Knowing Your Limits and Sanity Points

So I recently did something I realy didn’t like: I had to dial back one of my beeminder goals. My weekly wordcount goal of 6k per week was proving to be too much if I’m also going to be lecturing during the term. It’s difficult to actually acknowledge that I have limitations and that there’s a difference between being able to do something and having it be a good idea. Lecturing has been way more exhausting than I expected and since I have prep work to do during the term before I’m going to be helping teach an intro to programming course over the summer.

The trick I’ve found for trying to be productive with a mental disability is to keep your sanity points high. I call them sanity points instead of “spoons” because I’ve read enough complaints about the “spoon” story being about physical, not mental, disabilities that I really just wanted to invent my own language for it. The thing about sanity points, as I think I’ve mentioned before, is that they recover proportional to how many you have left. When you’re doing well, you recover a lot after a good night’s sleep, but when you’re almost out of sanity you recover very very little overnight. It’s really hard and frustrating when you hit that point where you know that no matter what you do you won’t be able to think straight and concentrate for a few days at least. So, in the end, I’ve been learning a lot about how to predict when I’m at a sanity point deficit. I’m not great, but I’m putting effort into noticing when that burnout feeling is on the rise. It’s marked by foggy headedness, exhaustion, and feeling just numb and sad. In fact, even writing this at 9pm is probably a big mistake in terms of preserving my sanity points. I said I was learning, but I’m still not good at any of this.

I’ve also been learning a lot about how to ask for help, which is incredibly scary because I feel selfish any time I’m not completely self-suficient. But it’s true, I need help from the people close to me and I need to be honest with myself and others about my limits. For example, my partners have actually had to say to me, as I’m writing this, that I’m not allowed to work past 9:30 tonight. I’ve been really riding the edge of burnout hard lately. I think one of the biggest signs that a total burnout is on its way is when everything takes 5x, 10x longer than usual to do. It can be so damn tempting to keep pushing through that because, hey, you’re behind and that means do more but you’re just burning through your sanity points faster and faster while recovering less and less with every night of sleep and day of rest. If I don’t regulate myself, I can end up working 11-12 hours a day 7 days a week. Of course, I can only do that productively for the first week or two of that kinda crunch. Afterwards, it’s just playing catch up and attempting to run from that feeling of failure that’s constantly just behind me no matter what I do. The problem is that you can sprint for only so long and once you fall, that’s when the depressive crash sinks it’s teeth into you and won’t let go.

Having a mental disability can mean that it takes more effort to do literally everything than it would for an able-bodied person. That makes it even more tempting to just keep pushing more and more and more because I judge myself by how much I think someone without my handicaps should be working and not by any reasonable expectation of how much I can get done. That’s when you have to know your real limits, know what your body can take, and not push beyond those boundaries of health. I’m trying to be better about all this, I really am, but damnation is it hard when you feel that sense of failure nipping at your heels and everything in your body just says “run”.

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