So I did it. I got up on Monday morning and went to work and it was hard, and I was tired and had a headache, but it was not awful. I can do this. I can get up and come to work every day, because, really, why shouldn't I. Other people do this all the time. Then yesterday it felt like I was coming down with something again, and I'm beginning to think I am allergic to work, or maybe to writing papers. I have already had several sick leave days in the fall, and I can't believe this is going to continue. It's been the same for a while now. I'm fine when I have time off and get to recover and instantly get worn out as soon as I return to work, without even doing much, and that scares me. I think it must be psychological in a way, because I cannot really imagine what else would function that way, but I don't know how to break out of it.
It's not even that I truly dislikes my job. It's OK. It's even interesting. I have a lot of freedom to do what I want. I am being recognised for my work and get a lot of positive feedback and the few things I might be less content with are mostly going to change when I start my new job in June. I have done all the right things like taking time off (four weeks vacation in spring and a long Christmas break now), used overtime hours to create a more flexible schedule (took a lot of Thursdays off or made them part-time work from home days in the fall) and it works. I do get more rested and more connected to myself when I take time off, but it doesn't last as soon as I get back.
When I was completely worn out after the field season I tried to talk to some friends and colleagues about it, but they didn't really get it. It is so accepted and I'd say expected in this profession to be tired, overworked and behind all the time, that it's not perceived as an alarm signal, but rather like normality. Maybe I'm just different and can't accept this normality, maybe I'm weaker or less healthy and can't push the limits the way some other people do, or maybe I have just been pushing the limits for so long now that I don't know how not to do so.
I started the postdoc right after defending the PhD. Like in getting up and packing my belongings the morning after the defense and start my new job in a new country the following Monday. I got the visiting ass. professor gig, which was really my first extensive teaching experience, while I was still working on publications from the dissertation, writing my first big grant application and getting my feet wet with the postdoc research and logistics. I moved twice within that year and had a fifty percent post doc on top of being a visiting professor. I got my first big administrative post while I was still working on grades and make up exams from the fall semester and continued to work on my postdoc research while being a new department head/group leader, and on top of that came the worst field season ever this summer as a new expedition leader on two long field seasons with lots of social tension in both. I don't think I have ever been so tired or felt as weak as during the last of these field campaigns. I am awfully behind on publications, because so much of my postdoc time has been spent in other roles and I'm feeling squeezed now because I need to publish more before I start the next job. But I'm tired because I have been loaded with new jobs and extra activities and short term pressure to learn and finish up something new for so long now.
Last year around this time I thought a lot about how to balance work and life and I thought the solution to my problems was to get better at this, take more time off and create a good home life for myself to help take off some of the pressure. Now I think that was only a way to try to cure or keep down the symptoms, but not the underlying problem. I think the real problem and my worst enemy is my own ambition and lack of ability to let go of opportunities. I think now, that maybe there are some of the opportunities that came my way that I shouldn't have taken, because I'm not a machine and cannot keep going indefinitely. I also think I need to let some of my publication goals for the spring slide, but it is hard, because I have already set myself up for being behind and it won't get better when I start teaching in the fall. I sometimes think I dislike my job, but deep down I don't think I do. I love my research when I have time to dive into it and think and play, but the pressure to be productive and on top of it all is crushing me in a way where I don't remember what I'm passionate about anymore.