dancing with depletion

Good morning writers. Where I’m sitting right now, the candle’s had to work hard to penetrate the fog-chilly dark, and I’m grateful to be up early enough to meet this part of the day. Are you still lost in your dreams? Are you sitting up with me in the thin early morning light of this new day, cup of coffee warming your palms as you sit at your kitchen table, listening to the radio to find out what beauty and danger erupted in the world while you slept? I like to imagine you there. I like to imagine me there, too.

This morning I am thinking about depletion, about replenishment (again, again). I spent five days last week — four of them twelve-hour days — co-leading the AWA facilitator’s training here in Alamo, CA, and it was a delight to get to participate. I want to tell you about that joy. I want to show you the sorts of conversations I got to have with my co-trainers, with the trainees, with this community of folks who are curious about and have been shaped by the Amherst Writers & Artists workshop method and the sort of good this work can do in the world. I want to show you our long working days, our delicious meals, the lovely sound of trainee’s voices and laughter pushing up through the trees from the pool where they’d many of them gather at breaktime to cool off and deepen their connections with one another. I want to tell  you how fantastic it is to get to spend five days talking with folks about the power of supporting writers’ voices and the way that support can be a part of transforming peoples’ lives, and thereby shifting significantly the world we live in.

I want to tell you all of this. But I’m tired.

Do you know about this tired? I’ve talked about it before, that kind of deep depletion that looks like all I can do is move from task to task without any kind of cohesiveness or forward thinking. After a great effort, after a great expenditure of energy, there is a period of literal exhaustion — the energy stores are gone, and it takes a finite period of time for those stores to build up again (the time that Julia Cameron says we are filling the well). During periods of depletion, I function best if I can have room to rest, to wander, to play outside, and to write without direction or structure. Given that sort of space, the energy I have to engage with the world begins to regenerate itself. How does one talk about this process? I begin to feel less fractured, less dry and cracked; my skin becomes less sensitive and numb. I come back from a place of inside and flattened, and am able to be more fully here.

The problem is that I rarely give myself the sort of space that I need. I returned from the training to a week full of writing group sessions and a whole lot of words waiting for feedback from me. I do this to myself a lot. You would think that I would know myself well enough by now to understand that when I’m with people (even/especially when I’m engaged in work I love!) for many days in a row, I’m going to need some time to myself. You might think that the best and most ethical thing I could do for myself (and my relationships and my writing groups and my writing) would be to schedule that downtime for myself so that I’m able to show up better and more fully/wholly when it’s time again to engage.

You might think that, and you’d be right. Yet I get stuck in a paradigm that tells me that self-care time like that (i.e., several days off the grid in order for me to rebalance energetically and psychically) is selfish (and, of course, we all know that selfish = bad.) I get stuck in the paradigm that says self-care time like that is lazy. I get stuck in the paradigm that says if you’re not working you’re wasting time; if you’re not showing up for people who need you, you don’t care. There are more voices, too; I bet you recognize some of these, or have some of your own.

And so what happens is that I push myself through the energetically-thin times, and get even further depleted, and then blame myself for not having more energy when someone wants my attention or asks for help. That guilt/shame, of course, doesn’t help! Somehow, no matter how many times I put myself this, the results don’t change: when I push myself to continue working at times when my energy cache is low, the energy doesn’t somehow magically increase! I end up sick or physically exhausted, with my body taking by force what I wouldn’t give it in the first place: deep downtime and rest.

Sometimes we don’t have the option to go away all by ourselves for several days when we’re feeling empty; often, that’s the case, I think. Still, we can create our own retreats for ourselves. We can avoid scheduling meetings or major appointments; we can give ourselves space to go to bed early or nap as needed; we can tell beloved friends and family that we need some room to ourselves. They know us — they know our rhythms and patterns; they know we need that space, and we can trust that they won’t begrudge us the time to refill.

So over the next few days I’ll be back in recalibration mode: reading my copy of World Enough and Time; prepping for Dive Deep and Writing the Flood sessions, and responding to writes from our online writing group brilliances; but also resting, freewriting, playing with the dog, tending to the garden. I’m slowly finding my way back into my own rhythms again. It’s ok to be easy with myself when I’m tender. It’s ok to write my way through this, even again and again.

Be easy with you, ok? Take the space you need to be your best self. Trust that those who love you will hold that space with you. Thank you for your words.

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