Running on empty

I feel like a wuss for admitting it, but this is a hard season.

This is not a blog for complaining, but I do have some legitimately tough things going on at the moment. Or rather, things that, each on their own, would be a handful, but all at once, feel like a maelstrom. Let’s review:

  • I am a post-doc entering the last six months of my project.
  • I am about to go part-time (hello, 50% paycut.)
  • I have just returned from three days in Portugal, and am about to go to Edinburgh for a week, all work-related (entailing writing and giving presentations and lots of networking.)
  • I am a maximum of six months, and possibly only three months, away from being unemployed.
  • And I’m getting married in less than five weeks. It’s a big wedding.

The last thing is a happy thing. I want to be excited, and enjoying these last few weeks before our wedding. But it’s undeniable that planning an event for 150 guests involving two venues, numerous suppliers, and little introverted me being the centre of attention all day, is causing me some stress.

I always knew this was going to be a difficult season, but what I didn’t appreciate was how much the first four points would be taking their toll. An example: my three days in Portugal went well, but my sleep routine got almost entirely screwed up. The first night I barely slept because it was too warm, the second night was the conference dinner, and I didn’t get back to my hotel till 1.30 am, and my flight home didn’t get in till late, so I didn’t get to bed till 1 am either.

Normally, a couple of nights of less-than-average sleep would be annoying, but I’d recuperate pretty quickly. It’s Sunday now, and I am still totally exhausted, as in, can barely keep my eyes open. This feeling doesn’t help – the minute I start thinking about what’s coming in the next few weeks, I feel totally overwhelmed. Quite literally, I can feel my brain shutting down, unable to even form a coherent thought or plan as to what comes next.

I feel the effects. My temper control is shot to pieces. Normally, I’m able to take things reasonably well on the chin; now, even something as simple as a messy cupboard can send me into a sudden fit of rage. My emotions are bubbling right under the surface and it doesn’t take much to get a volcano. This is scary for someone who is normally mild-mannered. It’s also c**p for my relationship with A. He has the patience of a saint with me at the moment, but I know he hates it when I lose it over something tiny. My moods are all over the place, and I hate it.

I also seem incapable of switching my brain off properly. There always seems to be something to do, but due to the overwhelm, I more often than not end up paralysed and unable to do even the simplest things. Calling the insurance company, checking things over with bridesmaids, writing a shopping list – everything feels like more of a struggle than normal.

I’m running on empty. I’m reminded of a couple of posts from a blogger I’ve read for a long time, Jen Fulwiler. Our lives are very different – she has six small children, for starters – but her posts on Bare Minimum Mode and how to survive overwhelm have stuck with me. I’m going to have to ponder how I can ease my load, at present – there aren’t many things on that list that I can avoid right now – but I’m sure there are things I could be doing to help.

Top of my list over the next week is finding ways to help me recharge my batteries. We’ve joined a new gym, and I have a fitness programme ready which I am determined to follow. If I can accomplish that one goal, I may well feel better. (Our gym also has a great pool – and we all know how important exercise is for stress relief.)

More though, I need to find ways to mentally recharge. The paradox of this situation is that picking up the activities that would help – knitting, reading, watching a film, going for walks – make me feel guilty, because there is SO MUCH ELSE TO DO. I have to continually remind myself that keeping myself healthy and sane must be my top priority right now. In fact, that’s going to be my theme for this week. Healthy and sane.

What are your tips for getting through hard seasons, and recharging your batteries when times are tough?


What is Project Renaissance?

I’ve called my journey of self-exploration, change and learning Project Renaissance.

Project, because I want to approach this in a concerted, organised fashion, complete with planning and reviews (there could even be spreadsheets!)

Renaissance, for two reasons: first, because of its association with the term Renaissance Man. This is a fairly common term which Wikipedia seems to define as equivalent to polymath, i.e. a person who is talented or skilled in several different areas. However, I’ve seen Renaissance Man used a little bit more broadly, to mean someone who is interested in many different things, and pursues knowledge in several areas. It is the opposite of being very specialised. This project is going to cover pretty much every area of my life, so a broad term seemed appropriate.

