My wheels ground to a halt just a couple of weeks before the world did, in the early months of 2020. Before the novel coronavirus was making its stealthy appearance in the United States, I was reeling with anxiety and exhaustion. I was burned out. I was depressed. I felt isolated at work and at home. My memory was blinking in and out, and my forgetfulness was frightening me. I worried I had dementia. After I burst into tears more than once at work, some kind people told me I should and could take a leave of absence, so I did: two months, from late February to late April.
Week one I sang; I had a solo in concerts over the weekend. Week two I retreated, slept, ate well, meditated, read, indulged in massages, napped, reflected, and did not very much yoga. That timing was perfect, because in week 3 the COVID-19 shit hit the fan. I gave my body and my mind rest. It took a few weeks for me to stop thinking about work ALL THE TIME. For a while I really fretted about my kids doing or not doing schoolwork; and then, like most everyone else, I fretted less about that. From the security of my leave I felt insulated from the brunt of the frenzy, disruption, and fear the coronavirus created—both at work and more widely—, yet clinically aware, and tethered by (too much, probably) social media.
Once my mind unclenched and my body relaxed, I settled into a flow of things that make me feel good. Sleeping enough (turns out to be slightly more than 8 hours). Reading books. Daily short yoga and meditation practice. Walks with my dog and more walks with my dog. Weekly choir practice and yoga class. Gardening. Book club. Watching the birds after filling the feeders for the first time in years. It was an introvert’s paradise, honestly. None of this—not even ALL of it—is outrageous self-indulgence. It just made me feel like a person again. Like myself. Centered, restored, in equilibrium.
What had been keeping me from that? A voracious job. A brew of ambition and approval-seeking. A fear of economic insecurity. A good dose of social brainwashing. And among them all, a sense of perplexed guilt that I was failing at “work-life balance.” Waitaminute, I thought. I’m smart, I work hard, I’m generally successful. Maybe I’ve been thinking about this all wrong? What if I can’t balance work and life because they’re not balanceable? Reader, the scales fell from my eyes.