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  • Writer's pictureBethany Lynne

Busy | Body : Idolatry and The Recovering Actor

“We need to stop glamorizing overworking. Please. The absence of sleep, good diet, exercise, relaxation, and time with friends and family isn’t something to be applauded. Too many people wear their burnout as a badge of honor. And it needs to change.” - Katy Leeson.

Nearly a year ago I took myself to urgent care. My limbs were quivering, my heart palpitating, my mind drowning in a sea of fog. I sat on the examination table, autopilot engaged, rapidly replying to text messages related to anything but my present medical crisis.

“Ma’am? MA’AM?”

I looked up to see a nurse gripping a bundle of wires.

“Can you please put your phone away so we can run this EKG?”

Yep. Yeah we can do that.

Four years of hustle culture, on four years of college grind, on four years of high achieving extracurriculars, my schedule ever at the hands of a merciless workaholic, and it had finally happened: burnout.

I had ignored the warning signs. Each month I’d reach a level of exhaustion that would render me bedridden for one day, a brief pause that would remedy as a short term fix, until the next month. I’d been living by the notion, “Things will slow down next week.” or, “Two weeks from now it’ll be different.” All push, push, pushing right up to the edge of the fire, and at last catching flame.

“She doesn’t need an EKG.” The same nurse had said moments before, all but rolling her eyes, arms crossed, leaning on the door frame. “Honey,” her tone condescending, “did you drink too much coffee today?”

Excuse me.

I left urgent care without a diagnosis. Blood test, urine test, EKG? Normal.

“You seem healthy to me,” the doctor shrugged. The nurse was smug, convinced her invalidation, validated.

It wasn’t due to caffeine. It wasn’t due to lack of sleep. I self-diagnosed my heart palpitations as stress-reactions: my body pleading for mercy from long-term neglect.

For 12 years, I’d been overfeeding it with opportunities, and the false promise that rest was just around the corner. I had not honored its requests, and it had utterly lost my respect, refusing to cave to my manipulation. I could no longer convince it to obey.

My body went on strike, and it wasn’t returning to work anytime soon. Chronic fatigue and brain fog took up residence. For the first time in my life, I missed family Christmas, due to lack of strength to travel. I became real familiar with the word “no,” and canceling plans. The lack of follow through to commitments wreaked havoc on my conscience. The inability to be present, to focus, to care, became the norm.

. . .

My identity has long been shaped by my schedule.

“You’re always busy.”

“How many projects do you have going on?”

“You probably don’t have time for another thing.” “How are your 14 jobs?”

These are sentiments I still hear weekly from friends and family. Despite the drastic change in my life, as I’ve tried to express, that isn’t me anymore.

Social media is deceptive. While it may look like projects and activities rule my world, it has been nearly a year since my world came to an abrupt stop.

My 17 hour days, gig life, and four jobs, aren’t a thing, because they can’t be anymore.

“You’ll get back to it.”

“Oh I’m sure this is just a season.”

“You’re finally taking a break? I’m so happy for you! Wish I could afford to do that.”

Whether you can afford it or not, it will come to collect.

I always prided myself on maturing faster, but now I feel the long term effects of my youthful negligence before I reach 30. Now I receive weekly visits from at least one of my burnout symptoms; illness, anxiety, fatigue, stress, headaches, insomnia.

It hasn’t been just a “break,” or “vacation,” or “pause.” Something broke 12 months ago, that has long term consequences. Researchers say true burnout takes 2-5 years to recover from, but more importantly, after suffering the effects of burnout, I no longer wish to return to the life I had before.

. . .

My biggest regret from my college years? Getting good grades. No, really.

Grades looked great, social life, mental life, emotional life? Not so much.

My memories from college are dim and spotty at best. Running on cold brew and the occasional chicken sandwich while taking an average of 18 credits and always working 2-3 jobs, I realize, I wasn’t happy.

Taking every acting opportunity that’s come my way, scrapping for every chance to earn money to survive, I realize, I wasn’t fulfilled.

Putting community, friendships and family on the back burner to my career and acting successes, I realize, I was hella lonely.

By abusing my body, not identifying or voicing my needs, not prioritizing personal health, I was rendering myself useless to help myself or others.

As I drove myself home from urgent care last November, palpitating heart, bleary eyed and chronically exhausted, I knew my problem ran deeper than I cared to admit.

Busy, wasn’t just an excuse, Busy, wasn’t just a choice, Busy, was an addiction, Busy, was my idol.

The last major stronghold in my life I’ve been made aware of. It has long been my defining characteristic, the identity I live into, if Bethany Paulsen is anything, she is busy. Without busy, who is she?

Without constant hustling; sets, roles, scripts, jobs, gigs, activities, what does she have to offer?

The last stronghold that had to be broken, and it’s been a hell of a process.

. . .

Stripping busy from my identity has left me skeptical while getting to know the new woman underneath. She is softer, less resilient, more uncertain and physically weaker.

She takes longer to make decisions, her capacity much smaller, she is more picky about her opportunities. Now, she makes a habit of doing things she always thought were saved for retirement; taking quiet walks, going to bed early, staring out windows, reading books, taking naps, and saying no to all the high energy social events buzzing around her.

She asks for help, and has to pep talk herself through what some would consider menial tasks. She has to incorporate breathing practices, a healthier diet, a consistent sleep schedule and turn down exciting opportunities which leads to wrestling with the fear of missing out.

She doesn’t have as much to say, and takes longer to say it. Sometimes she forgets altogether what she was going to say mid sentence. She feels far more grounded and far less “impressive.”

She has had to learn that she is not responsible for meeting everyone’s expectations, that boundaries are the essential building blocks to freedom, and that healing takes time, and that change is necessary for growth.

She’s also more lonely as she looks at her peers around her. They’re caught up in the same drive, the same brain fog, the same abuse to their bodies.

. . .

Being busy isn’t a flex. Surviving off coffee and little to no sleep is tragic, not a bragging right. It used to be a sick competition the last 12 years to be the one who had it the worst. I stood by for years and watched my friends and colleagues wither away, dropping significant weight, dealing with depression, abusing their bodies, and the honest truth? We all were so unhappy.

As I’ve been taking steps to heal the past year, I’ve grown aware of the warning signs around me. I’ve realized the harm that social media can cause by comparison and unrealistic expectation vs. reality. I’ve seen the part I’ve played in this false narrative that a fulfilling life is based on how much you do and how many roles you book.

Old habits die hard. Old idols die harder. I’m still on the road to recovery. I’m still tempted to color in the empty spaces in the calendar and say yes to every opportunity.

Accountability has been the most helpful, someone to say, “Hey, you sure you need to add something else right now?”

My burnout is no longer a badge of honor. It’s a reminder that life is short, and opportunities are many, so choose them wisely, because quality is better than quantity.

- B

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