The second reason goes back to the original French meaning of renaissance rebirth. As I mentioned here, I have a lot of change coming my way over the next few months. Recently I’ve felt that, for a variety of reasons, I’ve forgotten who I truly am. I’ve lost a sense of what I enjoy and what I like, amidst all the stress and duties and responsibilities. I’ve lost the ability to stretch myself, and I feel as if I’m not growing as a person. These are all things I want to change.

I’ll be tackling three main areas, and you can expect to see posts from me on each area every week.

1. Habits of mind, habits of life (Mondays)

My first priority is to get some of my routines back in order. My life has become very disordered, everything from the time I get up to the time I go to bed has no set structure. I want to experiment with some more defined routines, and add things into my daily or weekly routine to see if that helps me settle into a better pattern. I want to look at some of my bad habits and how I can eliminate them. I’ll be researching other people’s routines and what I can learn from them, and I’ll be doing several 30-day trials to test out new habits.

2. WorkRemix (Wednesdays)

This is where I’ll be putting all my explorations of work and career change. I’ll explore the reasons why academia no longer works for me, and the associated, and very confused, emotions I’m experiencing as a result. I’ll be chronicling how I look for new work, reading books on the topic of work in the modern world, and all things related to work-life balance.

3. Renaissance Woman (Fridays)

This is where everything about the myriad of interests I’d like to explore goes. A non-exhaustive list: I’d like to embark on a course of autodidacticism (self-learning), particularly around history, literature, and languages. I’m fascinated by old buildings and architectural history, gardening, and all things related to heritage (this, incidentally, is my academic area too, but I’ll be branching out widely). I’m considering starting a reading project based on Susan Wise Bauer’s Well-Educated Mind. I’d like to pursue a self-study of mathematics which I started a while ago and dropped, and learn a new language. I’ll be discussing what it even means to be an educated or accomplished woman in the 21st century. I’m a knitter, so there may be occasional posts about that and other crafting and home-related issues. My goal is to give myself free rein to explore anything and everything that interests me, but to try and use the time well, to really find areas that I love and pursue them. I’ll be considering carefully how much I can fit into my life that enriches it, without feeling too stressed and overwhelmed. And, of course, the blog itself is part of this journey of growth and stretching into new areas.

Why blog?

This isn’t the first blog I’ve started. Like many of my computer-savvy generation, I’ve had an online presence for a long time, and I’ve been reading blogs since they first arrived on the internet scene. 

My previous blogging attempts have been patchy, for one reason – there was never a good focus for what I wanted to achieve with my blog. I thought long and hard about whether it was worth starting another one, but here I am. (And no – I won’t be subjecting anyone to my previous efforts!)

Why? Two main reasons: the first being accountability. The work that I envision for myself over the coming months as I embark on the various areas that make up Project Renaissance isn’t going to be easy, and I know I’m going to feel a lot of resistance to some of it. I’m committing to a posting schedule (three times a week, and no less, though maybe more) and I hope that will keep me going on this path. 

Secondly, I want a chronicle of this journey. I want a place to write about my thoughts, because writing helps me think. I want a place to put all the ideas, questions, research, experiments and conclusions I find. And I want to talk to other people interested in similar things. 

Last of all, this blog is in itself one part of my project. I’ve always admired diarists, letter writers, thinkers who have chronicled their journeys. I’m interested in the practice of writing as a tool for self-knowledge, and I want to experiment with what stretching myself and committing myself can do for me. 

Here’s to keeping to a schedule, hopefully providing some interesting content, and some good conversations!

Welcome to Project Renaissance!

I’m Melanie. I’m about to hit my thirties, about to get married, and about to change jobs. It feels like a crossroad, and as good a time as any to carefully examine every aspect of my life.

I’m asking myself: is my life the best it could be? What does it even mean to lead a good, happy life? How can I make my life better, happier, more fulfilling? What can I stop doing that makes me sad, ashamed or guilty? How can I enrich my life with new things, without trying to do too much?

Until now, I’ve been an academic in a British university, but that job is coming to an end, and I have to re-evaluate my future career prospects. Being an academic means being very specialised, but I find myself unsatisfied with that. I’ve always had many interests, and want to develop some of them in new directions.

This blog is my chronicle of that journey, towards a better and happier life. Part Happiness Project, part career-change and post-academic, part exploration of self-education and being a Renaissance Woman.

I hope you find some of what I write interesting – please join the conversation in the comments, or email me at projectrenaissanceblog AT gmail DOT com.