Brighton Pier, England
Gillian Cornwall, c. October, 2015
This BBC report by David Robson from July 22, 2016 on the possible causes and impacts of exhaustion and burnout is not only something which I have experienced on and off since the 1990s as I struggle to survive in a world rocketing forward while I attempt to maintain my work ethic and values in a world chock-a-block with discrimination and hate.
This quotation from the article mentions some of the effects of exhaustion, Including temporary blindness, that, until reading this I had not seen nor heard outside of my own experience.
"We know that emotional distress can increase inflammation and exacerbate pain, for instance – and in some cases it can even bring about seizures and blindness. “It’s really hard to say that an illness is purely physical, or purely mental, because often it is both at the same time,” Schaffner says. In this light, it’s not surprising that our circumstances could cloud our minds and nearly paralyse the body with lethargy. And this fact should in no way suggest the symptoms are imaginary or made up – they may be just as ‘real’ as the fever that comes with flu."
This inexplicable temporary blindness happened to me after I moved to Salt Spring Island (ironically to get away from the pace and expectations of a busy city life) and landed up running a five acre farm with horses, chickens, sheep and a 40 foot by 80 foot garden in order to have "free" housing while also working full time at a local pub in the kitchen. Six days a week I arose at 5 am to care for the animals and get to work on time. I returned home from the pub by 5 or 6 pm and finished caring for the animals, chopping and hauling firewood and maintaining the farm by 10 pm. After several months of 5 hours, or less, sleep per night, the grey-out of my vision actually happened while driving a Land Cruiser to work one morning. Terrifying. I could not see the road in front of me and had no idea how I would stop or pull over. I had to use the sound of the gravel on the shoulder to guide me, hoping I wouldn't strike anyone as I honked and slowed my speed sufficiently to pull over. Once I stopped, thankfully without further incident, I sat in the vehicle, rubbing my eyes and hoping I would regain my vision. I did manage to clear my sight sufficiently to continue to work and park my car. Once parked, I took myself, on foot, back up the hill to the hospital after trying to rinse my eyes and resolve the problem. I was sent to the eye specialist, who came back with no explanation and then off to my GP who was, thankfully, quick to determine the problem and sent me home to sleep for a week with no work. This was before the Internet and email era which I think has made things worse as we are physically unable to maintain the pace of productivity.
As I look at a world where youth are engaging in terror attacks and the majority of our energy goes into social media, email and text response to maintain community - not necessarily a bad thing but is it actually effecting positive change?
The Oxford Dictionary definition of despondency (linked above), states: Low spirits from loss of hope or courage; dejection.
I feel as though there is such a greater level of despondency in humanity and not just in our youth. What happens to society when we lose hope or courage? What actions, if any, do we take as a society when we see people losing faith in themselves and their fellow humans? How do we step away from the ping of the social media notifications and email and cell phone texts? How do we set the boundaries that allow us our much needed down time?
How do we step away from our technological prisons? How do we break away from the heart attack lifestyle of the technological hamster wheel? Where is our light and our connection? How do we gain belief that we will not fail at our jobs if we step away - completely - to go home at a reasonable time, to go outside and play with friends or family, to share with our live, in person communities?
I feel wrung out. I feel despondent. I am exhausted from working 10 hours a day because I do not know how to NOT do a great job. I was raised to perform and that if you gave all you could, you would be recognized and lifted up for your efforts but it does not seem to the way of the world anymore. Perhaps I am becoming a dinosaur but I really don't think so. I think my values still matter but I also believe we need to put measures in place in our work and personal lives that ensure downtime, limits on expectations of others and regaining a righteousness in rest.
I am lonely. I never see people except at work. For most of my life I have been healing the broken spirit of the abused child and young woman. Society has done little to nothing to offer apology or restitution to the LGBT community for the absence of human rights many of us experienced throughout our lives. We are still not considered worthy of the respect that was taken. Our Indigenous communities are just beginning to receive apologies and restorative measures. There is nothing for LGBT. Sure, laws have changed, blah, blah, blah but that does not alleviate the damage done and I see hate on an increase to all marginalized peoples again because we are not diligent in our love and care as a species.
All of this feeds the despondency epidemic and the drain of spirit, mind and body. I still see massive dysfunction in the lesbian community of my era because of the history of pain and suffering - so much so that I can barely stand to be within it. This means I am without community. Sometimes I am lonely because I am alone by choice.
I wish I could tell you I have solutions. I don't. I can only share my meagre thoughts here, my truth and hope that sharing these truths may make someone else feel that they are not alone. I do see hope in the young children of my friends. I see them outside, playing, with their loving hearts, as much or more than with their faces to devices and I sure hope they keep that balance as they grow into teens and adults.
I am not anti-tech, obviously, I'm sitting here every Sunday blogging. I just hope that we can all choose to seek balance and community in the world outside of the tech tools. I hope we can find ways to care for one another, without fear, with hope and care. This is what I see as the medicine for the despondency epidemic. Reach out to one another - even if you can only manage a smile to a stranger. It will ripple out and change the world.
-Gillian Cornwall, c. June 4, 2017
Reading in the Sun - Brighton Pier, England
Gillian Cornwall, c. October 2015