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Grappling with guilt during my time of rest

I’ve been intentionally unemployed for nearly two months, a decision made during a ferocious burnout induced mental breakdown near the end of 2022. I’m thankful for the privilege to take a break, but despite popular sentiment about sabbaticals - “funemployed” is not a word that I’d use to describe my current experience.

My productivity levels have been unstable. I teeter between “furiously productive” and “playing Guild Wars 2 for several consecutive hours”. Recently, I’ve been primarily occupied with the latter - and I’ve been consumed with guilt for failing to participate in activities of value. The guilt generally leads to self loathing, which begins a rapid spiral downwards into a pit of depression and lethargy. Once I’ve fallen into this hole, the climb upwards out and into the light feels impossible.

Rather than continue to berate myself for succumbing to “unfruitful activities”, I’d like to explore why I feel the incessant need to be “productive” during a self imposed break. After all, wasn’t rest what I wanted?

I’ve always had a difficult time rationalizing the allowance of rest. I have not indulged in a single hobby that I haven’t attempted to monetize to some capacity. Several Etsy shops later, I’ve managed to burn out on crafting endeavors that were originally supposed to bring me peace and joy. I’m brainstorming business ideas while churning the elliptical. I’m pillaging marketing sites for profit plundering gems when I have down time. I read fiction in hopes that it’ll make me a better writer, with hopes that it may lead to a life where my words sustain me.

I believe this plight is partly caused by my animosity towards working for other people. I’ve had dreams of sustaining myself independently since I was a teenager. I’ve secured small successes, but have never matched my corporate salary. Now that I have an abundance of free time, I’m crushed by the weight of my desires for “freedom”. I’ve pushed myself to produce these past few weeks, and the resulting harvest has been poor. I have produced little of value. My goal of unlocking independence feels as if it were planets away. I do have an exceptional opportunity to boost my productivity to levels unseen. But how can I do so effectively when my brain has become spaghetti?

Burnout can have a significant negative impact on the brain. It can cause memory impairment, cognitive impairment affecting problem solving and creativity, and can even lead to a weakened immune system. “Hustle culture” tells us to push through burnout, that if we power through our symptoms we will reap our rewards. But if we do not allow ourselves rest, will the fruits of our labor be of our best quality?

For me, the answer is no. I’ve allowed myself to unravel and have not yet stopped to sew things back up. My brain is begging for true rest.

This month, I am asking myself: How can I produce if I am in pieces?