Putting the Brakes on Burnout

It’s only Wednesday and thus far, the week has been exhausting. My calling and letter writing and meeting-going has drained me of inner resources. In order to effectively make calls and find the right rhetoric regarding the immigration policy separating children from their families, I’ve had to read a lot of news stories, look at “other side” arguments, and really dig in.

canstockphoto13687602Yesterday I stumbled through calls, likely irritating already overworked congressional interns. I popped more old-fashioned letters into the mail, intent on contacting senators every way possible, phone, email, and U.S. mail. I attended a voters’ rights meeting, which was more social than working, but found myself tapped out by the end of the evening, followed by a heavy dose of insomnia.

This morning, after reading another round of damning news, I was blurry-eyed and tearful. The U.S. pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council. Since 1989, we’re the only country that has refused to ratify the Convention on Children’s Rights. For all the pro-life bullshit spouted in this country, we’re really not. But that is not the point of this post, merely the pile of bad news on which it is built.

But it gets worse. Let’s start with the phrase tender age shelters. Then, our vicious, useless reprobate of a president is bringing his corrosive self into my state today, where a large amount of people will don red hats and make him feel adored while shouting cult-like phrases in his direction. Lock babies up! Lock babies up!

canstockphoto37103717Today I’m taking a break. There is much to do and much urgency in doing it, but I’m headed for burnout and I haven’t been sleeping and I need to rally my mental troops, because there is a lot more work to do. Plus, if I have to see that bastard’s face one more time today, I’m going to punch my monitor.


To recharge, I’m doing some very basic things:

Not reading the news until this evening.

Watching pandas. A lot.

Cleaning up my study, which has become a large pile of camouflage for car keys, that canstockphoto13321629graduation card I forgot to send to my niece, Spanish vocabulary cards that exploded when the rubber band gave up on life, research articles, and ambition.

Reading poetry. Today it’s Kenneth Fearing after a tip-off from my lovely blogging friend, Donna, over at A Year of Living Kindly.

Flopping in a chair and reading something humorous. I’ve picked John Hodgman’s Vacationland.

Writing fiction. Sometimes it’s good to be in a land where things work out to my satisfaction. I’m working on short stories and not the novel, because it quite unexpectedly (or maybe not a surprise at all) landed squarely upon immigration issues.

canstockphoto15362073Gardening. After days of rain, my tall tomato plants need to be staked, carrots thinned, peas trained on a trellis. To use a bad pun, there is something very grounding about getting dirty, having sweat drip into my eyes, the smells of thyme and lemon balm, the aerial show of dragonflies (mosquitoes have arrived). It is as present in the moment as I ever get.

Listening to music. Lately, I’ve needed a lot of Etta James and Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade gives me chills).

Cooking. While I’ve focused on being all civic-minded, my family has foraged in the kitchen like a pack of rabid wolves for their meals. Cooking forces me to slow down and be a little more thoughtful about nutrition. Feeding the soul is great, but feeding the body makes it all happen.

Sitting and doing nothing for moments at a time. This will likely lead to a nap or ten.

Having coffee with a friend. We always have a laugh and I get to talk about other things canstockphoto3206388than the news.

Making the list. I have more calls, emails, and letters to write tomorrow. Having a call list and addresses ready will make shorter work of things.

Preparing for and going to bed early. This is where it all begins – getting enough rest to knock out the next day.

Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Much like writing, one can assume that activism requires constant productivity, but we are not robots and we are better writers or activists or humans, for taking the time to allow our brains and bodies to rest, recuperate, refuel. Quantity does not indicate effectiveness and the best ideas often emerge out of fallow times. Off to get some energy and good ideas. And maybe a nap.

How do you re-energize yourself?

28 thoughts on “Putting the Brakes on Burnout

      1. Absolutely! I am currently volunteering at a women’s shelter and crisis phone line. This is all new to me, and already I can see the vital role self-care must play, if I wish to make anything more than a fleeting commitment. I appreciate your post.


  1. Yup! It’s a big one you nailed here. I do some of the things you suggest, like cooking (from scratch only, nothing prepared). I take a ride around the local park on my bike. In fact, exercise is probably at the top of my list. I wouldn’t check the news too close to bedtime, though. I do mid-day for that, the first break in my work day.

    Best wishes, and thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing what works for you. I normally would put exercise on the list, but that is something I do pretty regularly. I noticed this morning that my shoulders and arms ache from weight training lately, so I’m being deliberate in taking a recovery day. But exercise is definitely high up on the self-care list. Getting out of the house, since I work from home, usually does wonders for me as well.


  2. Yes to joy! Yes to renewing! For me, a big yes to watching parent wrens and finches feed their little ones as they grow toward fledging. 🙂


    1. One of the rascally juvenile squirrels has learned to climb to our main, formerly impregnable, bird feeder. It’s a battle of wills this morning, because he’s keeping all the birds away. I have a feeling that I’m going to lose.


