Blooming burnout


I have it.

Burned-out car
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

Candle by R!E Used under a Creative Commons license

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:

Preventing burnout

How to recognise, prevent and deal with burnout in a creative job

5 ways to bring yourself back from burnout

My beloved Catherine Caine writing about overwhelm and a pragmatic approach to self care.

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.

6 thoughts on “Blooming burnout

  1. I've always been a fan of that poem--and I'm not usually a poetry person.

    Burnout is a trial, but in the past I've found it a good thing, in the end. I burned out of one passion, walked away, found something new, and now have brought the first love back, in a slightly different form, and meshed it with the new. Phoenix fashion.

    Best to you!


  2. I am sorry about your burnout. I hope you take lots of care of youself and get re-charged bit by bit.
    I know you will revive- :) we will all be looking forward to your next projects, but only when you are ready.


  3. creatingruth

    Really good to see you blogging, and from your new home. Hope you recover from your burnout soon. Looking forward to hearing about your creative ideas again.


  4. I love this post. I think artists should discuss this more. Burn-out can also be a powerful tool for growth and radical change. More than anything, it's a symptom that says: "This is NOT working".

    If we let it, it will show us a path, and teach us where we need to go.

    Best of luck to you Kirsty! And dare I say: Congratulations + Bravo + Well Done!


  5. You will make art again, Kirsty. A burn-out lasting a few months will not hurt you. As creativity returns, you will value it all the more: "Scrapsoflife" is right. If your burn-out lasts a few years it can become--well, terrifying that it might never end. For me a 3-year burn-out ended gradually over another 2 years, as I redefined why my favored subject remains relevant, if in a different way. Also, learning how to quilt for foster children expanded my creative expression and reach. Quilting probably helped the return to painting.

    One of the admirable qualities of your blog is that you post only when you have something to say. There is no nonsense to you. As your life settles down and you have reevaluated the difference, creative energy should return.



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