Overdoing it? Burnout, and Offline Sundays

Over the last few weeks I’ve become uncomfortably aware that I might, possibly, be overdoing it a bit. There were subtle signs, such as a deep desire to hide under the duvet every time I even thought about my to-do list; and less subtle ones, like bursting into tears on the phone for no apparent reason.

Then there were the helpful hints from the serendipitous universe. A work training day where I realised that I’m not actually the thriving-on-being-super-busy person I was (or believed I was) when I was 20. A friend sending links about Burned-out Activists and Avoiding Activist Burnout to the mailing list of the awesome A Collective for Better Collectives.

(At this point, I want to say “of course, most of my own stress/borderline burnout isn’t actually activism related”. Because, in my head, real activists put more time than I do into their activism. And it’s true that the two big things on my mind right now aren’t activism-related. But recently I counted up the number of broadly ‘activist’ projects that I’m involved with, and came up with eight. Hm.)

So, I accepted the subtle signs from my own mind and the helpful prodding from the universe, and I considered what I should do about it. Kristenking gives a helpful list of Things to Bear In Mind, several of which I’d already come to of my own accord. Here’s my list:

  1. Take a long hard look at my commitments. Drop some of them.
  2. Remind myself that I have some big stuff coming up in the next few weeks (finishing my book, and supporting a friend in giving birth, being the big-ticket items), and look at 1. again.
  3. Go climbing. It’s good for the brain.
  4. The internet, whilst shiny in many regards, is not always helpful. Try taking an offline day (prompted in part by this post from Sarah Wilson).

I’m still working on them. I’ve been climbing a couple of times (it really is good for my brain), and I’ve bowed out of a couple of things (it probably needs to be more). Last Sunday was my first attempt at an offline day in a year or so, and it was complicated by the fact that I spent the day largely in bed with a cold, snoozing and reading. But it was a book, not the internet. And it felt like a release of some sort. I’ll report back in a couple of weeks on how the next few weekends go.


A most relaxing week

I spent an incredibly relaxing week over Easter at the Ecolodge in Old Leake, Lincs, with my partner doop and Sidney-the-dog.

The Ecolodge belongs to a lovely couple called Geri and Andy, who live in the house next door to it (the houses are sufficiently separate that you don’t see them unless you want to). It’s entirely offgrid: the electricity comes from a wind turbine and solar panels, there’s a compost loo, rain-water is collected for showering (although there is one tap in the kitchen which has mains drinking water), and heating and hot water are handled by a wood-stove in the main room. The stove is obviously usable for cooking as well – we did 90% of our cooking on it, but did use the little two-burner gas ring to boil the kettle.

One of the major attractions for us was the lack of ‘proper’ electricity. All the plugs in the place are 110V DC, so you need a special sort of plug for them, and you can’t just plug in your usual electrical kit. Which means no phones, no laptops, no iPod speakers… Instead, we read, knitted (in my case), did one of the jigsaws we found on the shelves, cooked, and chatted. A couple of times I switched the battery-operated radio onto Radio 3, but mostly I was happy just to listen to the birdsong and the subdued roar and crackle of the stove.

There’s a couple of acres of mixed woodland and meadow out the back, which Sidney particularly appreciated as it featured pheasants. If you are a 1-year-old lurcher cross who’s never been out of the city before, pheasants are, apparently, about the most fun it is possible to have. Happily she didn’t actually catch any, in large part because even the dopiest pheasant would have heard her coming from some distance away as she crashed merrily through the undergrowth. doop and I followed behind more sedately, watching the process of spring springing, with the trees bursting into leaf and the flowers starting to appear.

There are a couple of flattish local walks, or you can go a bit further afield if you’re not limited by having to take the dog along. We also spent an afternoon in the Art Stop, a slightly battered caravan equipped with pencils, crayons, paints, paper, and a box of fossils. I had enormous fun playing with colours like a 4-year-old. There’s also jigsaws (we completed a 500-piece one over around 6 hours and felt immensely proud), kids’ games, and a box of dominos (although neither of us could remember the rules).

Cooking on the wood stove is a slow process. It sometimes felt like our days revolved pleasantly around food (planning it and minding it), but the actual work involved was minimal. Just chuck another log or two on the stove every 45 minutes or thereabouts. We made one stew that was in the oven for over 24 hours (although not actually being cooked overnight), and it was sensational. Veggies were provided by the local organic farm, and there’s free-range eggs available locally as well. When we needed anything, doop set off on his bike to the Co-op in the village, 4 km away. Apparently cycling in this part of the world is a little bracing (read: windy).

I came back feeling incredibly relaxed and peaceful, and determined to spend more of my time not plugged into the internet. Indeed, I wrote this on my first no-wireless-at-home day on Wednesday (and have only just got around to posting it). Just switching off from everything was fantastic, and I felt so much better for slowing down. I may not be able to spend all day every day kicking back on the sofa while I’m back in London, but I do want to recreate some of that peace here. I’ll update with how it’s going after a month.