Check in on your Over-Achiever

COVID Consequences

This week I submitted all my grades: for first semester students returning in May and for my students who finished at the end of March. And I’m fully, wholly, categorically spent, sapped, drained, wiped and out of all batteries. Until my wakeup call nearly four weeks ago, whereby I enthusiastically drank too much at a virtual zoom ‘wine and cheese’ fundraiser, because it was something different, with other humans and clearly, I needed an outlet, coupled with stress from eight months of keeping it together and taking on extra projects …. I did not realize how much making everything go well, cost me. (To be clear, I am not a heavy drinker; so my too much is someone else’s perfectly ok).

You give a Type A overachiever a challenge and natural instinct is to control it and crush it. I think I approached COVID and online learning much the same way. If I have to online teach, I’m going to crush it. I will overcompensate for the lack of human contact to make it the best possible experience I can. I stayed super positive, super organized, super responsive, super encouraging …. Everything was ‘extra’.

I did not want my students to suffer, either experientially or quality of education or their own mental health and I wanted to keep my faculty motivated and engaged so they would do likewise, in their own way. And you know what? It was the best class ever, the best two semesters ever. Whatever we were doing was working so we kept doing it, always working to sustain the excellence and the magical experience we had created in amongst this shitshow that is the pandemic.

I was genuinely sad when I knew I had to say goodbye to the students who rallied through the online learning. No wonder my drinking was the week before they were set to leave. I cried the night before my accident knowing it was all about to be over. The kind of crying you’re not sure is because you are saying good bye or because it’s over — kind of like a marathon is over and you’ve nothing left to give. Now what?

I even took on some clients during the month of March figuring I could find time to spare. I worked more on weekends, once a protected time. But hey, there’s nothing else to do, so why not? All throughout, I kept my shit together. I kept it together for my family so my kids would stay positive, for my husband so he would stay motivated. I missed my retail therapy and even running errands. Costco was my only ‘out of house’ experience. I went for morning jogs and Pilates, both five or six times a week, figuring if exercise is the anecdote to stress and the elixir for mental health, I would go all in. Yes, I even over-achieved my fitness routine.

The unintended consequence: a week after (the image of the day after is too scary)
Two weeks after the one above: getting better

Everything was done at 110 per cent. I did not realize that putting in 110 per cent for a sustained and extended period of time — hell, a never-ending period of time — for so many humans I would eventually hit a wall when my body would say, ‘enough’. And apparently, I needed a literal whack on the head to get the message: a full-on seizure while walking the dog where I landed on my face and in the hospital with lifelong reminders now of the danger of 110%.

(Note: I am not an epileptic; a seizure for me is the hangover-from-hell. Hence why I carefully watch my intake. If I drink too much when stressed, this is what happens. It’s embarrassing and highly regrettable. I clearly and obviously misjudged the stress I was under. Also, my dog saved me. My tiny Havanese barked until the neighbour’s dog barked, alerting my neighbour to come out — and I am grateful.)

My message here: check in on your overachiever. If somebody is Molly Sunshine all the time, check in. Being ‘just okay’ for an overachiever is like failing. But they are not okay. Are any of us? An overachiever does not want to be ‘okay’ or to admit they aren’t. Instead of asking ‘are you okay?’ (when you know they aren’t) heap some praise, show some gratitude and offer to take something off their plate. If you are asking them, “I don’t know how you are getting it all done” chances are they don’t know either…they just are. Until they are not. Check in on your overachiever. They’re tired and drained and don’t know where to turn for the fuel that drives them and they’re terrified of losing that which makes them ‘extra’.

And for you overachievers who think doing more and being more is what keeps your head above water, try doing less. Everyone and everything in your life will continue to function. Sometimes, less is more.

No one is okay. This pandemic is taking its toll in ways no one could imagine and many of us don’t realize or fully appreciate — mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically. This is not a contest to see who’s doing better or worse. It is a challenge for all of us to pay attention and take care of ourselves and others. But as they say before a flight takes off, put your own oxygen mask on first. This is just one story. My story. What’s yours?



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Donna Lindell, MPR

Professor and program coordinator for the post-graduate public relations program at Centennial College, experienced PR pro, Top 40 Under 40 (2003), researcher.