Interlude: Getting tired on the road

I was going to write today about our day at the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya, but I looked at my 100+ photos from that outing, and I just don’t feel up to sifting through them. I always think the photo-heavy posts will be quicker because there’s less to write, but sometimes they take me hours of editing and culling and uploading. Keeping up the blog while we travel is quite a bit of work, though worth it (and I won’t end up with the usual ginormous collection of unsorted photos after we get back!).

Domes outside a window of the Aya Sofya

Can you tell from my posts that our six months of travel are wearing me down? I haven’t wanted to say much about it, but truth be told, I am quite tired… not so much that I can’t enjoy myself, but a lot of the eagerness is gone, edged out by the solid weight of weariness and something that is not quite apathy yet — but give it another few months and it might be. It feels tremendously ungrateful to say so, but there it is.

I actually went so far, last week, as to hunt up and take an online quiz about burnout. I was kind of just idling online, but the results were unexpectedly insightful. First, there was a sentence about having too many responsibilities with no help from others. I hadn’t realized just how much that was bothering me, but once I read it, I recognized truth. Erik makes our trip possible in many ways (not least of which, financially), but the day-to-day planning is all me. This is partly by choice and by nature, but it means I feel entirely responsible for our comfort and edification while we travel, not to mention (since Erik is quite introverted) any email/phone correspondence and many of our face-to-face interactions (e.g., talking to people in restaurants). Any one task is fine by itself, but add them all up, and it’s almost a full-time job. On a related note, the quiz separated burnout into three types of factors — work-related, lifestyle-related, and personality-related — and guess what? I scored highest in personality… which means I’m not burning out because we’re traveling, but because my nature leans toward intensity and perfectionism. In other words, I can take anybody’s dream life — like the one we are currently living — and turn it into something stressful and exhausting!

Not to say I’m on-edge and wiped out all the time, but I’ve definitely been doing a lot of thinking. The way I feel right now is uncomfortably familiar. I remember it from my senior year of college, from much of grad school, from preparing for craft shows, and from certain weeks in Toronto. I take on too much, always, and I always want to do it all — if not perfectly, then at least better than most everyone else. You can tell by the way I travel: not content to just follow the guidebook, I do my best to pick up some of the language, learn my way around, hit up the major sights and get off the beaten track, and do this while writing, blogging, sketching, keeping in touch with family and friends, and getting used to a new apartment. I am absolutely enriched by the way I approach our travels, and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. But I think it is too much, too fast; immersing myself in Scotland and then Iceland and then Istanbul and soon Paris, all within a space of less than half a year. And I get so caught up in trying to do everything “right,” even though I know there is no right. I pick a mediocre restaurant one night and suddenly find myself feeling like I’ve failed as a traveler. What the heck is that?! It makes no sense, but the feeling is there, visceral and sinking.

Lisa sitting inside the Aya Sofya

It’s funny, because when we first started traveling, I said it made me more mellow — and yet here the inner taskmaster is again, having apparently tracked me from California: “Bwaha! Found you!” The single biggest lesson of our travels is truly “wherever you go, there you are.” No matter where I am or what I’m doing, sooner or later I end up in the same old patterns… and one of my patterns is throwing my energy so furiously into all my pursuits that I burn myself out within months. I need a break, obviously. Not a vacation (ha! where would we go?), but a time to pause and remind myself that I shape my own life and can give myself permission to live at a slower pace — that the purpose of our travels is to be receptive, curious; not to hurl myself at the world, checklist in hand, striving for the perfect 10 of travel. It amazes me how often I need these reminders.

So… we leave for Paris the day after tomorrow, and after a month there, we go home for Christmas. Until then, I will try to listen to my tiredness, because I know it’s important. Curiously enough, though I found plenty of burnout diagnostics online, I didn’t find very much useful advice on how to cope with it. I suppose the answer is just what I’ve always found, that it helps to take things a day at a time, not worry about what I can’t change, let go of the need to do everything. This fabulous life has been entrusted to me… not to control, or plan, or perfect, but just to live. I don’t know why it’s so weirdly hard to do that, but I’m learning.

Very happy Lisa squatting on the ground with a little tabby kitten on her lap