life Reflections travel

How Do We Recharge?

I feel like I’ve spent much of this pandemic digging out of a case of burnout, watching people burn out around me, trying to get ahead of things, trying to inch up from zero but never really feeling like I make it that far.

I think it’s understandable that people are burning out, left, right and centre. For many of us, the pandemic hits all the causes of burnout.

And all those things feel so much harder when rest is lower quality. When we are more isolated. When time is monotonous, we feel like we have less of it.

I work somewhere with untracked vacation, so I keep my own records. I know how many days I took off as vacation, how many days for “life debt”, how many days for learning and development, how many days I was sick, and how many weekend days I worked. All of these numbers are in the “normal, European” range. But if I think about it, I remember two weeks I took off. One in July, and one in September. The ones where I made a plan and went somewhere. Approaching the end of the year, it doesn’t really matter what my record says – I’m tired like the only breaks I took were those two separate weeks away.

Two benefits of getting away, then. The first is that the change of scene is memorable and changes our experience of time. The second, that it gets us away from all the admin of life. The chores that keep life going but that also sometimes make life feel like a drag.

I used to think that rest was going away somewhere and doing something else entirely. I thought it was finishing a novel each day. Waking up whenever. Wondering around freely, without a schedule. When I think about what it was like to recharge in the before times, I think about the 10 days or so I spent in Bali, doing yoga until my wrists gave out. I think about a blissful long weekend in Hong Kong. I think about Venice in November, the biennial, the architecture, the fog. I think of that trip to Costa Rica, the sea turtles, the kayaks, the jet skis, and swimming every day. I think of days spent wondering across Barcelona, across Reykjavik, across Copenhagen, across Prague. I think of taking the boat to MONA in Hobart, skiing in Andorra and trips to the spa.

My concept of rest was “active rest”, like, in the Peloton class where after 15-20 minutes going hard you get a break at 80-100 RPM but “just” 30 on the tension.

But also I’m biased to remember the active moments. The periods I spent lying down, or days I spent with the program of go to the gym, eat something, and read a book, blur into one. According to my Kindle, I have read 941 books. Not all of them were on planes; I must have passed many days this way.

I used to have two modes: rushing about at full tilt, and collapsing from exhaustion. Therapy helped me shift to somewhere else, to see myself as worthy of rest, to shift my concept of self care to actually involve care for a future Cate. I’m glad I did this work before life as we knew it was cancelled. This timeline has forced me to reconceptualize rest again. To pay closer attention to what makes me feel recharged, and what makes me feel worn out. To find things that make me feel like time has passed but it was time well spent (like crafting), and pay attention to those things that make me feel time was wasted (like binge watching Netflix).

A question I ask – myself and others – a lot, is “what makes you feel recharged?” The answers are fascinating, a friend today described the incredible feeling of painting a wall with a brush, feeling like she was accomplishing something, enjoying the moment – even though her husband subsequently repainted it with a paint roller for a better finish.

I feel recharged when I…

  • … experience something new.
  • … meaningfully connect with a friend.
  • … wake up from the kind of deep sleep you only get from intense exercise.
  • … make something.
  • … finish a book.
  • … bring order to my living space.
  • … relax in the sauna after a good swim.
  • … emerge from the floatation tank.
  • … spend quality time with my partner.
  • … see a raccoon.

This topic feels really present right now, as almost everyone I encounter seems exhausted. Most of us get something like a break for the end of the year, and it’s worth thinking about the question, what will you do, so that you can recharge for 2020 take 3?