The Queen of Breaks

When alveoli collapse, they compromise the ability of the lung to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The only way to pop them open again is to sigh, which brings in twice the volume of a normal breath. If you don’t sigh, your lungs will fail over time.

Jack Feldman, professor of neurobiology UCLA

The flaw in my thinking around breaks is that breaks always mean endings, not just pauses. 

Maybe derived from some inherent character trait. Maybe that “hyperfocus” people talk about. Do I have attention deficit? Once I start, I don’t stop until burnout mode. I drain the tank, because who knows when motivation will hit again. 

I don’t even like to stop for lunch because I worry I won’t get back to work. I mean, I already had to start work once today. Why would I stop, just to muster the motivation to go again?

My dysfunctional thinking is even more pervasive. I used to plan perpetual diets and exercise regimes, leaving no breaks for rest and rejuvenation. I worried that I’d lose momentum…because I often did. 

I didn’t believe that breaks were necessary until I heard it from experts. Listening to myself, I only heard fear. Fear that once I stopped, I would never start again.

Is that black and white thinking? Or all or nothing thinking? It’s surely one of those types of twisted thinking we taught the kids at Pacific Quest. I could never get them straight. All I know is that I rush to use up inspiration before it’s gone.

Or relationships for that matter, or places. There is always a hurry. Use it up before it ends. 

Is that a product of repeated finality? Growing up we left a lot of places we expected to return to, and a lot of people we didn’t see again until we’d grown out of their memories.

Then later, I moved a lot more, chasing experiences. I got good at the four-month arrive-settle-accumulate, then sell-pack-move out. I said “see you later” to a lot of people I never saw again. Faces that were once a staple in my day faded. I stopped expecting people to return, because I stopped returning. 

So I guess breaks were never built into my reality. There was full on, and there was done. There was go, and there was stop. Many things I didn’t want to end. So I coped with being out of control by being on the move.

I could only see breaks as being so burnt out, fed up, or bored with something that you couldn’t be around it anymore. Because that’s the only time I stopped. So breaks to me were only something bad, something terminal.

Most people could not understand why I got so upset when they needed space, which of course had them needing more space. 

But I didn’t give myself space either. That is, until I had to. Until the years caught up and my engine wore out and I couldn’t not take breaks. 

And I started to see patterns. 

Those years brought wear and tear, but they also brought cycles. They brought creative inspiration back on the same tide I thought had carried it out forever. Now that I stood still on the same beach. Then they took it away again, and brought it back, until I no longer worried when it left.

Those years found me retracing routes, now that I’d driven enough new ones to feel satisfied with the enormity of the world. They took me down old roads of my childhood, to prove my memories were more than dreams. They brought topics up from under the rug, to show that others had felt those things too, that I wasn’t the only one affected, that I wasn’t weak or abnormal. To show people do indeed reflect, and grow, and heal. Which is worth the break, and worth the wait.

Those years brought friends back from obsolescence, once they’d gone through their own growth the way they needed. Sometimes even love came back to reconcile, once it had had enough space to see where it had gone wrong. And I learned that in all those years grieving people I thought I’d lost, I was never actually forgotten. Just…paused.

I came back to places fresh. I came back to projects excited again. I came back to people after missing them, ready to hold them tighter than ever.

The reunions were so great, the new growth so grand, that the breaks became tolerable. Or rather, essential. Because when pieces are broken and scattered, you cannot push forward without wrecking the engine further. You must step back and breath and let it all resettle. 

I need a vacation, or a day off, or a night out. Not because there is something wrong with my life or my work or routine, but because everything needs a pause, or a switch, or a deep sigh. 

That, I am learning, is how things can last. How commitments are possible, how grand goals are slowly chiseled. I am turning from the Boss of Burnout to the Queen of Breaks.

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