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Burnout – My Journey

I want to take a moment to paint a picture for you…a woman who is a master at getting her shit done, enjoys spending time with friends and her kids, traveling, being active. She is a survivor, has excelled through life, taking pride and using her intellect – from valedictorian to dean’s list to promotions at work. She is amazing at “checking the box” but not really being a driver and making active decisions in her life. Then something clicked for her. She was tired of just existing and used all that drive and motivation to go after something she truly desired – Life Coaching. She wanted to help people and make a difference. But with that decision came training, long hours and lots of internal emotional digging. Trauma from her past starts getting dragged up, but there’s so much of it and she is an “in her head” type of gal. She doesn’t fully deal with a lot of it – she just keeps moving because life has to keep going. Responsibilities and kids and day job and relationships are still there. So many balls are in the air. Even if she was stressed or tired, it all had to get done. So, she pushed and did it…most of the time with a smile. Life continues, moves on, the day job gets harder, daughters become teenagers and have normal teenage issues; but it seems like there is this internal driver inside her continuing to push her past what her body says is acceptable. That’s what she’s always done and she needed people to like her, to prove she was good enough, to see her as a good mom, employee, ALL THE THINGS. But all of those times she worked through lunch, without replenishing herself, without really resting, all the times she was exhausted and kept going, all the times she felt the tears coming and pushed them down and aside, felt the anger and stifled it down, didn’t allow herself to be human – they came at a price. She pushed too much, stayed in stress mode too long. Eventually your body can’t push anymore. Whatever the driver for the go-go-go, it doesn’t matter. The body doesn’t differentiate. It just reaches a point and says ENOUGH!

Now imagine all those things she took pride in, relied on…they began to fail her, shut down, disappear. Instead of needing the coffee break to perk up at 2pm, the fog rolls in at 10am – before lunch. The email that used to just write itself now gets rewritten multiple times and takes an hour to send. In her work, something she took so much pride in being good at, mistakes are made that may cost her the job that pays the bills. It impacts her judgement, her decision making, concentration, focus, energy. Those things she used to take for granted now feel like a thing of the past. Her coworkers comment on how tired she always looks; and how she looks is only half the story. She feels the fatigue in her bones. Where she used to be able to go and do things she enjoyed and loved, now she has no energy to do the NECESSARY – the coaching she pushed herself for, cleaning her house, walking the dog, evenings out with friends, doing fun things with her kids. It takes all that is in her to just wake up and make it through the work day.

This is before THE EVENT – the point at which her body screamed at her: ENOUGH!

Her child makes a rash decision that thankfully didn’t end her life. But that is a story to be told another time (maybe). Regardless, it pushed her to the point of no return, to the point that her body screamed at the top of its lungs, to what she calls her GROUND ZERO. Before she at least had it in her to do the necessary. NOW… she’s at rock bottom.

How would you feel? How would you react?

This was/is me. There were so many feelings, too many to know what to do with. What is wrong with me? Am I losing my mind? I used to be able to do these things…why can’t I now? I’m horrible at my job. So many other mean thoughts went through my mind. So, I spent a good chunk of time avoiding the feelings, because I’m an expert at that. Wine, Netflix binging, etc. aren’t bad in themselves – in moderation. But I used them to tune out and not feel the feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, regret, sadness. just flat out exhaustion. I wanted to feel more joy, happiness and all the good feelings; but I didn’t have the energy to do the things that brought me those feelings.

I’ll let you in on a secret…I’m a fixer. It’s what I do. I don’t accept sickness. Luckily, I had already taken steps before Ground Zero to find out what was going on to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind. Good news, I wasn’t. Like I said, my body had said: Enough. I got confirmation of that – a controversial, some think made up but very real to me, thing called Adrenal fatigue or burnout. My nervous system had been on high mode for so long it just shut down. So, I asked “What do I do to fix myself?” With a doctor’s (and my manager and several friends) help, I made the hardest decision that a perfectionist, over achiever has to make. I could continue pushing or listen to my body and take a break. I could take a leave of absence and prioritize myself for 6 weeks. That’s all I need, I told myself. I get to spend needed time to let my body rest and heal, focus on things that make me happy, build up relationships that I had let fall because I was just TOO DAMN TIRED.

Remember I said 6 weeks to do the things that made me happy, blah blah blah. Apparently our bodies have their own timelines. It literally took that long to feel like what I felt before THE EVENT. I could barely get out of bed at this point. I felt isolated. cried nonstop, gained 10 pounds, just existed and did the bare minimum. I no longer smiled and was a shell of my former happy self. I was barely managing myself, my emotions and my 2 troubled teenage daughters. No way was I ready to add work stress into that mix. With that came another decision…do I go back on my original date, once again PUSHING before my body was ready or do I listen to my instincts and continue healing? Regardless of whether or not I got paid or if I’d have a job when I returned, I decided to take a leap and extend my leave – a stress in itself.

