A Dry Well

Burnout is real. That’s my phrase of the summer. I’ve just returned from a fantastic, incredible, challenging writing workshop into starting a new adventure as a full-time grad student and not working full-time on top of it. In the middle of all this, I’m discovering that it takes a while to recover from burnout. It isn’t a matter of a vacation or a trip or a change. When the well runs dry, it takes a season or more of rain to refill it.

I’m excited about this new course in my life, and I’m scared. I’m so grateful to my husband for his support. But it’s a significant change, and I’m nervous. Part of that is the hangover of fatigue. This past week was my first in-person class, and I spent part of Tuesday and Thursday napping. After my early and long days at Yellowstone and Grand Teton, the writing workshop, traveling, as well as not sleeping much because my sinuses were so dry and full of ash from the wildfire smoke in the air of Montana. I was exhausted. But to go even further back, I haven’t slept well in a while.

Even before COVID, but especially once everything hit, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep. My job had me so stressed on top of the stress we’ve all been going through. I struggled to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up before my 5 am alarm each day. No matter what I did. I couldn’t sleep well. This past week, I slept. I expect that will change when school hits high gear, but I slept even with napping during the day. Maybe sleep is part of what’s needed to refill that dry well.

Adventure is another. Visiting Yellowstone National Park was a dream come true. I’d get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to make breakfast and have some tea before heading over. Seeing the sunrise with the temps dipping down to 37 (which reached 90 as the day progressed) and watching the gorgeous steam off the geysers and hot springs was breathtaking. I wanted to visit some famous spots like Old Faithful, Great Prismatic Spring, and Jenny Lake in Teton as early in the day as I could to avoid the crowds. It was worth the early mornings to be greeted by elk and bison.

The first morning, I drove down to Old Faithful and had the windows open until the temp read 40, and my fingers were numb. So, I rolled up the windows and turned on the Sirius Satellite radio that came with my rental car. I’ve never used one before, and the first station I found that wasn’t country was big band. Glenn Miller made a surprisingly perfect soundtrack. Taking in the new sights, smells, and sounds of places I’d only read about or heard other people discuss helped fill more of the well.

Making friends and enjoying life is another. I met some incredible people on my trip. Among them were backpacking teachers, a woman from Munich visiting her son, the Airbnb host, fellow writers, artists, conservationists, and a Vietnam Vet who has dedicated his life to saving grizzly bears. Now I’m getting to meet my classmates and professors in person. We’ve even had a chance to hang out and talk, which is so great. My job over the last year was me all on my own in offices and classrooms with no windows locked inside of jails. I had no coworkers with me. The only people I saw all day long were my students, but that isn’t the same. I was there to teach and take care of them, but there wasn’t anyone there for me. Being able to sit outside with a bunch of strangers and swap stories is electric.

It’s slowly occurring to me that it may take a while to recharge fully. After 22 years of serving others, especially after this past year and a half, it’s time for me to take care of myself. I keep reminding myself that I need a break. But at the same time, I want to take advantage of every moment possible in this new adventure. So my next word will need to be balance.

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