  3. Thanks for modeling self-care, Michelle, something we all need to be good at if we want to be in this for the long haul. Hope this day is replenishing and rejuvenating. I hope, also, that you enjoy Kenneth Fearing, though as much as I love his poetry, I’ll be curious to know if you find it revitalizing. There is a good deal of anger in his explorations of justice and equality, and his celebration of “the common man.” But his use of language is masterful. Perhaps for dessert you might enjoy Heath Houston’s “To You, the Honest and Kind” https://medium.com/literally-literary/to-you-the-honest-and-kind-a4da423826c5

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Donna. I’ve found Kenneth Fearing’s dark humor to be enjoyable. He is sly and still direct. One of my favorites is “Agent No. 174 Resigns” for its dry, deadpan humor. I love the blending of journalism and poetry. Things that make me laugh or think (unrelated to current events) always fill my mental coffers. So thanks again. I read Mr. Houston’s poem as well. It reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount, paraphrased. It’s one of the poems you nod your head yes to repeatedly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad you enjoyed Fearing. Your reply motivated me to dig out my well-read copy of his “New and Selected Poems” (which I remember buying new when I was a senior in high school). I reread “Agent No. 174 Resigns” and enjoyed it thoroughly. The voice is direct and ironic, and the words are very visual.
        Irrelevant aside: Fearing was also the author of a suspenseful classic noir novel entitled “The Big Clock,” which was made into a suspenseful—and somewhat surreal—movie of the same name, starring Ray Milland and Charles Laughton. Many years later, it was remade into a mediocre film called “No Way Out,” which starred Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman.
        Re the Houston poem, I confess to being unfamiliar with the Sermon on the Mount—I looked it up and can see why you made the analogy. I am the farthest thing from an expert on any religion, but I imagine Houston’s words resonate with many of them. It all comes down to ethical living … something that seems to be optional these days among those who claim to own the path of righteousness.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I actually wrote a policy memo in college during my human rights class about the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That was in 2011. At the time, the standouts were the US and Somalia. Shame nothing has changed.


    1. Something has changed – Somalia ratified it in 2015. The unfortunate side effect of American exceptionalism and the cultural worship of individualism is that we seem incapable of playing well with others these days. The “common good” is not part of our public discourse both internationally and here at home. I find myself using that phrase more and more, because I so badly want it to become part of our political vernacular. I think we are on a destructive path without it.


      1. Oh, but that would mean we would have to care about someone other than ourselves for a change. Maybe someday we will live up to our name.


        1. I live in The Swamp. It’s hard not to be sarcastic sometimes. But I also know a lot of brilliant and hard working people who work for Agencies or Non-profits. We’re doing all we can

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Again, thank you, Michelle, for articulating so well the thoughts and feelings of myself and folks like me who have all these same thoughts and feelings and just aren’t able to adequately articulate them, you are a blessing! (PS – I also have the issue with the crafty squirrel who has mastered a high-wire act approach to the bird feeder. I admit, I’ve noticed her belly showing she’s a mama so, I’ve pretty much given up on chasing her away. Mouths to feed, you know.)


    1. Thanks for your kind words. We have a lot of juvenile squirrels in our neighborhood at the moment. Yesterday, six of them were chasing each other around yard. I kept chasing the one determined little fellow off the feeder and the birds returned later in the day. I love their antics, but squirrels can empty a feeder so quickly!


  6. ” Sometimes it’s good to be in a land where things work out to my satisfaction.”
    I hear that Michelle, which is often times, why I write. Feels good, no??

    And I like the Panda idea too, they are so adorable. But I really luv watching these short video clips from “The Dodo” on FB, which always come with a rousing, uplifting story of animals, often pups, being rescued by good samaritans.

    Warms my heart, and refreshes my mind!


    1. I just watched The Dodo episode about Willow and Ella. It was a heart crunching story. Probably could only handle one of those stories a day without turning into a blubbery mess!

      I find writing, like exercise, to be a saving grace when so much going on in the world seems bleak. Occasionally, I’ll go The Good News Network, which has a bit of a Chicken Soup for the Soul bent to it, but sometimes you need that.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Amen to the gardening. It’s almost magic how it refreshes my soul! I also like doing crosswords or computer word games. Words and letters are comforting to me and ease my brain. Being near water is healthy for me, too. There is a lake less than a mile away and I like to just go gaze. Hard times, indeed. Nevertheless, she persisted!


    1. My persistence requires plenty of rest stops. I find, too, as an introvert, I quickly become overwhelmed and drained with the interaction required to be an activist. Nature is that thing that keeps me present and grateful, gives me space to breathe before diving back into things. And I’ve been thinking a lot about what the people before us have done and get inspired by their words and willingness to engage in the struggle – in much less comfortable circumstances.


  8. Outrage is stressful and taxing. I recently ran away to Europe for a month to decompress and unplug, and daydream about being an expat. Sadly, I am limited by time and money, so I milk the vacation glow for as long as possible: vacation planning on the front end, the vacation itself, post-vacation organization of photos, and blogging — yes, I will revive my blog. I’m glad you called out the absence of “pro-life” actions. Add to that the old saw about “family values” — whatever that was supposed to mean.


  9. Yes, yes, and yes! I try to remember that I’m of no help to anyone if I cannot even take care of myself. I’m feeling especially overwhelmed today, so I’m having lunch with a friend and then dropping off bottled water at the local Women’s Center. It’s so hot here in NC. I feel like there are small things that I can do that keep me from feeling hopeless and helpless.


    1. Here’s the magical thing about doing small, everyday tasks to help – your example might lead to someone else deciding to do one small thing and like ripples on a pond, that single act becomes a wave. I always try to remind myself of that, when what I do seems inconsequential. It’s not and it’s important that we do what we can without burning ourselves out.

      Liked by 1 person

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