On Burnout

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

I’ve spent the latter half of the summer in a difficult mental position. I’ve been depressed about my current circumstances, anxious about the future and broadly indecisive no matter how insignificant the choice. Indecision, for me, is extremely rare and typically indicative of a much larger problem when it does arise. Whilst all of these feelings have made minor appearances throughout the year—which is to be expected considering the unscripted mess we’re all living through—they became overwhelming after my trip to Victoria towards the end of July.

Fire crew administers first aid to a fallen motorcyclist.
Accident Aftermath

Before the trip I visualized those ten days of cat-sitting to be a mini vacation from all the work I’d been doing until then. I hadn’t yet felt any burnout but it seemed a sensible precaution to take some time off after two months of writing one or two posts per week for my blog, all the photoshoots I had going on as well as starting my print sales. This is of course on top of what has been an especially difficult time to be Black. I figured a break would be good for me—and it was for the first few days. By the end of the trip however, I‘d been completely knocked out of my creative stride and it’s taken until the very end of August to rebuild that momentum. Discussing this with people has been difficult because I feel as though many people miss the point when I say I can’t create and feel unproductive. People will often refer to the script that I've seen all over social media about something-something ‘don’t let capitalism determine your worth.’ I agree with the sentiment, of course, but me wanting to constantly produce and plan for work that matters to me has nothing to do with “grind culture.” I’m miserable when I am doing nothing. I was at home, on my phone, with an attention span too short to watch Saturday morning cartoons. I enjoy my near obsessive desire to do. I enjoy the process, I enjoy complaining about the process, and I take tremendous pride in my accomplishments. Nonetheless, photography had momentarily lost its lustre.


I then figured, since I‘d been doing so much photography up until that point, maybe I‘d take a break and experiment with my other outlets. Writing was near impossible. What little I could commit to paper amounted to incoherent babble which was endlessly frustrating to pen, let alone proofread. After really forcing some words out, all I ended up with was this nonsensical piece that I find uniquely unpleasant to read; I was distinctly unhappy with the product but it was somewhat comforting to actually get some words out. Cooking, my first passion, was also a bust. I was eating very scarcely and my underwhelming food became part of an unhealthy spiral in which I couldn’t make anything appetizing which made me want to eat even less. While my will to do photography hadn’t evaporated in the same manner, I still feel a disconnect between myself and my work; as though the images I’ve taken since mid-July lack the character and direction of the months prior. Thankfully, this has begun to turn with the first of my September shoots.


Sam's face is obscured by his hands as he lights a cigarette.
Smoke Break

Emotionally, this is where things become very messy but either way the effect and response are the same. Simultaneously a cause and effect of depression is the inability to do anything. It’s a downward spiral that is difficult to rectify and every rotation exacerbates both issues. This is why at all times I try to maintain a larger project that I can always do a little bit of work on at a time so I never feel entirely unproductive--something to carry my momentum. Even just formatting a document is considerably better than just being awake and alone at 3:00AM. I’m finishing up a multimedia story / portfolio project to publish by the end of September if all goes to plan--though two months ago I was planning to be done by the end of August. It’s a taxing endeavour but important to my personal development. I failed to turn to this project during my slump when perhaps I should have, but it was far from obvious in the moment.


I’ve had to make a number of changes to my environment. I’ve reorganized my room to make more sense for my workflow. I’ve distanced myself from unhealthy influences--be they people or stimuli. I even bought a new camera. My main DSLR has slowly become a tool for work rather than a wand through which I channel my visual ideas. This one has been arguably the most helpful to the revival of my creativity. Of course having the money to throw at a third camera is a tremendous privilege, but I have mostly justified the purchase as a long term investment in both myself and my art. It also just looks cooler than the high-tech brick of a camera I had before. I have also been attempting to reframe this creative drought, albeit with some difficulty, as a time to gather inspiration for future projects; watching more movies, reading more books, making mood boards, and collecting snippets of writing to look back on are all, I hope, going to allow for a smoother transition back to work once I regain my momentum.

A shadow of a lamp post is projected onto a wall: the text reads, "Shining a light on what;s happening here..."
Convenient Shadow

Nonetheless, my advice is always the same for anyone with aspirations of anything. You just do it.

This is not an Adidas household.


A lot of the time you’ll just have to force something out of you and either trash it or salvage the scraps. A lot of the time the things you are passionate about will be profoundly unpleasant. A lot of the time you will not be entirely happy with the final product but that is still an important experience to learn from. A lot of the time my hyper detailed plans for a shoot or essay outline will fall apart the moment I start working to the benefit of the project so don’t let a hazy vision stop you from starting the projects you have in the works. A lot of the time you just won’t be able to get things done and it is important to become introspective in a goal oriented manner, to find out what is holding you back without punishing yourself for feeling bad.


Considerations


As I’ve increased the resources and effort I put into this site and the work that it hosts I’ve caught myself seeking ways to increase the return on my investment. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this thinking but I believe it is an opportune moment to take stock of my motivations. In terms of finances and time, this year has been very expensive for me. Photography is a pricey passion, especially while you are still experimenting with your style. With this in mind I’ve had two questions for myself:

(1) How can I get “Indulgent Magazine” to a point where it can repay my original investments but also fund future undertakings?

(2) Would I continue this work if this is all the acclaim I’ll ever get from it?


I’m yet to find an answer to the latter question but it is something I will keep in mind as my journey continues. Is your motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? It’s a question worth integrating into your own lives.


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