I used to write every morning, without fail. I would wake up, grab a glass of water or tea, feed my cats, and before checking email, social media, even texts, I would sit down to write. It felt empowering and freeing because I was really in control of my life and doing what I wanted to be doing. I was doing the things that writers do, not just saying that I was a writer, but actually being one.
It’s been a few years since that time now. In between, I changed jobs three times, moved across the country twice, got married, bought a house, oh yeah, and lived through a pandemic. Let’s just say, my routine is not what it used to be. The past several years have both been exciting and chaotic. Somehow, I have had more hours to write, but less brain space to actually write. Is that what burnout is?
During this time, I have still considered myself a writer. I did write some things for work (like grant proposals, parts of a textbook), and I have been doing a lot of editing of student work. But if I’m honest, I wasn’t writing for me. And I certainly wasn’t writing the things I really want to write: books about soil, stories, reflections, and motivational articles. In that sense, I haven’t really been writing much for several years.
That’s where the problem is. The identity I hold (writer) and my actions (not writing) are out of sync. Subconsciously, I have been feeling that weight. I have been feeling simultaneously like I am not being the person I want to be, or not living up to the best version of myself, while also feeling the negative effects of not writing for my mental health.
Writing brings clarity. It is the best way that I know of to talk to myself.
For someone like me — this is critical! I come to understand things best through talking, hearing the words, and then listening. My process of understanding is iterative. I need to both talk it out and listen deeply to my own ideas, again and again, until I iron out the kinks and understand where I really stand on an issue. I need to constantly be in conversation with myself or others in order to understand my own thoughts. When I hear my thoughts spoken aloud, I can react to them, evaluate my reaction, and reevaluate the original thought based on that reaction.
I am not one who can ruminate alone. I need many sounding boards!
Luckily, I have many people in my life who serve as sounding boards. My husband, my parents, my siblings, my close friends. They all have the shared ability to listen to me talk and talk and talk. They help me work through my seedling ideas and serve as the sunlight that allows my ideas to grow and mature.
My inherent need to iterate through ideas in spoken form also explains why teaching brings me so much joy, clarity, and energy. Teaching students about soil science and ecology has helped me better understand many things I thought I already knew. I have many examples of standing in front of the class and explaining a scientific concept, only to have a light bulb go off in my brain and think, “oh, that’s how it works, yes now I really understand”. I have heard myself say it out loud and now it actually makes sense.
I’m reading this as I am writing, and it sounds strange, right? This feedback loop between talking and listening to my own thoughts… it’s the only way I know how to exist in the world. I have known this in some form for a while now, but this is the first time I have really articulated it clearly for myself. Funny how writing can help you see more clearly…
So here’s the problem.
Moving from a steady routine, starting a new job, and mostly being isolated from my sounding boards during the pandemic has left me without a place in which my ideas can swirl around between my mouth, ears, and brain.
Writing is clearly the solution. Writing allows me to talk to myself, to listen and take in my own thoughts, and the revise, rehash, and reframe as I better understand my own ideas. My identity as a writer comes from this very need. In that way, writing is more than just a fun thing that I like to do… but it’s actually a self-care practice.
Why haven’t I been doing it?? I’m not sure I was able to see how much I needed it until right now while rereading and editing this post.
I’ve continued to feel burnt out and unmotivated lately (for months really). I have kept telling myself that my motivation will come back, my energy will come back, just wait it out and get through this.
“Waiting it out” has not been working. So today I am going to try something different. I am going to ditch the passive waiting game and replace it with an active effort to get back the energy that makes me feel like me. Writing is going to be the mechanism for regaining my activation energy and lighting my way through this mental fog. It may not be easy, but I am going to start. By writing this post, I guess I already have…
Here’s the promise I am going to make to myself to light my way out of this mental fog. I am going to come back every morning to write something, anything. No rules, no agenda, just write something down. It does not have to be good. I do not have to publish it. I just want to put some words on a page and commit to doing this every day. Every morning, even if it’s only a few minutes on my phone.
I am going to write something down.
I am going to prioritize talking to myself, and then listening.