daughter is very lucky to have such a cool mummy!
    Love from Wolf, Bear and Monkey xxx


  13. What I like about this post the most is that after sharing your struggle, you showed that we have the power to change our circumstances. And often, when we look at the clutter and decide to clean it up, we are left looking at and living with the things that we truly love. Our quality of life expands. I’m so happy for you. I’ve actually got some pruning to do as well.


  14. I think I am at this exact point in my life right now!! It’s nice to have someone remind me that it will get better. Great piece!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow I can’t believe how much you are able to juggle, admitting you’re burnout is not weakness, its strength. To be able to step back and analyse where you are at, what’s working and what’s not and how to still accomplish things while living your life is a very admiral thing to do 💗

    Liked by 2 people

  16. This is so beautifully written and relevant…I felt a connection to so many things you expressed here. Sometimes things get overwhelming even if they’re your passion and you just need to take a step back before the weight of them all crushes you. I need to get better at that. I can’t do everything, and I can’t do it all on my own which I’m learning more each day. Thank you for your openness, you probably don’t know how many people this post has helped. Bless you x ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Thank you for writing this. Burn out is so real and it can be so difficult to say “enough”. I needed to read this today and reflect on how i can make some changes. Thanks again❤

    Liked by 1 person

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