It was 2 am, sometime in 2019, and my eyes were watering from staring at my laptop. Profound fatigue settled into my back from hunching over in my chair, and no amount of ibuprofen was going to help me get through the rest of the night.
As I tried to massage some feeling back into my muscles, I told myself I would have to do something about my posture one day, or I would spend my golden years popping Morphine like my mom and dad.
My pregnant wife and snoring daughter were sound asleep in the other room, and every once in a while, I would go and peek in on them and wonder how I got so lucky. By this time, I had been working for 18 hours, and staring at the warm bed was getting me emotional.
I still had so much to do, but when I sat back in the chair, I clicked over to Facebook, only to see a picture of Gary Vee with a look on his face that could only say, “Get back to hustling, motherfucker!”
At that moment, I began to hate Gary.
Why was I doing this to myself?
My family needed the money. In a few short months, I would have a new life in my hands, and my freelancing combined with SSDI wasn’t paying the bills, and I would somehow have to come up with a few more thousand dollars to pay for the c-section.
Most of the day I was writing, but there was also building my brand on social media, and I couldn’t afford a team to help me like Gary-Fucking-Vaynerchuk.
I didn’t have a choice, or at least I thought I didn’t.
Depression settled into my brain between my temples like a headache, and anxiety was making me nauseous and dizzy. The voices I worked so hard to silence were waiting for any opportunity to break the lock on their cage and fly screaming through the passages of my mind.
I was in bad shape, but I couldn’t quit.
I Thought I Had to Hustle
If there is one word I could use to describe myself, it would be stubborn. I stuck with my schedule, except when there was a prenatal checkup or an event at school I had to attend. I was not very selfish with my time, because Flora and Zoey needed me, but I couldn’t let up either.
I thought the only way I would finally break through and start making decent money was to publish multiple times a day, and the work I put out couldn’t be garbage. It had to be quality, and I was pushing myself brutally every day despite the exhaustion.
The worst thing was that my mental health was precarious, and every day I pushed and didn’t get enough sleep, a flood I was keeping locked up behind chains was loosening. Already the voices were leaking out and whispering from the shadows. I was anxious and depressed, and as hard as I tried to push it all down, it still threatened to overwhelm me.
Still, I hustled. I was all over social media, and as I sick as I was of seeing my own face and reading my writing, I published. I engaged, and commented, and shared, and spun, and embellished until one day I couldn’t.
It was a Sunday, and I had only been trying to sleep for a few hours. I lay quietly in the dark with the blanket over my head, breathing the stale air and wishing for sleep. I thought a glass of water would help, but as I pulled the covers off, and the light shining in the crack between the curtains hit my eyes, something terrible happened.
The floodgates in my mind burst open.
A Week in Hell
The cacophony in my head was deafening. All pressure from a month of pushing angst and fear down exploded into fireworks of sound and fury. The voices were gibbering and laughing because they were free, and my defenses were so weak I had nothing to do but accept the punishment they dished out.
The depression traded blows with anxiety as they wrapped their cold hands around my insides and squeezed.
After a few minutes, a deep headache settled in, and I retreated under the blankets and moaned. No one checked on me because they thought I was sleeping and didn’t want to disturb me.
I was alone with my demons.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened as I lay there curled fetal, but I know it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced. A few times, I expected my 51-year-old heart to give out. I welcomed it.
As the hours wore on, one thought kept echoing again and again: I wish I would die!
Between the shrieking of the voices and my moaning, I started thinking of ways to end my life and the pain that went with it. I focused on the idea that I should kill myself and let it anchor me.
I jumped out of bed and ran into the kitchen, hoping to find a knife to plunge into the artery in the side of my neck, but my wife was there, and I begged her for help.
And as much as she was sick and uncomfortable from being pregnant, she did help me.
Over the next week, I mostly stayed in bed. I did get up when I had to relieve myself, or when something needed doing that my swollen wife couldn’t do. She managed to make plates of healthy and tasty food, and I drank a lot of water.
I had hustled so hard that my body and mind finally broke, and I knew I needed to change the way I worked if I wanted to survive.
No more hustling for me.
The Lesson in All This
I know some people thrive on hustling. 18-hour days mean nothing to them, and they can produce an enormous amount of work.
As much as I hate it, I am severely mentally ill, and I cannot afford to focus too much on work and forget self-care and the maintaining of my health. I need plenty of sleep, and my brain needs time to be quiet so I can decompress. Too much stress is deadly for me.
But, you know what? I know I’m not the only one. There are plenty of people, even writers, who have similar issues with their health and cannot push themselves to the brink of sanity.
The problem with hustling is that people like me think we can do it too. We glorify the 18-hour writing marathons and start to absorb struggle-porn, convincing us the only path to success is through hustling and grinding our asses off.
I still admire those people who can push themselves to produce, and I envy them because as much as I try to tell myself that I can learn to thrive on pushing myself, I can’t.
None of us should feel like we have to perform at a level we can’t maintain. No one should have to sacrifice their sanity to be financially successful and earn enough money to support themselves and their family.
Hustling is not for everyone, and can even be dangerous for some.
The Good News
I changed the way I work and still follow the same path over two years later. Now I have more family responsibilities because I am a primary caregiver for my kids. My wife works and has to deal with mental and physical issues of her own.
My focus is to make sure my family thrives and has whatever they need, but now, I am running a marathon instead of sprinting to get where I want to be.
I spend time in the morning with my family. We sit outside with our plants and drink coffee and plan our day. I am in no hurry to sit myself down to work because I know I will get there eventually. The kids get bathed and fed, and the house put in order.
When the baby settles in for a nap, and my wife is resting, I go to my office and write.
Some days I write for 6 to 8 hours, with plenty of breaks and time for diaper changes and bottles. Some days I manage an hour or two, but I don’t stress about it because I know it will all get done.
Some days I publish a story or two, but not every day. Sometimes I can write 3000 words without stopping; some days, I write a while and then spend the day reading.
I keep my stress level low because I know what will happen if I push too hard.
But the funniest thing happened. When I stopped hustling and quit living my life on social media, my earnings started growing. I wasn’t producing as much, but what I was creating was resonating more with readers.
I wonder if they noticed how much calmer I am now that I am not trying to force my way into their lives?
I write every day and publish when I have something fantastic. I don’t promote or build my brand on social media by dropping links and forcing engagement. I interact with my followers and subscribers and take time to think about the message I want to get out to everyone.
I’m not faking it anymore, and this month, I had my highest earnings ever!
Don’t feel like you have to be everywhere and hustle your life away to be relevant. Take your time and enjoy yourself, and don’t force it, especially if stress affects you as it does me.
Remember, this life is a marathon, not a sprint.
You don’t have to kill yourself hustling to get to the finish line.