Breaking Down Can Build You Up

Last week was a tough week.

I was on the tail end of a massive deadline for my book proposal, and the process was taking a lot out of me. After writing and writing (and writing) for so many days straight, my body, mind, and soul started to pay for it.

I learned the hard way that writing for hours on end, at a desk that isn’t a proper desk (read: a kitchen table from IKEA), wreaks havoc on your body.

Writing with that much intensity also wreaked havoc on my mind.

Truth be told, I’m not used to being so dedicated to a task for such a long period of time. My normal routine at work is to pop in and out of projects with a rhythm that helps me stay informed while also staying out of people’s hair.

By the end of Monday, I was so exhausted that I crawled into bed at 8:15pm with pajamas on, lights out, and curtains closed. I even bypassed opening a bottle of wine. Now, that’s when I know something’s up.

When my husband called to say he was on his way home from work, I was already dead asleep. He didn’t seem surprised. However, he did want to know what our children were doing while their mother was in a coma. I proudly reported that they’d been endlessly watching their iPads in their rooms, and then I hung up.

Tuesday started out the same way.

I woke up at 5am and tiptoed downstairs in the dark and forced what felt like broken wrists to type the final edits to my book proposal…for seven hours straight.

After I hit send on the proposal and it was in my literary agent’s hands, I thought I’d feel a sense of relief, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride.

I felt none of these things. I felt exhausted. Depleted.

In my mask-wearing days, I would have kept those feelings to myself. I never would have asked for help. Despite bone-deep fatigue, I would have moved on with my day with a fake smile and lying eyes.

Thankfully, I no longer do stupid things like that. I know better. And when you know better, you do better.

I asked for help… in five different ways… in one day.

1. I asked my parents to take my kids for the night. It was only Tuesday and I was already exhausted, so I knew that by the end of the week I’d be a wreck. I called my parents and asked if they could take my kids Friday night for a sleepover. They enthusiastically agreed, and I enthusiastically said I might live to see another day.

2. I decided to take a day off. I sent an email to my team and confessed that writing the book proposal had taken a toll on my neck, wrists, and energy level, so I needed to hibernate on Friday to recover. I couldn’t remember a time when my energy level had been so low. As I hit send, I was proud of myself for not pushing through the pain and even prouder that I was brave enough to admit defeat.

3. I took myself out to lunch. I threw myself into my car and drove to a restaurant, with the hope of seeing some sunlight and getting my energy back. As the universe would have it, just when I was closing my journal and paying the check at my table for one, a guy at the bar turned around and struck up a conversation with me.

Guy: What are you writing? Me: I’m writing a book. Guy: Neat. What’s it about? Me: A journey from broken to whole. Guy: Sounds very interesting. Have you felt more whole lately? Me: Um…no, actually. The past few days have been really exhausting and overwhelming for me. Guy: Of course they have. It’s because you’ve had to relive the broken parts of your life in order to write about them. Me: Holy shit. Guy: The first time you experienced those things, you were probably asleep at the wheel. Now you’re alive, aware, and awake and you’ve had to experience the tough times all over again. It’s a hell of a roller coaster. Me: Well, that sure explains a lot. 

The universe is such a remarkable thing. I had been feeling so tired, so depleted, and so overwhelmed. And just when I needed it the most, a stranger sized me up and told me precisely why I had been feeling that way.

4. I cried. When I got home, I took a shower and I got down on my hands and knees, and I cried. As the warm water washed over my body and Pandora blasted music in the background, I let it all out. I cried like I hadn’t cried in a very, very long time. I cried because I was pissed at myself for keeping all my doubts and insecurities to myself for 20 years. I cried because I was proud of myself for overcoming that destructive behavior. I cried because the words I had submitted to my agent earlier that day would help other women overcome those same hurdles.

5. I said it all out loud. That evening, I had a big speaking engagement where I was asked to inspire a room of 200 female entrepreneurs. After I dried my tears and dried my hair, I set out to do just that. I did not inspire them with stories of what it’s like to be on The Today Show or named Working Mother of the Year. Those stories are boring. I inspired them with the truth, my truth. I shared with them my broken and busted journey from wearing a mask to finally feeling free.

I was no longer weighed down by my exhaustion. My exhaustion made sense to me now. So, I channeled that into sharing all my failures with those beautiful women so they could avoid their own mistakes and shortfalls.

That day, I woke up exhausted but went to bed exhilarated. And the only reason that dramatic transformation occurred was because I was brave enough to admit that I needed help.

I admitted I wasn’t perfect and was struggling. I admitted that life isn’t always easy—to a complete stranger. And because I was honest, I got the answer, help, and explanation I was so desperately seeking.

Katherine Wintsch