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. Thank you for taking the risk to share this with us.I imagine most of us have come up against that very painful, totally fried place. I’m glad you have support, and I’m glad you are still writing and sharing.

    Liked by 8 people

  2. I completely agree with that comment. Although difficult, by sharing your experiences you’re helping the rest of the world see that we all feel like this sometimes. But that we can do something about it too. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. Not everyone can muster strength to admit to a dark phase as this.. I’m glad you wrote this and I was lucky enough to be able to read it.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Beautifully written. I believe we all go through this many times, like hermit crabs shedding our carapaces, vulnerable for a time then stronger than before. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Love that you shared this. Yes, we do have am ibtions as women, I know I want to gave my cake and eat it, but there are still only 24 hours in the day! I am learning to listen to my body, if I cant make my own dead lines, I need to have compassion for myself.

    Thank you for confirming that this is all OK!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Having reached burnt out stage myself it was great to read the whole of this post and to know that you feel again. I want to get to that point.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can definitely can feel your emotions through this post. Sometimes we want “it all”, but can’t have it. The most important things are the happiness of yourself and your child. If you don’t have that then nothing else matters. Time wills get tough and storms will come, always look to find that light. It’s there, you just have to see it for yourself. Stay blessed. -Jay

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Love this:

    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.

    Good for you!!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I wish there could be a way for me to share a GIF of applause right now cause that’s what I felt like doing when I read this. I get the fact of having too many things in hand to do and honestly nothing else compares to feel.

    Now, I kind of know what to do when I feel burned out. Thanks and good luck for everything!!

    Liked by 4 people

  10. I’m sure every woman goes through this at some time or the other. What is remarkable is your overcoming it and being able to write so lucidly about it. Thank you so much for this share! Best wishes.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Writing on demand without writing with passion, this is what everyone’s running after. I think I need to plan my steps too, as I don’t have enough projects nor a good job neither I write. Its all a mess. Thank you for this post. It has given me the time to reflect.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I absolutely loved this post! I am so glad that you have people that stand by your side and help you through the tough times no matter what. I think at times we forget just how important that is to have. I think we forget it until we no longer have it. And I believe that I loved this post so much because I can relate to it so closely. Thank you so much for posting this for all to see. Because sometimes while thinking of all of the things we “must” do/accomplish to get by I think we truly forget that sometimes it’s ok to say enough, I’m overloaded, and to take a step back and out of the picture for a little while.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Reblogged this on Head up & heart strong and commented:
    Sometimes by sharing your stories it allows others to connect and realize that it’s okay not to cope at times. Being a teenage girl living in Zimbabwe trying to study I realized that it’s okay to let go sometimes and it’s okay to not cope. Not everything comes easily, but eventually it will come.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. This is great and I can relate, although we have a different situation here in Zimbabwe. It is very challenging to engage with the world and run a business in the way that you all do. Thank-you for your inspiring words!

    Liked by 3 people

  15. I am glad you made the decision to change things for better and I am glad that you are in a place where you could talk about it without feeling vulnerable. I have sort of going through a similar phase in life and I understand all the fears and doubts that one has to go through to get where you have gotten. The fact that you are happy and content now is very reassuring from someone like me who has started on a similar path recently.
    Wishing you great thing in your journey.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Your story is honest and raw. Major Recurrent Depression has plagued me for about half of my life and I am currently in the longest period (about 18 months) during which I haven’t had a major episode (think blacking out and lying in bed for months) in over a decade, so your experience certainly resonated with me. Showing my own cracks, and helping others to avoid tripping over similar ones, is exactly why I came to WordPress to write, and I applaud you for being open in a public medium. I’m curious, what type of business do you own?

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply to breaking the surface | Campbells World Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.