This blog post was a summary of a conversation I had with a close friend, whose experiences might resonate with many in our age. This is not my personal experiences.
When I was a kid, every now and then in the summer there would be a blackout. The power went off for a couple of hours or even half a day, leaving us with the heat of the summer. There might be an unexpected refreshing summer rain in the middle of the blackout. My family would sit together in the balcony, betting on when the rain would stop or when the power would return. I typically seize the opportunity to read some cartoons, letting my imagination flow with the raindrops.
This year has gone in a blink of an eye. I got a job, finished my master degree, applied to graduate programs, started my first fulltime job, moved into a new apartment, had my first stressful professional situation, and experienced the first disappointment of life-after-college. The pandemic, of course, has not been a big help. While I am extremely grateful my life is not terribly impacted, it only seems to make matter worse.
Anyways, life was fast in the last couple of months. Before I had any chance to make sense of my racing heartbeats, lack of energy, or anxiety, I had to be ready for the next challenge, whether it is an extension I didn’t ask for, a rework, or confusing relationships with colleagues. I digged a deep hole inside my heart where I repressed my own thoughts or emotions. When asked, I will always be perfectly ready. Positive. Looking on the bright sides.
Avoidance to be in touch with my emotions led to terrible side effects. Before I realized, I have become dependent on substances, binge watch all of Netflix trending series, had sleeping and eating problems. Negative self-talk was regular. Before I realized, I forgot how good food tastes like or how a good sleep feels like (because it was regulated not by my body clock but rather melatonin). My every day is programmed with priorities (which shift all the time in just a couple of hours) and meetings. I could spend an entire day, or even week, in my room in front of the computer. I forgot how sunlight looks like. Before I realized, I didn’t remember any conversations with my loved ones.
I strived to be perfect. Always have been. I must be terribly lucky in the past that I managed to survive college and graduate school being a perfectionist (I did realize that I took too little risks to keep up with my “perfect” plan). However, I am falling behind the “tradition” given the fast pace of my current job. New problems emerge every hour before I had a chance to address the previous ones. As the result, I just don’t have time to reconnect with my innerself.
As frustration builds up, so does my overwork habit. In the first few days of the break, I simply couldn’t rest. I cleaned my house, did all of the errands I didn’t have time to do, and watched more Netflix. In just a couple of days, I ran out of things to do. I checked my work emails again and created more lists of things to do. However, I am just not excited to do anything. I couldn’t concentrate. I felt lost and helpless. I drank more and more alcohol. The more I drank, the clearer my mind felt.
Yesterday, as I was finishing up a bottle of wine, an idea came to mind. In a book about eating disorder I am currently reading, the author mentioned that an eating disorder is typically the sign of a more troublesome emotional problem. Like an onion, my problem, or problems, have many layers. Because I hid it too deep inside my own rabbit hole, it took a lot of self-attention to emerge. I started out with one word that most accurately describes my emotion, then branched out to so many problems I have avoided: my difficult work situation, my self-shaming body image, my personal relationships (or the lack of it), and my lost creativity.
This was a painful process. To give you an idea of how it feels, imagine you venture deep inside your heart. Every time you stop at an event in the past, all the emotions you didn’t feel then splash on you now. The deeper you dig, the more it becomes physical pain. You might feel uneasy in your stomach, you might cry, or worse, you might feel like someone is squeezing your heart. Whatever it is, I went through it all in one night. In the dark. With an empty bottle of wine.
It was a blackout I didn’t know I need. In the dark is where the light emerged. I started to reconnect with myself more intuitively, to take care and nurture it. To accept what cannot be changed and to control what can be changed. I allowed myself to take baby steps, even just directional steps toward a better outcome. While I like so many aspects of this job, I learnt to accept that it will be very long-hour and will take away a lot of my personal time. However, what I can control is how to spend the rest of the time. Instead of worrying about the next week on sundays, I could reconnect with my creativity and imagination. I always wanted to start a company - I should use those time to explore problems in the industries of interest to me. There are numerous ways to have satisfying sundays without binging Netflix, while being anxious about my fulltime job in the back of my head […].
What I loved about the summer blackouts is the rain. It was always refreshing - it washed away my thoughts and repleted my soul with a peaceful, ambient feeling. After the rain, there was always a gorgeous rainbow. After the blackout, the light would come.
I felt deeply relieved that she could see light in the dark. Above all, only you can solve your own problems. I agree with her that a blackout is what we all need every now and then. The abundance of electricity and the internet have unexpectedly taken away the down time, when we could be comfortable with ourselves. Treating yourself with a carefully planned blackout needs to be in our to-do list, just like cleaning the kitchen or shopping for grocery. I hope you find my friend’s experience inspiring. Take care, my twenty-something friends.