As a kid, I looked forward to the last day of school like anyone else. Through the intensity and stress of April and May exams and final essays, the prospect of three whole months stretching in front of me, filled only with a mindless summer job and gymnastics workouts, seemed a golden light pulling me onward. I envisioned myself carefree and giddy, adventuring with friends and playing in the gym, laughing and exuding that casual summer vibe I imagined California girls had all the time.
Daydreams quickly turn into expectation. When that final bell rang, and after that first night of freedom, bouncing around the various end-of-year parties and bonfires, I would never feel as carefree as I envisioned. I’d find myself in front of the tv, or reading all day without going outside, or plodding my way through the day. Looking back, I suppose this is a sort of depression that comes from coming off an adrenaline high: school is nothing short of a constant dose of adrenaline, especially for an introvert, with all the external input and relationships to navigate piled on top of all the work to be done. I liked the work, my busy brain craved the sense of purpose and ticking things off a to-do list. Then summer would come and bam – no lists, no tasks, no praise for being a good student, no filling my soul through learning. Looking back at old journals, after a few weeks of entries lamenting being bored and unpopular and fat and worthless and unproductive, the pages are filled with daily schedules and goals. Yes, I’d schedule my summer days, from alarm to lights out, in the hopes that the agenda would pull me off the couch and out of my malaise. If only it were that simple. If only I had known then that it takes more than a routine and to-do list to feel fulfilled. If only I had known then that it takes time and space and giving myself a break to recover from the adrenaline crash.
It’s no wonder I’m thinking about this summer malaise now: I’m feeling that same adrenaline crash having survived the past year of my job, the past year of a near-singular focus on the submission of one grant, one 2100-page document and one day-long site visit consisting of dozens of slide decks and data tables, coordinating the 50-odd people (a very important hyphen) contributing to the submission, and being pulled in a million different directions while trying to navigate the entire process in the one direction we wanted to go. My life has been nothing but calendars and to-do lists, emails and meetings, decision after decision ranging from filling leadership roles to which color purple is most visible in the presentations.
Through it all, I had that same golden vision of “life after.” I envisioned myself bounding out of bed, excited to start my day with a run and time to write, before heading into the office to finally return to tasks and interactions that felt fulfilling rather than draining, then leaving the office at a normal time to spend time with friends and family, winding down in the evening with a book and tea, going to bed at a reasonable hour, feeling rejuvenated and fresh and like that California girl I’d always dreamt about. I’d have my weekends again! I’d go hiking and surfing and finally spend a proper season kiteboarding! I’d spend my mornings on the trails and afternoons in the water!
How quickly we forget.
I had a few carefree days in Mexico immediately following the site visit: J and I hopped on a plane to Los Cabos about as quickly as humanly possible (6:40am is about as humanly possible), rented a car, and drove north two hours to the kiting town of La Ventana. It was windy, it was warm, it was margarita-filled, it was unscheduled and unscripted, it was wonderful.
Now, back in reality, I wonder – why does my brain immediately switch back into “real life” mode when I’m not on vacation? I recognize that I’m in the doldrums of the post-adrenaline crash and that I need time and space to reorient myself into my new reality. My brain has been trained to respond to urgency, to deadlines, to filling immediate needs. Without any of that, it feels slow, it feels useless, it feels lost. It also feels scared: without the deadline to hide behind, it now has to make good on all those lofty goals and aspirations, and yet it doesn’t feel like it at the moment. It all feels too hard because everything is missing that intensity.
I trust that I will recalibrate and find my center again. I will trust in my patience and give myself the space to readjust. I will acknowledge that it’s hard and not get down on myself for struggling or not feeling better. I will be wary of throwing myself full-bore into other life projects to fill the adrenaline void. I will retrain my brain to respond to softer, gentler, kinder motivators – ones that will serve me better in the long-run and that will allow me to bask in the golden glow of life pulling me forward.