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Crying Time

Oof. Yours truly had quite the week last week. Or was it the last week and a half? I'm not 100% sure, but it was quite a week. And it wasn't in a good way, either. If you recall my previous blog post about reaching the breaking point (you can read it here), you sometimes find yourself pushing on and on and on, without stopping to take a breath. Or taking on more duties than you realize, thinking that you'll be okay. Or having so much adrenaline that you believe nothing can slow you down. And then it happens. You snap. And you fall apart. But I seem to have forgotten something important about reaching the breaking point... And it relates to what happened to yours truly from last week (or was it the last week and a half?). Have you ever accomplished something so meaningful or important that you feel like you're on top of the world? Or that you feel like you can't slow down because of the opportunities this accomplishment has for you? Or that you don't have time to process everything that's come your way, good or bad, because of this accomplishment? Or you keep putting off feeling all of the emotions and actually sitting with them because of this accomplishment and everything that comes with it? Well, that's exactly what happened to me last week (or was it the last week and a... oh, you get the idea!). And it all came crashing down on me in the unlikeliest of ways. I've been going nonstop in my career since last year, ever since I joined the union: I went to auditions, open calls, EPAs, submitted virtually, took classes, vented, vented some more, and did this all on repeat without stopping. Even with all of the bad things that happened to me, like being verbally abused, guilt-tripped, and shamed into paying for a class (you can find out more about that here), having one of the worst birthdays in a long time, and not getting any onstage roles as an Equity member, I took it all in stride without stopping to breathe or blink. Oh, sure, I had a brief break to recover from the surgery and rest back in February, but I jumped back right into this once I was starting to get better a couple of weeks later. But things started to go downhill after 14 March. I had made a difficult decision that was best for my career, and then I hit the ground running with more auditions, submissions, and venting and doing it all again on repeat the very next day. I was doing well with getting auditions and submissions, even a callback, but I had somehow started to feel something that I hadn't felt in a long time: Emotional. I was frustrated with all of my hard work not paying off - no casting offers, no pinning for future roles, no being called in for auditions, nothing. But it was even more so frustrating when it was getting to the point where I was questioning and doubting myself even more than usual. Sometimes to the point where I may have driven my friends and family crazy and may have reverted back into old patterns of sharing too much on social media.

Or even growing bitter and cynical, which isn't like me at all.

It was getting pretty bad... And things got worse starting on 13 April. After submitting for several projects online, I got the best news yet - I got called back for a show! I was excited and nervous, but hopeful that things would finally turn around. I get there to the callback location a little bit before my appointment, and then I waited... And waited... And waited. For over an hour to be seen. And then I finally got seen for the role I was asked to prepare... For only 5-7 minutes. It took all of my willpower to not break down and cry on the spot, or even on the metro ride home. I knew that I didn't get it. And the thing is, people kept telling me after I shared this with them, "oh, they like you very much! It doesn't mean a rejection!" I didn't believe it. In fact, I had this shaky feeling coming out of the callbacks that I wasn't going t get cast in the show. The same feeling I had when I auditioned for another show I was invited to audition for. It didn't feel good at all. And I had a sinking feeling that it was going to get a lot worse the following week. That week I had several work shifts (some days had two shifts in one day), a complimentary photo shoot, and I was a part of a fundraiser performance to raise money for a worthy cause by the end of the month. Let's just say things began to pile up: The complimentary photo shoot ended with me unable to take any photos home because the company didn't specify that I had to pay the whole balance instead of paying on a later date. I was starting to get frustrated with all of my friends getting cast in roles and upcoming projects, except me. And it was especially difficult to support them in all of their successes when I was on the sidelies yet again without anything to show for it. It gotten to the point where I was feeling so envious of other's successes that I didn't have the heart to genuinely like their posts like I normally would. My fundraising efforts for the special performance were not going well, either. Where some people could raise over $5,000-$7,000 for the cause, I could only get less than $150, and I was asking everyone for several weeks to help out -friends, family, my church, my fellow actors, you name it. I don't think having a leaderboard to see your progress every week helped matters, either.

