The beginning of this chapter really hit home for me, because it sounded so similar to what I've gone through. All through my 20's I really pushed myself-- going to college, assisting in the psychology department with research, working 2 jobs, and volunteering at a domestic violence shelter to boot. I was trying to be the perfect college student, build the perfect resume, so that I could get the perfect job when I graduated. It was during this time of my life that I completely lost touch with any kind of creativity. I was too busy trying to be successful.
I got the "perfect" job after I graduated, doing just what I thought I wanted to do-- counseling at-risk teens and their families. Often I worked more than 9 hours a day, and my days were full of stressful situations and lots of travel as well. I was always tired and this began to take its toll. I think it was around this time that I first talked to my doctor and he suggested that my chronic fatigue could be from depression and perhaps medication would be beneficial. I was mortified at the thought.
Thinking a change would help, I fought for, and got, a job as a social work case aide. I also got married. I left work every day with a migraine. Eventually, every morning, I was crying in the shower and trembling with anxiety the whole time I was getting ready for work. I was always tired. I realized I was very far away from what I really wanted to do, which was advocate for victims of sexual and domestic violence. After 2 years of living life like this, I left my job at DHS to return to shelter work.
But by this time, I was a walking zombie. My self-esteem was shot. The harder I tried to be the perfect employee, to say and do the right things, the worse everything got, until finally I was just... done... I reached the point where I could no longer physically or mentally function.
This was the first black hole I experienced. Eventually I recovered and found an awesome job doing behavioral research, which I loved, yet at the end of the work day, I was always absolutely exhausted. I found myself dozing over my work in the afternoons. I was always tired no matter how much sleep I tried to get.
In 2000, my husband got a job in Colorado and we took a chance and moved to a new, unfamiliar state without any family or friends near. I worked a couple of different jobs doing floral design instead of any kind of stressful human services work, but I was always so damn tired it was hard to function. For every day I worked, I needed a day or two to recover. I was also wracked with constant pain and anxiety. In 2002, I was diagnosed with major depression, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.
Since then, I've been learning how to function again. It is taking a long, long time. What helps me manage the void?
- acknowledging my limitations and honoring them
- 10-12 hours of sleep a day
- a daily dose of sunshine
- quiet time
- time in nature
- my spiritual path
- creative work-- polymer clay, collage, journaling, floral design, rubber stamping, crochet-- anything that puts me in touch with color and texture
Well, now its time for a change again. I realize that jewelry is an "easy out" for me. While I like it and find it fun, it isn't the type of polymer clay project that brings out my creative passion. So I've been reading books, collecting ideas, making sketches, browsing tutorials, visiting poly clay sites-- gathering inspiration and information for making larger, more sculptural pieces. I'm still a researcher at heart, I guess.
But I think this may be my biggest key to managing those voids-- instead of pushing myself past my limits, I need a time of gathering together before I can proceed, whether its gathering my energy or ideas or confidence. And maybe that's what all the pain and exhaustion is trying to teach me... slow down, take a good look at what's going on, be honest about how you're feeling, figure out your choices, and then move ahead, creatively.