Dear creative self,

It’s okay that you’re tired. Or burnt out. Or however you feel. It’s been a weird couple of years, and we haven’t been really good at taking care of ourselves under normal circumstances.

sunflowers growing toward the sun against a blue sky with the text "Dear Creative Self: A Letter on Burn Out"

Sure, you were warned, but warnings mean nothing if you have no previous data to interpret along with them. So when they said you couldn’t go like this forever, it just didn’t make sense. You’d been going like that for so long.

In fact, you couldn’t really exist without the exhaustion. When there wasn’t enough to do, it was like you couldn’t find the rhythm. You couldn’t get anything done.

But when the to do list was full, the schedule packed, the adrenaline pumping along because there was no way to get it all done…that’s when you shined. That was when you got it all done, and then some.

Looking back on it, your ideas of productivity were ableist at best, and harmful at worst.

And yeah, you were a product of many factors: environment, social class, brain chemicals, and probably a lot of other things you won’t even realize until years from now. So you were just doing what you knew how to do, surviving how you could.

The writing happened when the day job was chaotic. The day job was chaotic because people in managerial positions have a tendency to be the absolute worst. Physically, the body suffered. But that wasn’t your realm.

And even though people make fitness seem like a virtue, no one puts “had a ripped six pack” on their tombstone. So, you felt content knowing you were chasing the right goal.

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Nothing lasts forever, though.

And when you were forced to slow down, when burn out hit so hard you couldn’t ignore it like you had been for over a decade, when you finally felt safe enough to have a little fun, there wasn’t any fuel in the tank.

It’s not your fault. I mean, it is. We chose this together, but how could you know how it would turn out?

Everyone acted like you were making the virtuous choice. Everyone acted like you were doing something great.

And that, my dear creative self, is why starting a project makes your skin crawl.

It’s why writing one blog post is exhausting.

It’s why you take a nap every single day and Google how you feel as if it’s all symptoms of something that can be treated with a magic pill.

It’s probably not.

Best case scenario: You take some time off. Everyone needs some rest. And you refill the well.

It’s why you’ve been binging prestige TV dramas and reading at least a book a week.

It’s why you can’t handle text messages or Zoom calls anymore.

Because it’s not just you, my dear creative self. It’s all sides of us now.

I suppose it was always all sides of us, you know? It’s all connected. Or, maybe not connected. That implies separation, and like, each human body is one entity, even if you mostly feel like a ghost piloting a meat wagon.

So the creative parts and the physical parts and the energy parts and the spiritual parts are all worn slick.

They all remember when they thought they were part of something special, someone special. The recall the days of waking up early after four hours of sleep during grad school, trying to work multiple jobs, do school work, and have a relationship with the man who would become our husband.

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It was a weird time, and if we were to be put in that situation again, we definitely wouldn’t keep those plates spinning. In fact, I don’t think we’d have the energy to even try.

What’s that saying about youth being wasted on the young?

Anyway, this message isn’t about all that. It’s about a plan to move forward. It’s time to stop mourning the energy we used to have or all the things we used to be able to do. It’s time to move forward with reality as it is now.

You’re doing mostly okay, and that’s commendable.

Self-care is at an all-time high, probably because it has to be. Your Fitbit gives you a smiley face after almost every night’s sleep. You go for a leisurely walk five mornings a week. You let your brain engage in its favorite past time, maladaptive daydreaming, the whole time.

You eat some seed cycling balls for breakfast, which may be great for your hormones or may be absolute snake oil. Either way, they taste great, and any excuse to consume peanut butter is a good one.

And when you sit at your desk to work, you can work for almost two whole hours at a time now. Then it’s nap time for sure. But after that, you can get back to work most days, even if you have to take the laptop to the bed or the couch to get anything done.

I wish I could say I knew how it would all shake down. If tarot cards could say exactly what we needed, that would be rad. But they don’t, and mostly we’re left just doing the things that make us feel mostly okay.

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And in 2022, as a creative person with brain chemicals and a history of looking at pages of her calendar as something she just has to power through, mostly okay is pretty fucking good.

So, to you, my dear creative self, this is mostly a note to just say I see you, and I’m with you.

We’re never going to have the energy we used to. We’re never going to be as productive as we used to be.

But we’re also never going to push ourselves the way we used to. Mostly because we can’t, but also, because we’ve learned our lesson.

Consider slowing down more where you can. Putting up more boundaries. Sleeping more and worrying less.

Stop binging TikToks when you should be napping. Stop eating junk food when you need actual energy.

And most of all, just remember to let it all go–what it used to be and that voice in the back of your head that says it should still be that way.

You’re doing pretty good, dear creative self, all things considered. And that’s mostly all you can do.

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