I have it.
Burned Out Car by Niklas. Used under a Creative Commons license
And at some point in your creative life, you’ve probably had it too. Creative people tend to go like the clappers and then fall down in a heap.
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
The last two years have been immensely difficult for me. 365 Jars was an epic but gruelling art project. And then halfway through the jar project, our 14 year relationship with our ex-wife disintegrated in a very painful way. A divorce and house move followed in 2012. Oh, and our teenage son flew the nest. It was a time of harsh transitions and deep loss.
I kept myself going with willpower, sugar, caffeine and neurotic list making. I knew I was well over my limits but because of circumstances, I had to keep going until my partner and I moved house and got settled. I knew that I would fall apart when once we moved and fall apart I have.
I used to see burnout as a horrible trial, something to be grudgingly endured. And while it’s true that it isn’t fun to experience, it does have its place in the creative cycle. Like trees sluggish with winter sap, plants hiding underground from the frost and animals hibernating in their nests, sometimes we need to retreat, to turn in on ourselves and conserve our energy. Without a baseline level of energy, making art is impossible. You cannot create from nothing.
My word for January was ‘rebooting’ and that’s what I’ve been doing. Switching myself off and seeing if I can reset myself to a healthier level. Letting myself be. Resting. Knitting. Reading. Watching documentaries. It does not come easily to me. I chafe at the restrictions my brain and body provide, I constantly butt up against my limits, I convince myself that I am rubbish and that I will never make art again. I am forced to recognise just how much of my self-image is rooted in me being an artist and how lost I am when that deserts me.
February’s word has been ‘completion’ and I have been gently finishing off a few projects and even more gently getting involved in a new one – helping with the Hebden Bridge Rag Market. It’s subtle but I can feel the burn-out gradually starting to lift.
So now my challenge for March is not to immediately throw myself into a dozen creative projects before the burnout has fully run its course.
If you’re also suffering from burnout, here are some resources:
Take care of yourselves, my honeys, the world needs your creative visions but you have to protect and nurture yourself to bring those visions to fruition.