paid vacation stress

I don’t remember when exactly it was that I first started hating vacations.

There’s a blurry memory from the last day of third grade, of telling my middle school best friend that I didn't want the term to end. I remember the friend saying something along the lines of me neither, I'm gonna miss you guys.

But the thing was, though, that 9-year-old me wasn't really going to miss the friends — or at least not just them — or even recess, or art class, or any of the other many rowdy, fun things you could do, on a budget, as a lower class kid at a lower class private school back in the day. Rather than the proximity to my wee peers, my nine year old self was going to miss the routine that school provided. The daily pressure of productivity.

I don’t remember the first time I had a nervous breakdown because I was late for class. I was already obsessed with watches by the second grade, timed everything, from the amount of minutes it took to eat breakfast to how quickly I could tie my shoes. Eight o’clock was my greatest enemy. Being late meant having everyone who was already in class turn around to see you walk in, meant all eyes on you, all at once, silent collective judgement like a cold wave enveloping you whole.

By age twelve, I was already steady on the path to becoming a fledgling workaholic. Call it a mixture of genetic predisposition and external pressure. I had a body that was unsatisfactory, had a lot to make up for through other means.

I’ve been, on and off and on again for more or less the past month, thinking about how environmental stimuli affected the way I (both as a child and as a teenager) dealt with my mental health and the conditions/actions related to it (OCD, depression, AS, disordered eating, self-harm, etc.) I like to joke I’m just a bunch of acronyms passing off as a person, a long list of life-long conditions hiding inside a trenchcoat. On a good day I can pass the functional human test with a C+, even while unmedicated. The days I can’t, the I’m suddenly hyperaware of everyone’s bodies, especially my own days, those are usually fucked over tenfold by whatever the environment is broadcasting at me at the moment.

Which is usually: Why aren’t you working?

I still don’t like vacations. I still don’t like being late. Nowadays I don’t like being early either — out of laziness, yes, but mostly because being early comes with a tinge of nervous anticipation I can’t afford to show people if I want them to believe I’m normal and good and safe to have around. Meaning: competent. Above all, people need to think I can be productive, and that I can be productive at a fast pace, and do my job well. Above all, people need to think that I’m a normal person, one who won’t spend months thinking about sending that wrong spreadsheet that one time, a person who won’t swallow down a panic attack over fear of sending an e-mail to the wrong address. Normal people don’t triple check their triple checks.

We joke a lot, in my family, about inherited quirks. I cross my legs like my mother’s side, but my posture is all my father’s. Some of those quirks are funnier than others: Dad’s sense of humour, grandma’s crippling obsessive compulsion. I believe those things were given to me by them because I’m obsessed with patterns, with finding logic in things that don’t always invite it. That is also inherited.

I think, sometimes, about calling my father and, midway through a recounting of my work week, the cats’ health, my bills, asking him if he ever feels so tired he doesn’t know anymore if he’s a person outside of the amount of things he can do. Last semester I had a part-time job that almost did me in. Physically, even. While on medication, even. I called my father, seven in the morning, late for work, late, and told him I couldn’t do it anymore. He said okay, waxed poetics about capitalism crushing us all, and how we needed to find a way out for ourselves. The “okay, you can quit” is still what gets to me, though. My need for validation webs and flows in the most nauseating way: it is either entirely absent, or frantically working overtime. I regretted quitting that job for months afterwards, even with my bills paid, even amidst other, more significant professional achievements.

I don’t like vacations, or being late, or abandoning routines, even the bad ones.

Lately the Creative Industry & Associated Acts have been on a roll at the game of getting people my age into learning entrepreneurship. Crisis entrepreneurship. A veritable army of social media influencers, Etsy shop owners, two unmarketable master’s, unpaid student loans crisis entrepreneurs. The only people these days who aren’t self-made, who aren’t hustling three jobs and classes and a marriage, with a mortgage or a baby on the way, aren’t doing it because they don’t want to. In this economy? You need to put yourself out there.

Some kid from my school gave a talk earlier in the year about how you can do it all. A professor, who I’m now sure is a lost character from Inception, said ideas are the new it commodity. They never end. You can squeeze them out of people indefinitely.

Until the people give out. But then, their ideas? Those are forever.

These days, much like when I was nine, even my relaxation moments are timed. I still feel overwhelmed by the idea of taking time off. Of being late. I still link being busy with asking for forgiveness for some sin I no longer remember committing. Part of that is inherited, like my nose, and the way my accent sharpens when I’m surrounded by people I’m comfortable with. The other part is, of course, external. Manifests in to-do lists that aren’t ever quite finished, with rushing, running, when I’m still terrible at walking even at a normal pace.

The other day I caught myself wondering if I deserved lunch, if I’d done enough work to deserve overcooked ramen and a nap. I don’t own watches anymore, and I tend to leave the meticulous second-by-second timing to boring films I unwillingly get roped into watching.

I’m still working on the not working thing, but it’s a work in progress.