Burning out personally feels a lot like burning out professionally.
Lately I’ve found myself feeling profoundly homesick. It’s come and gone for the twelve years I’ve lived in the US full-time, but this week I’ve been feeling it pretty much as intensely as I ever have.
But perhaps homesickness isn’t quite the right word. If you pushed me, I’d have to admit that it’s not the place that I’m homesick for. There are trappings it that I certainly miss: specific old haunts and routines that used to mean something to me when they were more than just echoes in the back of my long-term memory. I’d go back and smell the hoppy Edinburgh air as I emerge from the train at Waverley, or take in the centuries-old stink of stalls in Oxford’s Covered Market, in a heartbeat. Still, what I really miss is a feeling: a place and time in my life when the way I felt about the world was radically different.
I was speaking to a friend this morning about trauma. He put it to me that seismic life events tend to split life into two parts: the BC and AD. This resonates with me; I’ve always thought of it as if the laws of physics have subtly shifted, as if I’ve fallen into a parallel universe. Everything looks more or less the same, but the underlying rules of the universe have changed just enough that the meaning of everything is different. The old routines and patterns of life feel like going through the motions, like you’re play-acting an echo of who you were before. You have to figure out who you are in this new universe; figure out what you need. All the while, the cognitive load of just existing has gone way up, and you’re flooded. Basic functions like empathy don’t come as easy as they did before. And you’re over the threshold: there’s no way to get back to the universe you came from, as much as you might want to claw yourself there.
I will never get my mother back. I will never be that person again. I will never have that life again.
I miss the feeling of existing in the pre-trauma universe; the one I lived in back before I’d moved continents because my mother was dying, and certainly back before her condition developed more fully. I have no regrets about moving or being on that journey with her, or about the wonderful people I have in my life today that I otherwise wouldn’t have met…