Reading My Way Back to Clarity

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.

Me and George Washington look out (in disgust) over Wall Street in NYC.

Me and George Washington look out (in disgust) over Wall Street in NYC.

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.

Being a history geek again means I get to wear shirts like this now.

Being a history geek again means I get to wear shirts like this now.

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.


The spot where George Washington took the oath of office in NYC in 1789.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.