I’ve been struggling.
When I first started blogging, I realized I was entering a brand-new world. I was excited about it, but it terrified me, too. As I started learning about feminism and spiritual abuse and violence against women and egalitarianism and the oppression of women in the church, and as I started writing about it, becoming passionate about it, I always knew something was coming. I knew when I started wading even deeper into these issues– and the people these issues represent– that I was going to burn myself out. It was just a matter of time.
This isn’t an announcement that I’m going to stop blogging, or that I’m even going to slow down my posting schedule (which, right now, is every weekday), but I do have to give myself permission to not put something up every day. It’s weird– I’m not doing this for money, this isn’t a part of my job, blogging is completely voluntary, but on the days when I don’t post?
I feel guilty.
I always feel guilty.
When I was a child, I started poking around at the Casio keyboard my mother had. I picked it up pretty quickly, and my mom decided that I needed to start taking lessons as soon as I was old enough at 6. I took lessons from that point forward, pretty solidly, for the next 16 years. And, all growing up, my mother would joke about how she “couldn’t pry me away from that piano with a crowbar.”
When my father got out of the military when I was 12, and we had a little extra cash for the first time in years, he bought me a piano to replace the keyboard I’d been using all that time. A real, honest-to-God piano– a beautiful Kohler & Campbell. I threw myself into practicing, and it got to the point when I was practicing for anywhere between 5 to 10 hours every day. I was constantly, constantly playing. When I was at a summer music academy, one of the visiting preachers complimented a few of us on our talent. In a rare burst of confidence, I firmly asserted that “it’s not talent, it’s work. You do something for 5 hours a day for 10 years, you’d be good at it, too.” I was proud of myself when I was in college years later and the same preacher used what I’d said as a sermon illustration.
It’s not talent, it’s work.
During those 16 years when I was endlessly, unceasingly practicing the piano, I always claimed that I was doing it because I loved it. And, that was partially true. I did love playing the piano. I still do, although I have a hard time thinking about it now. But the reason that my mother couldn’t pry me away from the piano with a crowbar wasn’t because I loved it just that much– it was because every second I wasn’t playing the piano (or doing something else “productive”) I felt guilty. As long as I was playing the piano, I was working on something important. I was improving my ability, growing my talent, and making sure I had the ticket I needed to get into college as a music major. That was my only way out.
Practicing piano became the the only way I had of avoiding . . . anything, really. As a homeschooler, there was always more homework, there was always more, there was always a project, a book, a report, an essay, a homework assignment, a review– there was always something I could be doing. But, as long as I was playing the piano, I could forget about the weight of all of the undone work that felt like it was crushing me. As long as I was practicing, the fact that I could be doing more, working harder, finishing the year early, graduating early, getting an A on every single assignment… I didn’t have to think about it.
That just became more intense when I hit college. I scheduled 18 or 20 credits every semester. I was in class from 8 am until 5 or 7 pm every single day, every single semester. Any open slot I had that wasn’t one I needed to eat, I filled with with something. Usually I filled that empty slot with accompanying for a voice lesson. The second I was out of dinner, I was working on homework, or I was practicing. Usually I was practicing until the halls closed at 10, and then I’d work on my homework for an hour before lights out. And I’d get up the next day to start it all over again.
When I got to my senior recital, I was completely burned out. In the minutes leading up to taking the stage, I almost went berserk I was so stressed. My piano instructor had to grab me by the shoulders and literally shake me out of it. When I finally finished, I didn’t even make it three steps off stage before I was a quivering, silently sobbing mess on the floor.
I haven’t played the piano since then. Oh, I’ve dabbled. I’ve played around a few times, but I haven’t practiced. Not since then. I can’t. Just thinking about sitting down to practice piano makes me want to panic, curl up under my blankets, and never, ever come out again. When my mother asked me if I wanted the piano after I got married, I had to resist the urge to scream no. No, I most certainly did not want that thing in my apartment– or anywhere near me, really.
But then I went to grad school.
And instead of practicing piano, I started writing grad papers– and I started doing the exact same thing I’d always done with piano. For my first term paper– which I wrote on Edgar Allan Poe’s prose poem Eureka and used structuralism to analyze the flow between the inductive and deductive logic present in the Enlightenment and Romantic philosophies Poe was interacting with– I had 132 pages of notes. 132 Pages of Notes for what was a 20-page paper. I read Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Georg Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit for that paper. For one of the last classes that I took in grad school, I got up everyday at 4 am for three weeks to do the research and writing. My bibliography was 6 pages long. This was a pattern I followed for two years. I had one professor take me aside after a class, look me in the eyes, and say, “Sam, you have to do less work, or you’re going to kill yourself.” For the first year in grad school, I plain just didn’t sleep. I would get 2 or 3 hours on a good night, and ended up getting horribly sick.
I finished my program, but I’ve been blogging and researching and writing for almost a year now, and it’s been at the same sort of breakneck pace that I’ve been in my entire life, and I don’t know how to stop. Anytime I try to say “ok, Samantha, you really need to quit, you really need to take a break. Just take a step back and breathe” and then I try to go do something that doesn’t have to do with researching rape statistics, and every second I’m not working on my project I feel this pressing, sickening urgency. On long weekends, I get agitated and anxious. My heart starts beating 120 times a minute, and I get nauseated. I start pacing, drinking glass after glass of water… and then I end up working, because I can’t help it.
And even when I am working on my project, there’s always something I should be doing. Always. It never stops. There’s always laundry. There’s always a dirty kitchen. There’s always dust on my floorboards or a rug that needs vacuumed or a bed that needs made or clothes that need put away or dinner to make. There’s always the fact that I need to test out of two years of college French in order to get that piece of paper that says I have an MA.
So every single time I try to stop, to take a break… the entire time I’m not frantically working, I feel guilty. I feel lazy. I feel ashamed.
I wish I knew how to make it stop.