I’m not one to overtly deny myself breaks. I may delay a personal break longer than I should, reaching that peak level of “yeah, it’s time to close the laptop” before I stop working. But I’ve always believed in the “work hard, play hard” mentality. In a day, I can find any number of ways to escape: take a 5 minute walk around the building, plan a fancy outing with friends, find a new devotional plan, throw together a girls weekend getaway in one hour, pull up one of my all-time favorite albums or playlists, take a nap, try a new workout, treat myself to Chick Fil A or a Starbucks pink drink, or just grab a piece of dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds. Any of those is bound to do the trick for me and send me on my way.
Once, I crushed a homework assignment from my therapist by developing a self-care list that was broken out by increments of time. She asked for one list, but I devised this matrix of various activities, ranging from five minutes to five days. That way, I always had a “go to” escape, whether I was short on time or needed to purposefully carve out more time. I thought of it as a bulletproof tool that would do the trick any time I felt burnout coming on before it overtook me.
My favorite escape is the beach, although living in my landlocked state of Colorado makes that one very hard to come by. I grew up spending summers in Fort Myers Beach, so snobbishly and unfortunately, the “lake shore” vibe of my state’s man-made reservoirs just doesn’t do it for me. Cue the sand between the toes scenes, purple-pink skies reflecting off glittery waves, and the reliable sound of ocean waves crashing, retreating, crashing, retreating. The beach is it for me.
For the first time in my life, though, I have a growing, fearful sense that my escape tactics, i.e., self-care moments, are failing me. I’ve tried any and all the things on my list the past few months, but I don’t feel the same release. I tried old music that I forgot about. I tried not pushing it too much with the workouts and just doing yoga instead of cardio. I tried leaving work early to catch up on house stuff, then making up that hour the next day. I haven’t felt the same passion to write that I did last summer, but I’m doing it anyway because I know it’s good for my soul. While these moments offer a temporary reprieve, they aren’t lasting as long as I’d like them to. What used to sustain for days is now only getting me through a day, at best. My fixes aren’t fixing. I feel flat and uninspired at my normally deeper, soulful level.
Characteristic to my analytical nature, I’ve mentally gone through the steps to find the source of my angst, my emptiness. Why am I feeling this way? What can I do about it? On my good days, I tell myself it’s because I just came off a crazy, horrendous six month busy season at work, and I’m just learning to breathe normally again. For the past month, I could actually breathe deeply and intentionally in slower sips of air, rather than feeling like I’m gasping and burning my lungs all day (metaphorically speaking). Sometimes I wonder if it’s going to take me another six months to recover from that period of intense growth and thinking about work 24/7 (so it goes when your client is at the airport).
I also know my sleep is off from having a mix of day shifts, swing shifts, and night shifts in May, June, and July. I’m not a good sleeper anyway. I have always struggled with working night shifts, no matter how much I mentally prepare myself that it’s temporary or manage to sleep well during the day. My sleep schedule these days is particularly subpar, but c’est la vie. I’ve tried all the sleep things except Ambien and acupuncture, and I’ve accepted that it’s just not in the cards for me in this season.
Soon, the burnout of overanalyzing how I “should” feel about escaping life’s daily pressures set in. So over the past couple months, I decided to be very picky about what I’d escape with. No need to mentally exhaust myself, then feel bad about what I chose. I decided that if an old or new thing wasn’t working, I would move on. That thing would still be there for me should I want to pick it up again another time. For now, I needed to get really simple and nonjudgmental about my escapes.
So I can tell you with the most sincere honesty that the only escape that’s worked for me the past few months has been binge watching Grey’s Anatomy.
I’ve been a die-hard Grey’s Anatomy fan since it debuted in 2005, when I watched Cristina and Meredith make “dancing it out” a legitimate thing. I always rooted for Mer-Der yet still wanted to be leggy and fabulous like Addison. But I stopped watching the show about six years ago when I thought I was “above” it, that I shouldn’t indulge. My husband tolerated it but certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. I justified and minimized that there was no productive reason to watch my favorite show, so I shouldn’t.
But that’s just it. I was sneakily seeking productivity in many of my escape tactics, rather than just enjoying. I do this with podcasts or books quite often, where I gravitate towards self-help and personal growth topics. I truly enjoy learning non-work things, but I realized I’d reached the point of overdoing it on self-improvement.
Rediscovering Grey’s Anatomy brought me back to a place where I could enjoy something for no reason at all. Some days, it’s the only time I momentarily escape the tireless hamster that won’t get off the damn wheel in my head. It gives me that sense of being “in the moment”, where I’m so captured in the storyline that I get enough distance from my own storyline, giving it the breathing room it needs.
I started from Season 1 just this past year, then really ramped up my efforts to catch up to Season 17 by September (next month!) before the final season is released. I’ve literally watched it for hours some weekends after my job fully depleted me. I like listening to Grey’s while I fold clothes or sort the mail. It’s nice “company” for me, especially since my husband has started traveling for work again, giving me extra alone time. And here we are yet again, slowly entering times when seeing people is less of an option (thanks, delta variant).
Do you have a show or completely mindless activity that just speaks to you? Grey’s Anatomy has been this for me. Like in Season 11, when Meredith looks at the nanny she’s interviewing and says that her schedule is unpredictable. And with tears in her eyes, she’s asking for someone to help support her and her kids with that. To be flexible and reliable when she cannot.
Or in Season 15, when Bailey talks about giving up all the things to find out what’s “wrong” with her, even up to temporarily relinquishing her job as the first Black female chief of surgery. When she shared her struggles with self-worth, I stopped dead at what I was doing and felt seen through her words. It didn’t solve my problems, and I wasn’t at the point of quitting my job. But it made me feel less alone.
I perpetually try to find purpose in the smallest of things, which can be both a blessing and a curse. I really love this candle, and ooh, when I buy it, I’ll be supporting a small business too. It doesn’t mean both of these things aren’t good and shouldn’t be sought after. But we don’t always have to justify our enjoyment. I am biased of course, but I think this concept is hardest for women and underrepresented people, given all the other things we’ve felt we needed to justify in the last 100 years (voting, working, asking for help, having kids, not having kids, equal pay, and so on).
I’ve always believed in a good escape. In seeking purpose, we eventually need to escape. In escaping, we find enjoyment. In enjoyment, we find light heartedness. In light heartedness, we find connection. And in connection, we find ourselves arriving back at our purpose.
I was inspired to write on the topic of “Escape” through my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. Check out these amazing stories on what it means to escape by my fellow women writer warriors:
How Do You Escape? by Crystal James
un-becoming by Laci Hoyt
Escaping My Calling by Christine Carpenter
Escape Via Him by Amy Rich
How Sudden Suddenly Happens by Leesha Mony
Can’t Escape My Worries (a poem) by Mia Sutton