Other people exhaust you

Burnout: When your friends make you sick

I want to hang out with you. I really want that, I promise. When I suggest we go out to eat or have a tea or coffee or a pretzel or whatever they offer at the restaurant buffet that you like, I'm not kidding. I don't believe in wrong plans, and I don't try to be your friend when I would prefer the exact opposite. I love hanging out and I enjoy dating friends. Too much, apparently, because here we are. Burnout is no foreign word to me. Last year I crashed into a wall, doing too much at once before realizing my panic attacks came from my constant urge to live excessively. I didn't set any limits, worked until I was exhausted and over-anxious, and in addition to my work life, I allowed my social life to flourish. I told myself that I could do it all. Which of course is not unusual. Author Devon Maloney has rightly stated that Generation Y is the most stressed out yet, and that we have "gone from obsessed early teens to ambitious, developed adults." It's true - over the past few months, my conversations with friends have been characterized by our shared feeling of being time-bound and exhausted, especially as we try to put our weeks together in Tetris format into collages of productivity and Instagram-worthy moments. We have to expand dinner into evening or nighttime adventures, take advantage of terraces and parks, and squeeze as many events as humanly possible into the available hours. And cancellation is not an option. Not when you want to be a good friend or want to live a full life or - and I hate myself for even typing that - when you want to "have it all". What is a myth, of course, I know. Doing or being "everything" is subjective and unrealistic and the creation of a society that thrives in comparison. This is what I was trying to remember when I saw the vacancies on the calendar and got scared when I thought I wasn't doing enough, not being enough. So I pushed my gut feeling about avoiding plans and instead filled my calendar even more. I've built a social life that is entirely based on living up to my self-made demands and accordingly avoiding that spring and summer-inspired fear of missing out. And I'm sure we can all imagine how well that went.
Since I learned how to balance my working day by simply structuring it as a normal working day, I've fallen in love with writing again. Unlike last year around this time, I wake up in the morning looking forward to starting something new, emailing out ideas, and challenging myself to new pieces and new ways of saying something. I feel like I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing and have stopped comparing myself or where I am with other people. When I work, I feel most like I'm in control, most like myself, most like the person I want to be. Which is opposite of how I started feeling when I was off the trail. But not all the time. When I took one evening off a week to meet deadlines, read, or just hang out with my cat, whatever I planned the next night became less like an obligation and more like what plans with friends should actually be felt: fun.

I worried about the time, how long I should stay, how my tiredness that night would affect my work the next day, and then I felt the only familiar anxiety.

Just like too much work left me standing over the bathroom sink last summer reminding myself to breathe, my calendar crammed with plans kept me from enjoying them. I was worried about the time, how long to stay, how my tiredness that night would affect my work the next day, and then I felt the all-too-familiar flare-ups. In doing so, I reminded myself that I could get out of this head jam at any time if I just took a few deep breaths, no problem. That too is exhausting. Fear is exhausting. Thinking too much is exhausting. Going out when you'd rather watch a Netflix series about English castles is exhausting. To be “in” the track is exhausting. As May broke out, I realized that my tendency towards excess had to be scaled back. So, in anticipation of the worst, I started postponing plans and apologizing immensely, sure that my actions would result in a complete division between me and my friends as I leave everyone hanging. Instead, it was the start of important conversations because that is how real friendship works. I explained to two friends that I need to take more time to post before going to bed, and our group chat turned into a conversation about how we all felt pressured to be everything and do everything - and that we should ask more often to make sure everyone is fine. Another friend gave me a tip: keep doing three things a day, exercise, work, and eating out - or any other combination, and avoiding overexertion.


Not only were my friends cool when I had to cancel because I was sick or tired, or because I had to meet a deadline, they all cleared the space to talk about how stressful it is to be a self-proclaimed social superstar - especially since nobody expects that from us. None of us have been accused, humiliated or shunned for needing sleep or working, but many of us lived by the motto of not wanting to disappoint anyone. I think it's easy to get into this case. When striving for perfection, it's easy to forget that the people in life are real people, and not just part of an Instagram feed. And it's even easier to forget that friends usually understand that you have to stay at home / take time out / take a break because they've had feelings like this before. In the end, we all felt tired at times, were all scared, we all wanted to avoid hanging around the people who mean the most to us. But being honest doesn't mean admitting a mistake, it's proof that you are human. And if someone has a problem with postponing their plans, canceling their plans or not being able to come to a party, then most of the time it is not someone you want in your life. One evening I wrote to a friend who had just moved to Los Angeles. She told me that she watched Netflix all day and planned to watch Netflix all evening too. I told her that it sounded like a dream, and that I just found out that evenings at home and / or days spent alone in the cinema or museum would also be my favorite way to relax. And then I came to the realization that friendships aren't jobs, they shouldn't take up your time and energy in the same way - they should be the relief. And it's mostly those honest, vulnerable moments in friendships when we admit we're feeling overwhelmed, when we form the bonds that guarantee that even if someone pulls a long-haul flight far away, you still know you are along to whom one can talk about anything - even something as mundane as enjoying not making plans.