Three years ago, in 2011, I flamed out. Crashed. Burned. Not that I realized it at the time. I had just finished up a 6 year contract as an emergency room mental health clinician (interviewing people who attempted suicide etc.). Six years of graveyard shifts, evenings and weekends–all while maintaining a fairly successful private practice by day. It was an amazing learning experience, a time I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world despite my inevitable crash.
I did not realize how burned out I was because I was in decent physical health. I rarely got sick and I was a triathlete, training for a half-ironman (successfully completed in July 2011). Lacking in major addictions, I really thought I was okay. But I was completely fried and fuzzy–I had no idea what I wanted, or what that looked like. I was caught up in aversion–I only knew what I “didn’t” want, which wasn’t much.
When my contract ended, I wanted to do something, anything, except be a therapist. I still had my private practice and I assumed I’d build it back up to full-time (not that I really wanted to–so I suppose it was good that it did not work out). I wrote sometimes. I hung out with friends. I read a little. I slept. But I really wasn’t okay because every decision I found myself making during this time was defensive. I had this idea that I didn’t want to go back to my “old life”, so instead of carving out a new life and being open to new experiences, I played defense. My guard was up.
So for almost a year and a half, I did not do very much. I was not learning much and it was not good at all on the bank account (which gave me crippling anxiety). After a year or so of this (along with other work projects I was involved in halfheartedly), I noticed that my attention span was COMPLETELY gone. Six years of being in the emergency room environment, an inconsistent sleep schedule, paired with a few years of heavy smartphone use (followed by wasting my days surfing the internet) resulted in my not being able to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. Even though I am a natural born squirrel, I knew that this was not like me. I had fallen into some really shitty habits and it was up to me to get out from under them.
In the late-winter/early-spring of 2013, my husband and I had taken to visiting the public library on a string of rainy Saturdays. I impulsively decided to start reading history books again. I actually have a bachelor’s degree in history and love studying it. I picked out a book on 1877 and sat down to read. I was transported into another world, learning about how technology caused great upheaval, and I also learned about a presidential election that was just as controversial as the 2000 election.
Then I got this crazy idea…..(like I tend to do):
“Wouldn’t it be really cool to read one biography for each of the 44 U.S. Presidents?”
Yeah, it would. So I started doing that, in chronological order, with George Washington, in April 2013. I finished reading a bio of Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve 2013. 44 books. Eight months. Mission Accomplished.
Also, in the course of these eight months, I attended the World Domination Summit in July (which was eye-opening). I ran my first marathon (with my dad) in December. I went back to work full-time in November 2013. I started to wind down my private practice. All of these things combined helped shake me out of my malaise and complacency.
I ended up with a lot more than a head full of random presidential facts (which is great fun to have, I must say). I got my attention span back. I got my interest in something (other than mindless web surfing) back. I found myself able to have better conversations. I was even sleeping better. I got back my interest in working and connecting with people. It was a massive ripple effect that I had not anticipated. As I said before, my goal was simply to rebuild an atrophied attention span, not change my whole world. But I am glad it did.
So here I am now, over one year later. I’m still working. I’ve recovered financially. I sleep and eat better. I’ve lost about 12 pounds. I’ve been on a “deep dive” of American Revolution era US History, 1763-1815. Most importantly I feel plugged in to the things I love to do again. I also feel like I am being 100% myself in everything I do.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.