When to stop

There was a day, last year, where I learned what it really meant to work too hard. I was in Melbourne, editing The Pun during the Comedy Festival. I’d been getting up at 8am, editing all day, seeing two or three shows in the evening, returning home after midnight and then doing it all again the next day. I was living on cheese and Easter eggs and toast. After about a fortnight of this I decided to get up before seven in order to go and hang out at a GNW rehearsal. My brain tried to tell me that this was a bad idea; I needed sleep. I ignored it. I could do everything. I was going to do everything.
After I had blearily stumbled through the rehearsal something in my brain clicked and I decided that I needed to take the afternoon off. I walked out of Town Hall and realised that I didn’t know how to get back to where I was staying. I stood there, amidst the crowd and realised that my tired brain couldn’t conceptualise getting to the tram and getting home. I literally had no idea how to do that. I didn’t know how to walk and I didn’t know how to use public transport and I did not know how to get from where I was to where I needed to be (bed). I can’t explain how distressing that was. I was so tired I was unable to function.
I managed to get myself to a café before I broke down. Walking took a lot of effort but I did it somehow. I wish I could apologise to the waiter who took my order for toast and tea while I was weeping. I imagine that was quiet distressing. I sat in that café and realised that I’d finally pushed myself too far. I texted my boyfriend, who was far away, and said: “I think I need someone to tell me when to stop.”
It is as a direct result of this incident that I decided to give up volunteering. I decided that, for at least a year, I would say no. I wouldn’t take on any new projects or apply for jobs that didn’t pay. I wouldn’t help out at festivals or offer my services to people. I was taking leave.
When I mentioned last week at EWF that I’d given up volunteering it occurred to me for the first time how bad that sounds. In an industry that relies so much on people giving their time for free it feels selfish that I decided to say no. We all give our time for free because that’s how it works. There isn’t an alternative. Every time I have worked for nothing, it’s been with the knowledge that the people I was working for would love to pay me, but for one reason or another they can’t. I’ve gained incredible amounts from those experiences and I don’t regret a single one of them.
I haven’t given up forever. One of the reasons I decided to take this time out is because there are projects on the horizon that I know will take an awful lot of my time and energy. As always I have grand plans but I needed to take the time to learn to say no before I can start to say yes again.
I guess I’m telling you my horror story because sometimes these stories need to be told. I know so many people who work so hard to keep making things happen. And things do happen; wonderful, amazing joyous things. But I know from experience that sometimes these things mean that people don’t eat and don’t sleep and don’t look after themselves. And that means that sometimes good people have random breakdowns in cafés. And that is not good.
It’s hard to say no. But sometimes saying no is the best option.
Sometimes we need someone to tell us when to stop.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year