It led me to lash out at my friends from my church for not helping me with the fundraiser. And then came the rejections... Three of them, to be exact. Back-to-back-to-back. One right after the other. And yes, it included the callback. Do you know what happens when you somehow keep pushing through the rejections, the frustrations, seeing other's successes on a regular basis, and hitting brick wall after brick wall? Without so much of a thought to actually stop and feel the emotions? Or even slowing down and sitting with those emotions? Well... Let's just say you fall apart, and the dam breaks. One that's been holding together over a year and a half's worth of grief, disappointment, anger, and sorrow you've been holding in because you had to push on. One that's been holding together for the past few months since the surgery because you needed to get back in the game and didn't want to get left behind. One that's been holding together for the past eight weeks because of how much you needed to show others that you're worthy, even if you have nothing to show for it in roles or accomplishments. The dam broke... And I fell apart, yet again. This time, however, I didn't stop it. I couldn't. All of the pain, frustration, weariness, fury, and grief came out of me like never before, and I didn't have it in me to pull myself together as fast as I could because there was just so much of it that I had get out of my system. But more importantly, I was being forced to do something that I didn't give myself the grace or compassion to do:

Feel. Sit with my emotions. Process. And not do anything to stop them - no chiding, no scolding, no criticizing, none of that. I couldn't do any of that. And the reason why may surprise you... I was burnt out.

