Wikipedia describes your stereotypical Type A personality as “ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, takes on more than they can handle, wants other people to get to the point, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management.” With the glaring exception of ‘anxious,’ I am guilty of nearly all those traits.
However, I am no workaholic. Not anymore.
In high school, my schedule was overrun with extracurriculars. In addition to being a student, I wrote for my high school newspaper, I participated in art club, french club, and played second base for our softball team, while simultaneously holding down a part-time job at an art gallery painting ceramics and teaching children to paint and draw. Each of these required a significant hourly commitment outside standard school hours.
During the summers, I tripled my workload, and spent “down-time” playing ball with my travel softball team each weekend. Time leftover was spent galavanting about town doing teenage-things; late-night Taco Bell-runs, bonfires, and beach-going.
My powerhouse tendencies continued through college. As a freshman, I enrolled in 16 credits, nabbed a job, and nearly fainted at the opportunity for social obligations—the university was extracurricular gold. I always impressed myself with my ability to accomplish it all, and do it with finesse and high spirits. I burned so brightly.
Come spring of sophomore year, after three full semesters of giving everything, my flame abruptly died. This resounding extrovert, this self-proclaimed powerhouse reached her breaking point.
Anxiety consumed me.
Normal daily tasks became impossible feats. Grocery shopping was too overwhelming; too many people, too many items, too harsh of light. Riding the bus was too claustrophobic. Twelve-hour days; too long. I avoided car rides. Movie theaters or restaurants? Absolutely not. My appetite was wrecked—I developed acute acid reflux. I cried constantly. I could not function properly. I was not myself.
Panic attacks crept in.
At my lowest moment, I found myself hysterically sobbing in an empty hallway, alone, because I was unable to reach someone to take me home from drawing class. I could not breathe. This was not something that should have rattled me so deeply.
My best friend rescued me that night.
The world was much too heavy, and I’d spread myself too thin. I couldn’t understand why, after years of successfully balancing my load, I’d tipped over. I couldn’t understand why, suddenly, I could no longer handle my norm.
I was, by definition, an anxiety-stricken mess. I needed to reset.
After a session with a counselor, I realized my overwhelming anxiety was deep-rooted in poorly managed stress. I was not conscious of my struggle, and I never allowed myself to recharge. To combat my panic attacks, I adopted breathing techniques and employed anxiety medication. I was strongly advised to turn down.
So, I cut my commitments in half.
I adopted some laid-back traits of the Type Bs, and accepted my inability to be a perpetual superhuman. This was wholly necessary for my health, in all facets. After four long months, I regained normalcy with a healthier perspective on self-preservation. I no longer needed medication, and I was able to attend both work and school without fear of panic.
I felt solid again.
I will always be busy. I am a Type A—this is my nature. I thrive on organized chaos. I will always have work, and freelance projects, and personal projects, and exercise routines, and coed sports leagues, and dates with friends. I will run until my legs give out. And some days, people will look at my schedule like I’m psychotic.
But my stint with anxiety taught me a value lesson in self-care.
No commitment is worth my sanity. Not job one. Not job two. Not extracurricular one. Not extracurricular four. Not a project. Not volunteering. Not an added social obligation.
A Saturday spent napping is not a waste; it’s refreshing. An evening spent reading is not a waste; it’s relaxing. A conscious choice to do absolutely nothing is not a waste; it’s crucial to staying sane. There is no shame in turning down to protect your sanity. In fact, it’s wholly necessary for good health, my happiness, and continued forward motion.
I am allowed to be Wonder Woman eighty-percent of my time.
To those who have never felt the overwhelming consequence of stress, save yourselves. To those who have felt that evil, I sympathize with this struggle. Take time to decompress in whatever way makes sense for you, and take comfort knowing that your time away from your to-dos is as equally important, if not more, than the contents of your list.