I struggled to write this editorial. The world is no better than the last time I used this space to share a few thoughts with you. In fact, in many ways it continues to get worse. What could I do then, to maintain the uplift I strive to foster here at LSQ? What could I possibly offer to the world that will help keep you all afloat so you have the strength to not only fight the good fight, but to also take care of your laundry and spend time nurturing your relationships with dear ones and remembering that our world is amazing and beautiful despite it’s many horrors?
As a software developer I’ve created a little project to help the tech industry with the same problem. I’ve shared resources and a place to find a respite from all of that. As a writer, I want to share the same thing with the readers and writers I know. Those two parts of myself meet in a topic I hold dear: self care.
Self care is a concept that is acknowledged as necessary for a sustainable, productive life and at the same time is only whispered about when it comes to putting the idea into practice because “needing time self care” starts sounding like “I can’t handle this because I’m weak” even though that’s patently untrue. In this capitalistic society, self care is a radical act, because you are taking a time to hit pause on the perpetual striving for more more more and taking stock of your life, taking a deep breath, taking time to rest and heal.
In the tech world, we talk often of burnout. Sometimes the burnout is self-induced, trying to take on too many projects at a time, not acknowledging the impact of life circumstances on our work, and generally trying to keep up with the rapid changes that come at us every day as programmers. Gaming website Polygon recently ran an excerpt of a book by an industry veteran outlining how addictive the rush of “crunch” can be. Crunch is a period of time where a game developer works 80 hours a week or more, potentially for months on end, to make a deadline. Surviving this dangerous practice (brought about by poor planning and unrealistic expectations) is far too often common in tech despite solid knowledge that there are legitimate mental and physical health risks to everyone involved.
However the tech industry is not the only place burnout exists. Healthcare workers know it all too well. Activists are no stranger to this phenomenon either, and that includes those who work behind the scenes as well as the marchers and petition gatherers and other more visible folks. Additionally, creatives of all types are susceptible to succumbing to burnout. Writers and artists on various deadlines, musicians on tour, whatever your craft, burnout is always possible, the pressure to perform pushing us to the brink of depletion.
Now with the news cycles being what they are, everyone is at risk of this burnout. Many of us feel the need to stay engaged, to not lose touch with what’s going on in the world and the fire hose of information coming across our gaze is staggering. It is not possible to keep up with it all. There is a difference between being plugged into current events and being overwhelmed by them and finding that balance is difficult at best.
So, what do do about this problem? Self care.
Of course the term “self care” is an umbrella for a lot of things. What form that takes will be different for everyone. Time offline, exercise, visits with friends, meditation, it’s all on the table. Whatever improves overall mental, physical and emotional health and keeps us resilient.
And this is the point where I offer up reading as a viable balm for our burnt-out selves. The brain is rested, the spirit reinvigorated. It’s old-fashioned, yes, but slowing down and reading is a tried and true method for finding our way back to our centers, to our strength.
Stories can lift our spirits, making us laugh, helping to find an emotional release for all the tension we carry daily. We can pause for a bit, visit someplace fantastical and catch our breaths. This is not about hiding from our problems, but allowing them to process in our minds.
Beyond rest, stories show us new ways of seeing the things that are dragging us down. It is said there are no new tales in the world, just new ways of telling them. If that’s true, then we have an Alexandrian library of insights and mirrors for our problems at our finger tips. There is a story for every challenge and contained within those tales are clues to how we might tackle similar problems in our own lives.
The tales we read often model courage and grace under pressure. The heroes of our stories face insurmountable obstacles and over come them (or not) in a million creative ways. As we each face our own obstacles, stories can provide a touchstone for the journey. Surely somewhere in the tales we read, the answers we seek are waiting for us. Sometimes things are simply hard and right now many of us are facing this harsh new world we’re in and struggling. But just as the heroes in our tales do, we all endure. For we must. I believe a happier ending for us all is still possible, but do get there we must persist. Stories can help us to do exactly that.