During the second half of my leave I was able to move the needle (more on how I did that in a minute). I made progress. I was a woman on a mission to get better. I let go and asked for help. Did I want to? Nope! But I had no choice. It was accept help or waste this precious gift of time that I was given. This was necessary so that when I do go back to the craziness, I will not only be where I was, but I can have some skills on board to prevent me from getting to this point again. Fingers crossed!

While I’ve been on leave, I went pretty quiet with everyone except my close circle. Now I feel the need to tell my story in case there is anyone else out there either going through it now, or who may have the habits I had and am trying to change. Maybe, just maybe, you won’t end up where I am.

Here’s some things I’ve learned so far:

  1. Watch what you make it mean.

One thing I learned from coach training is to “Watch what you make it mean.” Our brain is a master at telling lies. It doesn’t mean you have to believe them. What stories did I tell myself? Ooohhh, the stories I told myself, the things I made it mean. “Because I’m this way now, I’ll never be normal again. I’m lazy, I should be able to do these things.” Get the gist?

  1. Be kind to yourself.

The things I said to myself were not kind. If these things had happened to a friend, I would have been so much more compassionate. You need to treat yourself as you would a friend.

  1. Listen to your body.

It knows what you need the best. When your body tells you it’s tired, REST. Even if it’s just for a little bit. If it’s hungry, eat. Get up and get moving.

  1. Do things you love.

This literally causes a chemical reaction that your body needs. Find things that make you smile and light you up and MAKE THE TIME.

  1. Stop pushing.

Embrace the flow. Hell…CREATE the flow, even if it’s the first time in your life. Oh yeah, and ask for help. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Your friends want to help. You just have to give up control and let them.

  1. Accept imperfection.

This one is critical because I’m pretty sure perfectionism is the driver that got me here. As I told my story I had to fight ALL that was in me to post this and not redo it a bazillion times. You got the edited only a hundred times version…because I’ve been making progress.  😉

During one of my discussions (OK, pity parties) with my boyfriend, I was complaining about my inability to remember things. While he thought it cute (joys of a new relationship, right??) he asked a question that physically hurt to consider: ”What if this is your new Normal?” My reaction…”Nope! I won’t let it be my new normal.” Why? Because i want to do too many things, help too many people change their lives. I have too much potential and too many people relying on me.

BUT I can’t do any of that in my current state. I have to accept that right now. I need to be lenient and extra tender with myself and stop the judging. I’m taking baby steps to change my habits. Like I said earlier, I was a woman on a mission. When I get that way, it’s a THING, an obsession. I tried so many different things – alternative medicine, acupuncture (which totally did wonders by the way!), lots of meditation and yoga to learn to quiet my mindless chatter (which was a big driver in the emails taking an hour to rewrite), noticing my thoughts and changing my stories and what I’m telling myself. My body needs to rest more. It’s OK to take a nap in the middle of the day. It’s OK to not be pushing myself to do more, to accept that things don’t have to be perfect. Do I have setbacks? Hell, yes. I still find myself getting restless when I set aside time to chill out. If Netflix asks me “Are you still watching?” I have to fight myself from automatically shutting it off out of shame that I’ve not been productive for that long. But I’m catching the negative thoughts and practicing planning better, eating better, making time for joy and connection and walks in nature – not just the checklists of things that have to get done.

I’m by no means back to my best, not even my pre-best; but I can only hope that with this little lesson I learned I will come back as BETTER than what was my best before.

How does this story end? I’m a work in progress. According to my research, adrenal fatigue can take 3 months to 2 years to recover, based on the severity. But I have to live my life in the meantime. I plan on going back to work in less than a month. Does it scare me? HELL, YES! But I can tell you that since I started this musing of mine (yes, it took me a LONG time to write) I don’t have to take mid-day naps as often, I’m being more aware of when my body tells me to “slow down lady.” I don’t forget as much, I can tell when my thoughts are spinning and I know ways to chill them out. I still struggle to retain information but I have gotten better at taking notes to compensate. Now the idea of going back to work doesn’t paralyze me anymore. I know the habits I was doing at work that weren’t healthy and will be more careful to avoid them. I’ll probably have to take more breaks than I used to and quit that working through lunch. Now I’m rambling…so I will end there. Not perfect – but progress.

Laura Russell
Laura Russell is a heart-centered Certified Life Coach who helps overachieving, stressed out women shift crazy expectations into reachable goals. Using a holistic coaching approach, she is your guide in creating new habits that will cut through the thoughts, emotions and beliefs that have kept you from making the changes you want. Using compassion, humor and sometimes a gentle prodding, she will help you create a new joyful life that makes you say "HELL YEAH!"
You can contact Laura via email or follow her on her website.

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