I burned out this week. It’s not an unusual experience for me, although I’m managing it better and it’s a good deal less frequent than it was. I tend to work up the edges of what I can sustain and then stay there until I fall over. Repeat. I’ve got better at pacing myself, and I’m reliably allowed to sleep, which makes me more viable, but there’s always more that needs doing than there is time and energy to achieve, and I’ve never been good at saying ‘no’ to things that looked important.
In the last few days, other things have happened, cutting through the exhaustion and the attendant low spirits. On Wednesday, the beauty of cranes and swans. On Thursday, the remarkable fiction of Professor Elemental, the gorgeous, sublime poetry of Jay Ramsay, and some online things funny enough to elicit tears of laughter.
I use landscape like a drug. It’s easy round here because there are so many places with epic views, big skies, dramatic hills. I’ve always done this, seeking out beauty and places where the horizon is large. Stargazing works, too. Finding those places where I am lost in the enormity of a landscape. Just a small and irrelevant little blot, able as a consequence to be unaware of myself for just a little while.
I get lost in other people’s creations, in the beauty and wonder of things made. I get lost in work; at the moment that involves a lot of heavy duty factual research, and keeping up with politics could be a full time job in itself. Busy, doing and overwhelmed.
Much of why I seek passion and emotional intensity in others may be based on this, too. It is a loss of self, an abandonment, when what is felt in the moment is so much bigger than anything carried with me, so much more important than any sense of should, or must, that I am just alive and present and being.
The funny thing is that I’ve always been highly resistant to Buddhist ideas about the surrender of self as religious journey. When I’m not lost and overwhelmed, that loss of self seems like a cheat. Non-existence has always been a tempting cheat, the ultimate get out clause. Still being alive but having some kind of non-existence, would work in a number of ways, but I’ve never deliberately sought it. I’ve hung onto this self-awareness, this personhood that does not ever allow me to stay comfortable for long, or feel good enough or shrug and say ‘not my problem’.
I’ve tried removing bits of self and personality. I’ve tried subduing all the bits other people have problems with – the being too serious, too intense, too emotional. The net result has, invariably, left me feeling that it would be better just to die, rather than living the grey half-life that gets me. If I took away the obsession, the drives, the sense of must and should and ought to that kicks me along on a daily basis, what would I be? Who would I be? I suspect the answer, is that without those spurs, it would be so easy to quit. To decide that my body is too sore to get up today. To accept that it’s too hard and to recognise that I probably wouldn’t make much odds anyway, and to let it go. To be ok with all of that. Would that be better? It’s one of those things I cannot have both ways. Either I am mad and driven, or I am not. I’ve never known how to be measured.
There is another side of me, alive in response to beauty and landscape, and the creativity of others. There are parts of me that exist only when there is someone else’s passion to ignite them. If there’s enough of that, if it’s part of my daily life, not an occasional add-in, then the drivenness starts to take a different shape. It feels less like masochism, and more like an aspect of something bigger, more potent, more worth having. It feels like possibility. However, life in practice is littered with banality, with people who tell me off for being too serious, and the people who inspire me most have other things to be doing, and cannot forever be propping me up. Somewhere out there, is a possibility of turning this into something, of taking the fragments of my dysfunction and re-weaving them into something else. It is, I think, worth trying for, at least.