Here's something that I never thought would happen to me, and it would come in an aggressive way. Being burnt out is real, people, and this was a doozy. But I didn't realize it at first. I thought it was my period talking (yup, you read that right) and all of the overwhelming feelings from the past year and four months starting to finally catch up with me. I knew that this wasn't my normal monthly mood swings for one reason: I didn't have the energy or even the willpower to stop them from coming. And sometimes, the sadness, rage, jealousy, and fear would come at the most unexpected of times: Like during my workouts, for instance. I would be getting ready to do lunges or squats when I felt those feelings come at me, and rather than push them away, I just let them come. And do my best to breathe through them as I did the lunges and squats, and then the rows, reverse flies, and bicep curls. One minute I would be okay (or as close to what I thought was "okay") and then the waves of emotion would wash over me like a cold bath. But I didn't fight it like I would the previous times. I was exhausted - mentally, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually in some cases. I just didn't have the strength, mental capacity, or desire to even fight back and push on like I normally would. I didn't even have it in me to submit for roles like I normally would. Nothing seemed to move my heart or lead me into submitting this time. There was a sense of powerlessness that came over me as I was burnt out, and you know what's so eerie about this? I didn't mind the powerlessness so much like I did before. In fact, I welcomed it. Not so much as resignation, but more like weariness. I just couldn't do anything because I didn't have it in me to do anything that would bring me joy or get me out of this funk. Maybe that's what being burnt out is all about: You're so tired in so many aspects that you just give into the powerlessness and you just don't have what it takes to do anything, even though that's against everything you've worked so hard for and want to keep going towards. I know it's hard to feel powerless, but believe me when I say this: You're not quitting when you're burnt out. You're giving your body, mind, heart, and soul a break to actually sit down and just be in the present moment. No need to worry about your duties, tasks, or anything that requires a lot of brain cells. You just allow the powerlessness and the rest - both much-needed - to come. As I mentioned above, you don't realize that you're burnt out right away. In fact, you think of it as something else, like your time of month or stress or even a nervous breakdown. But the constant exhaustion and lack of motivation to do anything that makes you happy is a sure sign that this is more than just stress and reaching the breaking point. And that's when you have to do the one thing that might give you the guidance you need to take the next steps to feeling better, no matter how slowly it might be... Getting professional help. I had been in therapy starting in 2013, and ended it after seven years when I reached a point of where I felt good and in control of my emotions and mental health illnesses. I restarted it again last month when I was struggling with everything going on in my career and life in general. First of all, there's no shame in being in therapy or restarting therapy again. I had to live with a father who had untreated bipolar disorder and didn't go to therapy and get medication because of his generation's view of therapy and mental health equating to one word: shame. You are not the only one who needs professional help, and everyone has some form of a mental health illness, even when they don't want to openly admit it. And I'm pretty sure you're not the only one who has to restart therapy after several years because things got pretty rough lately. No one's alone, and you shouldn't have to face your mental health illnesses and emotional trauma alone, either. Now, to get back to the story... My therapist reached out to me for our weekly appointment, and I shared with her everything that's happened in the past week: How I didn't have a chance to slow down for the past year and four months. How I got three back-to-back-to-back rejections (with a fourth one coming [or not, some people never email you back]). How I've been doing a terrible job with my fundraiser. How I've been putting so much work and effort into everything and nothing is coming to fruition. How I've listened to other people's suggestions and didn't have the energy or willpower to put them into action. How mentally and emotionally exhausted I am. It turns out that unloading all of my frustrations, exhaustions, and grief helped her pinpoint the cause of what's going on: I was experiencing burnout, and that I need to stop. My therapist knew that I've been going nonstop for the past year since we've been together, and didn't have a chance to slow down and process. Or even grieve everything that's happened to me, particularly from the hellish year I've had last year. Somehow, that didn't fit into my vocabulary or psyche because of two things: I didn't want to let others down after joining the union and I believed that if I got the big roles, I would impress others and get in the doors I wanted to. And the fact that I've let down both my father and sister (even for no reason) so many times stems from the need to prove myself worth to others, especially those in the industry. I just didn't want to be seen as worthless or a failure if I wasn't cast in roles. I guess pushing yourself too far out of anxiety and a need to prove worthiness can go too far. And here's another reason why slowing down and processing didn't fit into my vocabulary and psyche: The industry itself. No matter how hard artists, medical professionals, therapists, gurus, and others stress the importance of taking care of yourself, it mostly falls on deaf ears with those in power, mainly the producers, directors, and those higher up (AKA those with money). It's no secret that the industry is still bouncing back four years after the pandemic, and even two strikes going on at the same time. And it's also no secret that the industry is relying on people with the money more than ever to determine the success of their projects - from everything to the shows being produced to casting - , even if it is a business. There's just one problem with that: When you rely on people with money more than ever, as if they're a crutch, it determines just about every aspect of the show's success or failure, particularly who they hire on the production team, casting, and what shows and projects to put on for the season. Even if it's out far left field. To make matters worse, the industry seems to be urgency tangent for artists and creatives to rely on in order to prove that they have worth and aren't just being lazy. We're constantly on the go - auditions, self-tapes, callbacks, headshot sessions, travels out of state, meetings, website creations and updates, you name it! The idea of slowing down is one that those with the money and power tend to balk at because of how much money they would lose if someone they're relying on to make their projects a success needs to step back. Somehow, the industry is becoming too reliant on money-making projects and the people who put it together, from the producers to the actors cast in the shows, in order to keep themselves afloat... And also please those who have the money and the connections in order to keep the industry afloat. Let me explain something to you: Even if the non-profit sector is still a business, and they need to have money in order to survive, but aren't open-minded to using new faces or come up with unique connections that are more than willing to sponsor or support the organizations, that's where the friction and stress becomes just as evident for everyone working behind the scenes. And to make matters worse, hiding the problems and issues without actually acknowledging or even sitting down to talk about it and make an effort to make some small but significant changes is pretty unhealthy. The unwillingness to change or even discuss how unhealthy this close-minded pattern and ideology of relying on money can be just as unhealthy for the artists who just want to create and do what they love because of the need to constantly fit in and be in the mold of where the money and opportunities are. It certainly was for me. I've had to put up with that for over a year to the point where I had to fall apart in order to see that this was wrong. It's still wrong to any of us artists and creatives who want to perform and do the things we love because it's our passion and we can't imagine doing anything else. WHEN WILL IT STOP?!?!?!?!?!?!? (It's no secret that this week's blog post is a bit more emotional and personal in recent weeks, but I want to let you in on something: I'm not a medical professional, and anything I say is not meant to be taken as a diagnosis or prescription for feeling better. These are my observations and reflections, and you are welcome to disagree on anything I said in this or previous blog posts. Also, if you are experiencing any mental or emotional distress, please seek professional help as soon as possible. No one should have to go through this alone. That's also to say that I will not tolerate disrespectful language, hate speech, or anything that's divisive. I will block you if you go that route.)

