I watched all the TV shows and read all the books and, gradually, I found my way back to myself
When the wheels come off, and your days become a gulag of deadlines and appointments and online Are you stressed? quizzes, you do what any self-respecting, middle-class woman does in this situation.
You hit Google for answers. You take your problems to the zaniest, maddest reaches of cyberspace where wellness blogs with stock images of peonies and people with daily practices reside and you grab at what you can find.
This is the situation I found myself in two months ago when a range of factors united spectacularly to turn me a high-functioning adult with a pilates studio membership and a solid credit rating into an overworked perfectionist on the fast-track to burnout.
I was booking ridiculous amounts of freelance work, which was great, but also definitely not great because there were few jobs I would ever say no to, and the joy of another record-breaking month would quickly give way to horror at how exactly I was going to fit it all in.
At the same time, I was often on the road for travel stories, transiting in foreign cities, eating cold eggs in airport lounges, and my health began to suffer. My body was exhibiting strange symptoms in the form of heart palpitations and unexplained pains. Furthermore, I found it impossible to relax. My mind was snagged on the same punishing loop of work and deadlines and whats next? whats next? and I had forgotten how to just be.
My GP insisted it was stress, but I was so arrogantly sure of my preternatural ability to push through, to get stuff done, that it took a lot of negative test results to concede my workaholism was making me ill. I would need to change and become one of those obnoxious people who can afford to have a lifestyle epiphany. I would de-stress. Find balance. Smell the roses, and then write about it.
And so my twice-weekly yoga became daily exercises. I stopped drinking coffee after midday, if at all, and I cut back on red wine.
I downloaded a meditation app that piped in the sounds I was aching most to hear: rain on a tin roof, raucous birdsong, the ocean surging.
I focused on my breathing and I made sure I got enough sunlight. I ate wholefoods, for crying out loud, and I may have purchased green tea.
And it wasnt as if this stuff didnt help, because in a way it did. It helped to sustain my freelance lifestyle and it kept me functioning. But functioning was my problem. I was functioning my arse off. I needed to function less.
So when my partner came home one day and told me about a series of commissions he had secured up north, I suggested we jump in the car and just go there. As in right now. This afternoon. Lets take the dog, I said, and we can both work remotely.
And off we went, north through the hardscrabble farming country of Victorias interior to the vivid greenery of the superannuated southern highlands into the epicentre of anti-vaxxer counter-culture of northern NSW and, finally, on to a jerry-built, dog-friendly rental in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
Along the way, I ate terrible/great roadside food and drank middling pinot noir with my lunch. I didnt do any exercise other than walking in the local parks, and I stopped counting daily steps.
Each day I woke to the sound of the sea, or the wind in the trees, or some other natural sound that I used to download on my smartphone.
I listened to all the music and watched all the TV shows and read all the books that I had loved as a child and, gradually, I found my way back to myself. My heart rate slowed. The fog cleared.
In a recent article on her sudden move to rural Greece, Brisbane writer Susan Johnson gorgeously refers to this shedding of skin as slipping the net. My road trip north was my version of that freedom, of going off-course so that I may eventually return to the busy thoroughfare of life, not a different person exactly, but not entirely the same either.
I dont doubt that daily yoga or meditation can be life-changing for many, but there is far from one prescribed path to transforming your life or looking after your wellbeing.
We all want a life we dont need regular health retreats and breaks from in order to withstand. And finding that life and the unsteady, ungainly process of that task looks different for everyone.
What I discovered was that leaving my problems behind for a little while, indulging in empty pleasure and ignoring popular wellness advice was the salve my soul needed.
Johanna Leggatt is a freelance journalist
Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/22/as-an-over-worked-perfectionist-ignoring-wellness-advice-was-the-salve-my-soul-needed