Eating lunch in my car and other “burned out” behaviors.

I balanced the box on my lap as I opened a ketchup packet. On mild days, I can turn off my car and leave the windows up without the worry of sweating profusely. I grab my Coke Zero (with no ice) and take a sip. My eyes are usually fixated on a video playing on my cell while I eat. This has become a ritual. This is my twenty minutes of solitude. Only twenty minutes because the other 30 or so are spent walking my dogs, ordering food, and driving back to the parking lot adjacent to my office.

I’m not sure when I started eating lunch in my car, but I know why I started doing it. It’s a chance to get away from the interruptions and my apartment and my office phone and my emails and the IMs. It’s a chance to be left alone. My brain is on loan to others for at least 12 hours a day and it feels good to sit and drink sweet soda and eat salty, deep fried chicken fingers with near absolute certainty that I won’t be interrupted.

I work. I work all the time. I work at work. I work at home. I work on vacation. I pride myself on how much I’ll work. Working all the time usually means not leaving work until 6:30 p.m. When I was short staffed it meant working until 11 p.m. I never want anyone to feel I’m not “pulling my weight.” I want to be regarded as someone who cares about the quality of my work and my respect for those who depend on me to do my work correct and on time. In my eleven years working full time, I have taken 3 actual vacations using my earned annual leave. Three. In 11 years.

I counted this dedication as a virtue. “Look how much I can take on!” It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized this is unhealthy. Like, really unhealthy. It wasn’t until I reached a breaking point of too many hours, too many burdens, too many “small fires” to put out, too many questions, and naggings, and failings that I realized I had to slow down. I have to admit, I wasn’t smart enough to figure this out on my own. A trusted confidant implored me to stop and take time for myself. To actually practice self-care.

Interestingly enough, I KNOW self-care is important. I have had it scheduled every Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. for the better part of a year. Fact is, I never, ever use it. I always find time to fill this time that should be dedicated to unraveling, practicing quietness, praying, reading, walking, resting, to doing more stuff…The problem I face that we all face honestly, is that there will always be more to do. ALWAYS.

Practicing self-care is difficult in an age where everyone is “hustling” and pushing themselves to the limits to attain “success”. Hustle culture is one of the most ubiquitous memes on the web and I know we’ve all seen them.

But what happens when you’re literally out of gas and the hustle is killing you? When you’re so busy proving you can grind or that you have a great work ethic or that you truly desire what you’re after, that you’re killing own mental health?

Know how much you can take and recognize the signs of burn out. For me, it was sitting in my car eating lunch. For others it may be:

  • Sleeping…all the time…
  • Irritability
  • Changes in attitude

Click here for more signs and practical ways to address them.

One of the ways I’m addressing burn out is through doing more to experience life. This ranges from pursuing relationships, getting a monthly massage, using my vacation time, and doing all I can to not take work home with me. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s kept me from the edge of exhaustion. I just have to remind myself of what’s important to me and find balance the best way I can.