After discussing with my therapist everything that was going on, she officially diagnosed me as being burned out and that I needed to slow down now. Not later. Now. I've been going nonstop in my career for the past year since I was with her, and I've done nothing to actually sit down and process or reflect on everything that's happened in the past year or even in the past few months. I mean, all of the signs of being burnt out were there: Increased irritability. Increased frustration. More stress. More feelings of worthlessness. More feelings of cynicism. Higher anxiety. Energy being depleted faster than normal. Sleep habits changing. Lack of motivation to do anything. It's just that I couldn't see it for myself. I thought it was normal stress. I think it's normal for any one of us who've been through the motions of being burned out not to see it as that. I think it's also normal to want to push through being burned out because falling apart and not doing anything wasn't an option. I know for yours truly I experienced both of those things, and more. It's definitely not a good feeling to be burned out. The constant exhaustion, irritability, lack of motivation, sleep changes, heightened anxiety and hopelessness, cynicism taking over... It's a lot. But now that I know that I am burnt out, what do I do now? Well... I rest. Which, in my case, means stepping away from social media for the next month. It's sitting down and actually feeling all of my emotions, no matter how uncomfortable and hard that might be.

Also, it's going for much longer walks, sometimes twice a day. It's making sure I fit in my workouts, which may just be walking around the neighborhood, and not being uptight about not getting in my strength training or cardio in the way I normally would. It's getting a good night sleep, sometimes turning off my alarm for the days I don't have anything to do. But here's where it's going to be hard for me to do: It means not going out for any roles. No auditions. No self-tapes. No looking on Actor's Access, Backstage, or anywhere else. I just need to focus on me for a change, and all of the emotions that come with it. But here's a question that might come up: "What happens if I get offered a role I auditioned for before I realized I was burned out?" Well, you have two options: One, you can focus on you and decline the role, explaining that you need to take some time off for health reasons. Most of the time, people would understand this, and if they don't, that's on them, not you. Or, you can take the role, but also be upfront with everyone in the cast and crew that you are burned out and can only give so much right now. Again, people would understand this, but if they don't, you should probably not take the role and go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this business doesn't stop for burnt out individuals, when I think they should, but you do have the power to say no and take care of yourself. It's on them if they don't understand that your needs come first. It is okay to just stop and rest, no matter what anyone else tells you. You matter, as does your health - physical, mental, and emotional.

It is okay to step back and take care of you. It's probably better if you do that instead of trying to push on and then risk having a nervous breakdown in rehearsal, or worse, onstage during a performance. Even if you have to push on, just know that's okay if you can't give 100% right now. Sometimes you can only 50%, or less than that. But regardless, give the best 50% or less that you can. You don't even have to explain in detail what's going on, but explain that you're going through a lot and may not be able to do everything. Taking care of you is more than just eating ice cream, binge watching Netflix, or laying in bed all day. It's knowing that you can give all that you can without further stressing yourself out or further damaging yourself, and being okay with that. It's not fighting against the exhaustion and fatigue. It's just going with the flow, and knowing that somehow all will be well. Yours truly is still on the road to recovery after learning that she's burnt out. The extra rest helps. The month-long social media sabbatical helps. The workouts and walks outside help. Listening to music helps. Getting extra rest helps. Cups of decaffeinated green tea help. Snuggling with my stuffed animals helps. Reaching out to friends helps. Recharging helps. It's all that this time is about - recharging. You can't fill another's cup if you don't fill yours up first. How can you give if you have an empty cup? You can't. That's what recharging is about, and you may have to do that daily before you can feel like yourself again. And that requires time, patience, and some extra compassion and grace to yourself. Something we tend to forget when we're going at breakneck speed. Maybe it's time you give some of those things to yourself this weekend. And if you are burnt out like I am, just know that it will be okay if you take an extended step back and rest. It is okay to rest and recharge. Don't let anyone else, especially the industry that you're in, tell you otherwise.

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