You have to let everything fall apart to find out what’s indestructible about you.
– Glennon Doyle Melton, from her blog, momastery.com
Today is day 1 of a 44-day sabbatical I’m taking from work. I will be off through the holidays and the entire month of January. I’ve been living fast and frantic for as long as I can remember. I’ve hit the ground sprinting each morning and have operated at an adrenaline-filled state through much of each day for the last few years. Staff cuts and increased responsibilities have been burdens on my plate at work and instead of stopping to let go of those things that overwhelm me, I pressed on. My social calendar and church responsibilities filled my extra-curricular time with appointments and meetings and events. I’ve always felt I wasn’t really living if I didn’t go, go, go. I crave quality time with others. I like to be out and about. I feel that I’m missing out if I don’t travel and see and do. But, I’m an introvert who has been masquerading as an extrovert. I’m an introvert wanting a fabulous social life and desperately not wanting it to wear me out. Well, it has. It did. And, now I’m suffering the consequences….
At the beginning to September, I experienced something I never have before. I was physically broken down and forced to stop. Never in my life have I been so humbled and physically incapable of processing the barrage of information that hit me throughout every day. I would experience extreme exhaustion after only an hour or two of arriving to work. I coasted through the rest of the workday on fumes, operating well below my normal level of productivity, and would arrive home to give in to that intense exhaustion. Jammies at 5pm and lights out for bedtime at 7:30pm became my norm for much of the fall. I cancelled half of my late afternoon and evening obligations because I physically couldn’t do it. Along with the exhaustion, I was battling depressive episodes with pain-filled sadness and apathy. Something was wrong. I definitely didn’t feel like myself. I started with an appointment with my general practitioner, blood work came back normal, but she said I’ve been running at a high level of adrenaline for way too long. She said that our bodies are equipped to go into that ‘fight or flight’ mode for snippets of time, but that a person shouldn’t consistently live in that state.
Answers to some digestive issues I’ve had for most of my life began to make me feel better physically, but there was still this weariness I couldn’t explain, and more importantly, couldn’t get over. I needed help. I’m a researcher by trade so it was only natural for me to self diagnose (although the internet can be a scary place!). I started seeing a counselor and told her I thought I was suffering from burnt-out. Is that a real thing? Is it medically sound? Or is it just a term that gets tossed around? Well, she said, it’s not necessarily medically-based, but burn out is certainly a real thing. At the end of our second session, she challenged me to think about taking extended leave from my job. She said I needed space and a time to refocus and recharge; a period of at least six weeks to reflect and heal. Space from whatever it was that I’ve been suffering from. I’ve never taken more than two and a half weeks off work in over a decade. Taking this much time off sounded like an impossibility! My initial reaction was, ‘how in the world am I going to make this happen?!’ But, as I let it soak in and wrestled with the thought of it, I came up with a timeframe and had even taken care of some of those small logistical details before my next appointment. I wasn’t feeling excited. I was relieved. I began to crave and anticipate this space and realized I truly needed it for my health and well being.
And, so it begins today. A chance to press my ‘reset button’ (as one good friend shared with me). My sabbatical journey begins with the joys of Christmas, a time with family and lucid schedules filled with rest and relaxation. It will continue into the shiny new year, which always brings me pause and reflection and a chance for new beginnings. So what will this space and time look like? I’m not quite sure yet. I’ve been jotting down notes of things to do, books to read, disciplines to begin, reflections to write about. I will stay close to home. It will be intentional. It will be healing. It will be blessed. . . .