OPINION

The Flatlander

Guarding Against Depletion: Ask What Fills Your Bucket

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I know people who work all the time. For them, it’s a source of pride.

I’m not one of those people. The kind who takes pride in it, anyway.

Two weekends ago I found myself collapsed in a reclining chair, depleted. There is no other word.

No energy in any limb, barely able to think, and honestly on the verge of tears. In the preceding weeks and days leading up to that weekend, I’d spread myself so thin, tried to complete so many things, there was just nothing left. Zero. It happens several times a year, and I’m working to fix it.

That’s what you do with a problem, right?

You fix it before it becomes a worse problem.


Again, working is not a prideful thing for me. It’s just how I’m wired, and especially in the mid-50s. It seems there is so much that needs doing, and so little time to do it.

It’s not easy just sitting around doing nothing. And it’s compounded by the fact that at the place I call Tranquility Base in our beautiful Round Bottom Valley, there is always something that needs doing.

It’s yard-mowing season, and that’s no small chore at the base. On a good day it’s a five-hour ordeal that even with a nice commercial lawn mower leaves my aging bones aching for days. Lawn mowing day is typically an eight-ibuprofen day for this old guy.

Our second-year garden is 200 percent bigger than last year, and without so much as a first fruit, it’s already been a tough year. Magnified by my know-better instincts to plant in mid-March, I’ve already fought three killer frosts, covering every square inch in plastic, straw, and buckets. And there are 16 young fruit trees that required cover as well.
There are eight chickens now needing attention twice a day. They have a nice heat lamp, their box is cleaned daily, and they get fresh food and water twice, sometimes three times daily. Some days I wish I was a chicken.

And bees. Who puts on heavy set of coveralls with a big screen covering their face in the dead heat of summer?

Hello. My name is Steve.

And the list goes on. There are story assignments and columns to write for the Stone County Leader, an institution I believe in, and am proud to serve. I have a side hustle writing books for a literary agency in Santa Monica, and at 55, for better or worse, I’m pretty much the head of our extended family now. It’s not something I count as burden, but as privilege. Still, though, a real responsibility.

For someone who’s terrible at saying no, loves the written word only slightly more than he loves food and cooking, and believes you ought to always be a rookie at something, all this has a compounding nature. You can only spin so many plates before they come crashing down.

It’s exactly where I found myself last Sunday night. Again, it’s not exhaustion. It’s depletion. There’s a difference and it’s the only word I know, For someone with a history of depression, depletion is never a place you want to stay for long.

It took years to realize all this, and to understand how to manage it. If you don’t, it will manage you, enough so that you can even lose sight of who you really are. At the core, that’s what depression is. A total loss of self.

It was just last year that I had a real revelation understanding all this, and it’s now become a part of an annual self-assessment.

Each year, a few days after Thanksgiving I set aside a couple of weeks for deeper thinking. Those two to three weeks will include no major projects or deadlines, but oftentimes will include a trip that gets me away from all the noise. Most typically, I’m thinking about a life plan for the new year, an analysis of the current year, and trying to determine if I may be approaching a new season in life. This is something I believe. Just as the trees of the Ozarks show us their glory over time, we too, live a life of seasons.

As much as we want to cling to the seasons of the past, time marches on. I’d love to claim I’m still in the peak of the summer season, strong, lots of vitality, in the peak of production. But the reality is, I’m somewhere in the fall, who knows, maybe even late fall, and that by the grace of God, for who knows what tomorrow holds?

Toward the end of last year, I was working at a new job, finishing a major construction project, adjusting to a new way of life in the Ozarks, and completing production of four versions (hardback, paperback, electronic and audio) of a new book that released in November. It created one of those depleted moments when I felt paralyzed.

So, I resolved to fix this recurring problem. I wrote down four words on paper that described what my life was about, and how much time ought to get spent in each one.

I think of each one of these areas as a set of buckets that need balancing. Sometimes, you have to put more in a bucket for balance. Sometimes you have to take a bit out.

We’ll talk more about that specifically in the next edition.

See you in next week’s newspaper.

(Steve Watkins is a reporter/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at steve@stonecountyleader.com).

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