Why I burned out (and why you don’t have to)

I’m writing this because I’m a bit messed up. But I’m also way less messed up than I was a couple of years ago.


I’m on a journey towards a healthier way of living and I want to share it with you. This journey began a couple of years ago (two and a half to be more precise):

Burnout

I was pretty worried. I thought I might have broken myself irreparably. My weight had dropped below 60kg from a lean 75kg just a few weeks earlier. I was sitting in a hospital clinic preparing for an endoscopy (the one where they shove a camera hose all the way up your bum hole).

The nurse was struggling to get a blood sample. My veins were so shrivelled and dry that it took 5 attempts before the needle would penetrate one. Then they attached me to a heart rate monitor which kept setting off an alarm because my resting heart rate was falling below the accepted level.

At this point I was also awaiting the results of the scans from the day before. They were looking for cancer — their only possible explanation for my rapid weight loss and the host of other symptoms I had developed.

I was worried, but I was also strangely numb. I certainly didn’t want to die, but maybe if I had cancer it would give me a reason to be kinder to myself.

That may sound like a bizarre idea. This wasn’t something that just happened to me. It was something I was doing to myself. I just didn’t see any other way to be.

Recovery

When I was called into the hospital for a follow up 6 weeks later, the only advice my doctor could give was “whatever you’ve been doing for the last 6 weeks, keep doing it!”

So what changed? What transformed those concerned looks on the face of the doctors into surprise and curiosity?

I could talk about diets and treatments and medication. I tried all kinds of stuff in search of a solution to my rapidly waning health.

But I think the real turning point for me was a decision. Not just a decision I made with my head, but with my whole body. The decision to be kind to myself. To give myself a break. I am incredibly grateful that it didn’t take the onset of cancer for me to learn that lesson.

See, I was trying to prove something. I wanted to show that I was useful. That I wasn’t a fuckup. I guess I was never really convinced of that myself and so I hoped that through my profession I could get some acknowledgement. I was waiting for someone to tell me I was doing okay. But despite receiving plenty of compliments and recognition for my work, somehow that hunger was never satisfied.

My mind would always find another reason why I wasn’t good enough. And the only way I knew how to improve was to mentally punish myself.

The great irony is that this self-criticism only fuelled my need for validation even more. The more I berated myself for not being good enough, the more the need for approval grew. I wasn’t getting it from inside so I worked harder to get it from somewhere else. And so the cycle continued, until the wheels started falling off.

Even though I thought I was looking after my body and my mind — I ate a healthy diet, I exercised regularly, and meditated every day — It was all motivated by a subtle contempt for myself:

I have to do this to be better, because what I am is not good enough.

This experience shocked me into seeing things in perspective. Through necessity, I started to explore the question “what would happen if I gave myself the approval I am seeking from others?”

What I learned is that I have inherent value. I am, and therefore I deserve to be. Everything else I may do or achieve is a bonus. Nothing can make me any more than I already am.

I am sharing this because it applies to you too. You are good enough NOW; no success or failure you may experience can change that.

Why am I writing this now?

Despite having had this beautiful insight — and having resolved to live my life differently — I often forget this golden rule. I still find myself drifting into unhealthy working habits. Saying yes when my heart says no, comparing myself to others and working long hours to the detriment of my health and relationships.

I’ve decided to start blogging about this to help me stay on the right track towards a healthier, more balanced life. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes. Maybe you just need to hear that you’re not the only one who struggles. I hope to open up a space for people to share their experiences.

Sharing personal feelings can be hard, but what I learned from this experience is that it really helps.

When I get stressed and anxious, I have a tendency shut down and isolate myself. When we stop connecting with others we lose perspective, and small fears can grow into terrifying nightmares. I want to help create a space where people can talk about their imperfections as well as their achievements.

Sometimes I get tired of hiding behind the mask of a professional. Behind every job title is a human being, strong, resilient, but also fragile and beautiful. 

Whatever stage of your career you are at, you will always be human, and that’s a wonderful thing!


Let’s talk

I know I am not the only one who has struggled. If there’s anything here that resonates with you please share in the comments.

The more we share the less we carry alone.

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