In the Cambridge dictionary burn out is described in one sentence.
‘Extreme tiredness usually caused by working too much’
I read that burn out wasn’t officially recognised by the World Health Organisation in its classification of diseases until 2019. They stated that it shouldn’t be applied to areas of life other than work and yet when I burned out, it was both personally and professionally. Some of the things I experienced were feeling disconnected, drained, numb, heavy and isolated. I had lost the ability to relax and my nervous system had me on high alert most of the time.
The slow burn
The problem with burn out is that it builds slowly. Mine spanned 3 1/2 years and started when I became pregnant. I was happily married but at this point loathed my job, in part because I had out grown it and in part because it had become a toxic place to work.
On my return to work I felt the pressure to return to full time hours. The next 18 months was me proving my worth. I worked full time hours over 4 days and spent most of my evenings with my laptop out as I climbed the promotion train. Promotions I didn’t even want, all I wanted was to leave. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that my then husband was in the same department, loved his job and didn’t want me to leave.
At this point it's all stress and poor choices right? Then came a bigger house we didn’t need and I personally didn’t want. I know what you may be thinking, why would you do something you didn’t want to? Now I’m leaving part of this story out as I don’t feel it’s fair to others involved, but it is fair to say I was supporting everyone else and not looking out for myself.
The tipping point
In 2016 I had a conversation which broke me but I didn’t say anything. For six months I carried on and this is where everything began to fall apart. Instead of doing something I did nothing, I put a smile on my face and I carried on as normal because I couldn’t face what I needed to do. I didn’t talk to my family or my closest friends and I walked into Christmas 2016 the most lonely I have ever been.
2 weeks later mid way through the day I picked up my things and left the office, an office I never returned to. The next day I flew to Spain to stay with my parents because they had always been my anchor and I needed to break down. Five days later I flew home and ended my marriage. I signed myself off work before later resigning, the anxiety this produced was immense because in that space I felt I was being treated like a problem that needed to be fixed.
The noise begins
Everything got so loud; work, family, divorce, and starting over. Noise is not my friend, inner ear issues meant I grew up uncomfortable in busy spaces. This felt like that only worse. Brain fog is often associated with burn out, when you can’t cope with stress/trauma certain elements of your brain function shut down. Your ability to recall events is one of them especially if you then don’t talk about it. There are parts of that next six months where I have a vague memory but no detail even today, I often wonder if it’s because I didn’t talk about it properly for about 18 months.
In the very early months as I faced questions and uncertainty, burn out turned into anxiety. I was sleeping 2-3 hours a night and eating maybe once a day. My heart was in my mouth most days and all I wanted to do was hide. I got out of bed every day for my beautiful Bear and every wobble I had came back to showing up for myself so I could show up for her.
My other constant was the yoga practice I had found a few months before and I did it every day because with it I started to find my way through the brain fog. I realised I had spent so long being the support, being too afraid to put myself first that I didn’t know how to be myself and that was my rock bottom. How do you get to 40 and not know yourself?
Getting comfortable with me
I committed to getting to know me again and to finding little bits of the good stuff every day. I believed so much in the yoga practice that gave me back my self belief. I trained to teach it. I’ve always loved the sea but I was afraid of it and yet I now count wild swimming and paddle boarding as part of my #staylit list. Other things that make the cut: yoga on my deck, sunflowers, red wine, my bed, books, dancing, hot baths, the moon, walks in the rain. I commit to not only adding new things to my list but to weaving as many of those things as I can into my every day. Even when it’s just one moment in a super busy day, it makes a huge difference to how I manage stress in my life. Your relationship to yourself is not something you can pick up or put down to suit, it requires your continued attention much like the action of brushing your teeth every day! Four weeks ago I found my voice again to vocalise something I really want to do but have been afraid to say out loud for almost a year. Why? Well burn out is a scary place and I never want to go back there. What I realised is that so much is different now. I am different and I not only teach busting limitations, unravelling stress and showing up for yourself, I walk it every day. And those stay lit moments? Well they help me to navigate the storms in a teacup when they happen! Recovery from burn out is personal and cannot be prescribed. While others can inform, guide and signpost, it’s only when you begin to understand you and your needs that things can begin to change.