The year was 2001. I was 26, newly and happily married. I had managed to turn my passion into my paycheque. My business was flourishing. I had just been featured on the cover of the business section, and numerous other publications and TV shows. Life was rockin' -- I had the world by the balls.
Except, one little thing. I wasn't sleeping. I was anxious. I was consumed by obsessive thoughts. I was crashing. I was on the brink of a burnout.
I am telling my story today in hopes of a few things. One, to explain the warning signs of burnout, and two, to tell you how to turn things around. I thankfully turned it around with help and support.
What a burnout or onset of a breakdown feels like, is the inability to feel at ease, happy, and restful. It feels like constantly being agitated. Everything pisses you off -- traffic, lines at the bank, phone calls. You get into bed at night, and your thoughts come at you a million miles a minute and consume your brain, and you are unable to shut them off.
Because of this, you do not get restful and restorative sleep, which leads to more anxiety and worry. I became so fixated on growing my business, that what happened was, the more I grew, the more I stopped appreciating it. Every high became no big deal. I was monopolizing our marriage with talks of both daily work stresses and accomplishments. Everything was do or die, life or death. I mapped out and planned every minute of every day, and managed to become a highly functioning and successful MESS.
I thank my mother who saw the wackadoodle I was becoming. She told me that maybe I should speak to somebody professionally, and not her (despite being a wonderful therapist herself). I was working out at the gym at the time with a lovely psychotherapist. I loved her aura... we got to know each other as we pushed through our workouts every week. I asked her if she'd see me.
Slowly but surely, with her help, and the support of my amazing husband and family, I started to return to myself. I have shared a few of the symptoms above of burnout (and imagine, I hadn't even had my kids yet). But, sometimes, the pressures of work, motherhood, marriage, finances, and everyday life become too much. Too overwhelming. So, if you feel you're headed down a dark path, here is what brought me back.
- Get help. If you find yourself on that slippery slope, find a therapist or someone you can speak to. An objective ear, and a shoulder to unburden my thoughts was the first step for me. Getting into therapy for one year was the greatest gift I could have given myself. I even started to LOVE and enjoy it. Yup, I did.
- Don't diminish your gifts, but rather balance them. One of the greatest things my therapist said to me, was not to diminish my talents. She told me I didn't have to stop doing what made me successful in life. She said, "Don't eliminate your gifts. Be your authentic self, but complement it and balance it with a calmer lifestyle." My aha and light-bulb moment. I didn't have to change who I was, I just had to balance my hectic pace, with calming activities. That was the birth of yoga for me. For you, it may be the gym, meditation, walking, a nightly bath, a massage. But something that calms your mind, body and spirit.
- Create a "Worry List" and leave it on your nightstand. My Worry List worked as follows: When my thoughts kept me up at night, the idea was to transfer them from my head and onto paper, to worry about them at another time (not during my sacred time, when I deserved to sleep). I still do it today. Off your head, onto paper to worry about tomorrow.
- Learn your limits and know what you need. And that doesn't mean what your friends, or neighbour, or society needs. It means what YOU need. It means that I listen to myself, not to what is the "norm," or "standard." It means that lunch is sometimes at 10:30 a.m. 'cuz I'm starving, or it means I got to bed at 8 p.m. with my kids, because I'm fatigued. I give myself what I need and not what the rest of the world is doing. It has made all the difference.
- Sleep is your biggest immunity booster and stress fighter. Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, recently started advocating for sleep. But I know, good restful and restorative sleep is my secret weapon. If you struggle with sleep, obviously the basics -- no caffeine after 1 p.m., exercise so your body feels physically tired at the end of the day, and go to bed early -- you'll have to Tivo Letterman! You'll function better for it. I have, for sure.
So, I thank my mother for suggesting that I needed help. I thank my therapist for carrying me and preventing me from crashing and fully burning out. And yes, I thank myself, for respecting my needs and limits and not pushing myself too far anymore. I ain't doin' that shit again! Nuh uh.
"It may seem admirable to work yourself sick, but the longer you burn the candle at both ends, the faster you'll burn out." - Martha Beck
Have you ever been close to burnout, or burned out? What were your strategies and survival tips that helped you come back to yourself? Please share with our community.
I've also included a Burnout Self Quiz where you can check yourself.