Sunday Suffering

Initially, it would come on at about 5 pm. Every Sunday. No matter where I was or what I was doing. A disquiet in the base of my gut that had the capacity to wrap up the joy from my weekend and firmly place it out of reach so it – the fear – was front and centre. It would grip my oesophagus until it took my breath away and pound my solar plexus until the nausea seemed permanent. 

I wish I could say the fear was satisfied with ruining my sunset. But as the sun said goodnight, fear took its cue under the spotlight of the moon and set about performing a cabaret preview of the week to come. Act after act, anticipatory anxiety danced across the stage in my head. It kept me awake, it kept my attention, and it kept me from listening to my intuition.

And the thing is, I can’t even tell you what I was so scared of. In hindsight, it’s fair to say most people would likely have some trepidation about seeing an average of 40 clients experiencing psychological distress week after week. But it had been my normal for years. I knew other therapists who did the same without the Sunday melodrama. I didn’t see why it was a problem.

Burnout is like that, though. It often sounds like, ‘Do More!’ to the person being burned.

 

But this is not a discussion of the choices I had made around how I practiced psychology. It’s a discussion about my ego’s impressive display of ignorance towards the call of my intuition. 

You see, over the course of years, the Sunday night shitshow crept into Sunday afternoon, and then Sunday lunch, brunch and breakfast. Then, Sunday suffering came with the bonus extra 24 hours of Saturday, too (for loyal members only).

And what did I do? Oh, I did the same thing, anyway. Just kept running on my hamster wheel from Monday to Friday before collapsing into fits of anxiety across the weekend about the following working week.

Why? Because …

 

Avoidance is Seductive

I know I’ve just painted a picture of this time in my life that would reasonably have you asking why I didn’t do something about the fear. But avoidance is a one-directional arrow on our feelings compass. While you put energy into avoiding one set of feelings, there are 359 other emotional degrees that might show up in response.

 

I pointed my arrow firmly away from the burn out I had reached. For a while, I was seduced into a false sense of security. Avoidance let me hide from the fact that I’d attached my worth to how much work I could do, how much of a difference I perceived I was making in the world, how busy my schedule appeared. 

In fact, I would still be doing exactly the same thing if it was only up to my …

 

(Not All That) Trusty Brain Wiring

Neural pathways – upon which our behaviours and habits are built – are most strongly wired through repetition. Left up to my brain, I would still be working ridiculous hours and being suffocated by anxiety as a result, because that’s what I had practised, and therefore, that’s what I did. It was my habit. And it’s what my brain rewarded me for, with nice chunks of ‘keep going’ neurochemicals like dopamine. 

But to continue repeating what I was doing was only hurting me. Avoiding myself, my intuition, my emotional flailing, was only going to give me more pain than if I actually sat down and faced in the direction of the original discomfort I was trying to avoid.

I was stuck on a mindless – but damaging – cycle of repeat, avoid, repeat. 

 

Breaking the Cycle

I’d like to tell you that it was a conscious choice to stop the cycle but I’d be giving myself a generous (and untrue) rap about my emotional maturity which wasn’t accurate back then. What actually happened was my nervous system made the decision for me. Fair enough, too – it’s not like my intuition hadn’t tried to warn me. When my body started to break down, I had to stop or risk becoming more unwell. 

That’s obviously not the path I want for you, lovely one. The cycle of avoidance gives one guarantee, and that’s even more pain than the original discomfort you were trying to avoid. The only way out is to face your feelings and move through them. To listen to what they are trying to say. Feelings don’t speak for no reason, and they are the best marker of whether or not you’re living in alignment with your values.

 

 

To face your feelings rather than repeat the cycle of avoidance, try these:

 

  1. Observe your patterns.

Without judging yourself, simply step back and notice what you’re doing that is not working for you.

 

  1. Interrupt the cycle.

I don’t mean simply stop the cycle. If it was that easy, you would have done that by now. I mean stop and catch your breath and then do something that is different from what you would normally do. This interruption creates space and we need space to be able to feel.

 

  1. Listen to your feelings.

What are your feelings trying to say? What are the messages they are giving you? If you were honest with yourself, what do you know would happen if you continue ignoring your feelings?

 

  1. Come back to your values.

Where are you out of alignment? What’s important to your heart and soul? It’s the answers to these questions that will remind you of the life you’re trying to create.

 

  1. Honour your feelings. 

Take the messages that your feelings are giving you and use them to change what needs to be changed. Make the course corrections needed to realign you with your values. But please seek help from a professional, or a trusted friend, or a mentor if you need it because these steps are always easier said than done.

 

I’m pleased to say it’s been years since I have seen an anxiety cabaret on a Sunday night. But I could’ve reached that point a lot sooner if I’d faced my feelings and listened to what I needed, rather than to continue the story about my worthiness being tied to my productivity that I was damaging my spirit. 

What are you repeating that you know you need to repair to find freedom?