I loved April’s AusGlamBlog challenge to write about hope but couldn’t manage it. To say April was difficult is putting it mildly, let’s just say a whole bunch of stuff kept in check for ages exploded out.
There wasn’t just one trigger for this explosion but many – turning 40, exhaustion, health concerns, stuffing up a tech project , doing two jobs and most alarming realising I might not love libraries quite as much as I used too.
There’s something about that number 40 that is a big deal, even when you don’t want it to be. For me, it was like being visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future all at the same time. Issues I thought I’d dealt with years ago came back and had a good laugh, while all those roads taken, decisions made with the best information at the time, suddenly seemed like maybe the not quite right roads.
And then there was the question of where to from here.
For eight years, I’ve thrown myself headlong into my library career. I lived and breathed libraries. When I decided to change careers at the age of 32, I figured there’s no point in not putting everything into this or not doing whatever it took to get into the industry.
But in doing so I let go of some things that were not just important but essential to my life. You’re not supposed to talk about faith in polite company, but before libraries, I went to church every week. It was the cornerstone of my life, made the rest of my week easier. I longed for the tranquility and renewal that came from being in that space.
When I started studying, Church began to seem like a chore, something else I had to do when my brain, already crammed with full time work and part time study, just needed a break. Pulling back and using the the time to rest or study seemed necessary. It was a sacrifice but not a mistake.
I put being a librarian at the centre of my life, before my faith, before almost all other things. And I have mostly been happy doing it. Libraries are special places, I have had amazing experiences, I have found my people there.
I can’t tell you when I started to feel that the shine of libraries was starting to wear off. I know it started because the reality frequently doesn’t match the ideal. Librarians are people who want to make a difference. They are passionate about assisting their communities. The opportunities to really feel like you are making a difference are limited.
The recurring thought that maybe, after eight years I’d burnt myself out, and maybe I just didn’t want to be a librarian anymore was terrifying. This was inevitably followed by a ‘Well what else are you going to do?’ There was no answer to this question.
As a person who gets anxious, I hate uncertainty. I hate not having a clear plan or vision of where I’m going. On a small scale this is manageable but when it comes to my life, feeling uncertain and scared about where things are going, well let’s just say that leads to dark places.
If you have never suffered from anxiety then you are fortunate. Anxiety at least as I have experienced lately has been the stuff of nightmares, the monster under the bed, clawing at you, squeezing and not letting go.
The worst time is always first thing in the morning, waking up with a racing heart, breathless and unable to stop the tidal wave of nerves. Then there would be the sick feeling in the stomach, the churning guts, a tightness in my chest. Sleep and my appetite went on an adventure somewhere together, I was exhausted.
As a classic overthinker, I became fixated on certain things; believing that if I could just think about the problem hard enough or long enough some insight that would reveal all the answers would come. It didn’t really work.
Talking helped, I blurted out stuff to my family and friends. I talked to colleagues, whenever I told people how I was feeling, the pain in my chest eased a little. I kept going to work, because sitting around thinking about stuff was worse.
After eight years of single-minded focus the crash was always going to be hard. Being a workaholic wasn’t healthy, readjustment is painful. After having one proper holiday in eight years, I’ve made one of my new birthday resolution to take holidays because I’m less likely to get overwhelmed and exhausted if I take time to properly rest.
And while it’s been awful to live through it’s also been useful, I’ve started putting things back into their proper perspective. I’ve started going to church again, I’ve joined the bible reading team, something I always wanted to do but was never confident enough to do before. Now I figure if I can do storytime, then reading scripture in front of people should be a piece of cake.
Losing some idealism about libraries isn’t a bad thing. Idealism is tough to live up to. Has the ideal even been defined anyway?
The question for me has become, how do I as an person who wants libraries to be all they can be, find hope in this less than ideal world? It’s by remembering that all the small things I do in my less than ideal way all contribute. It’s speaking up or putting forward an idea. It’s keeping up with trends and being interested in the best way forward. It’s realising that we can only do so much and that change comes in degrees. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Mother Teresa once said, you can do no great things in this world, only small things with great love. And this is the essence of libraries, small things – helping someone print, finding the perfect book for them to read, running storytime, done by passionate staff with great love for their community and industry. It’s never going to be the big dream ideal but it’s always going to make a difference.
So what about libraries? I still love them but I also want to pursue other things too. It may have taken some tough days to get here but finally I’ve realised that if all I am is a librarian then the well runs dry, but if I am all the things I want to be then I’ll always be a better librarian. And maybe in that I can find hope.
One of the reasons I wanted to write this post is to highlight how anyone can suffer from mental health issues. It doesn’t discriminate. And we need to talk about it and make it okay for people to talk about what they are going through.
So my plea to everyone if you are feeling overwhelmed by life stuff or if you have anxiety, please talk to someone. Many organisations offer free confidential counselling but if this isn’t an option for you, talk to a friend, colleague or family member. Please don’t suffer in silence. Talking about it can be hard but trust me you’ll feel better once you do.
Life Line Australia – 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636