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 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.
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.