I was ready to quit my old job over 2 years before I actually did. This was the job before the one I quit to go self -employed. For me burnout reared it’s head in a number of ways and I don’t think I’ve ever really explained what burnout meant to me so here goes nothing!
Somewhere in the last decade I found myself in a job I thoroughly enjoyed and I was super proud of myself. I did however have an insane need to prove myself. As a single mum with massive inferiority complex and low self esteem I was overwhelmed with the need to prove my worth and my value. Little did I know what the cost would really be.
The job was fun, full on, interesting and supremely intense. It was a never ending merry go round where I was literally on the receiving end of everyones unhappiness. It was incredibly challenging at times but also incredibly satisfying and to start with I loved every second of it.
Burnout wasn’t even on my mind as a possibility when I started. Then the business changed. The goalposts and my hours increased from 37 to 45 to adjust to that, I wasn’t getting paid for that mind you, I was salaried and there was no such thing as overtime. As the goalposts continued to move and being head of the department, I didn’t want to let the side down. So, I started getting home late and then working some more. At this point I was still enjoying it though so it was fine.
That’s what I kept telling myself anyway.
Only it wasn’t, I was working more and more hours, late into the night once Josh was in bed and then I started to wake up multiple times in the night then finally when I did get up properly I was exhausted. I was becoming more and more disconnected from everything.
If I added it up, I would have learned I was actually working over 80 hours per week. But I was still adamant I was fine. Once I started to lose sleep, my appetite skyrocketed and I was starting to snack, needing sugar fixes and something just to make me feel better my health was definitely starting to suffer.
I started to hole up at home when I wasn’t physically at work, I quit my exercise class and drifted away from catching up with friends, I had a good excuse, I was working…all…the…time. I was getting more and more worn out and was getting less and less sleep. Then the headaches started. Permanent, vision blurring, slurred speech and my goodness the migraines – I can’t even explain what those did to me. I started to catch every cold and viral thing going around and my skin had become a bizarre shade of grey.
I thought I was managing but I was slowly killing myself.
The migraines got progressively worse, my body started poisoning itself and all the extra work it was trying to do because I simply wasn’t taking good enough care of it dislodged some gallstones which got stuck in my liver duct, so I wasn’t being figurative earlier, I was literally poisoning me.
I went to a GP who dosed me up on medication that simply wasn’t right for me because she looked at the symptoms rather than the causes. Understandable maybe but I didn’t really understand myself better.
I couldn’t continue this way and was referred to a neurologist. He said ‘imagine you were holding your arms up holding weights all day, what would that do to the muscles in your arms?’ I was sitting in the chair in his office, running a temperature as he angled the fan at my head and helped me tip a bottle of water over my hair to cool me down. I couldn’t even think straight. He continued ‘what you are doing to your mind is the same thing, your brain is tired, it needs to rest and recover but you’re not letting it, it’s time to consider what is more important to you’
I don’t think I really took notice at the time. Over the span of a couple of years I had become incredibly lonely as my sense of disconnect grew and my sense of being unwell got bigger and bigger. I got myself into a rubbish relationship which only made me sicker and all the while I was pushing that 80 hour week for a job that in hindsight, really gave me nothing but a salary which was at least 15k a year less than it should have been.
I started taking better care of myself, I got out of the relationship but it took me another 9 months to quit that job.
Burnout fundamentally changed something in me and when I finally realised (or should I say admitted) what was happening and made the necessary changes I discovered that I had lost myself somewhere in the despair of it all. The person I am now is not the same one before burnout hit.
That’s what burnout was to me, it was despair, it was exhaustion, it was feeling un-tethered, it was physical illness and it was shame.
To crawl my way out of that hole I had to make some changes. I spoke to my employer and asked for support, they gave what they could and when that wasn’t enough I took an alternative position that had been offered to me by another company.
I radically changed my hours and reached out to some friends who understood me. I started to take my dog on long walks and set boundaries up so that nothing encroached on my quality time with my son.
Eventually, I quit being an employee altogether and became self employed. My focus on building the best business I can whilst honouring my physical and emotional well being and family.
I am still learning how to recognise the signs. For me some of the obvious ones are:
- Poor Sleep
- Finding myself overwhelmed around people
- Easily distracted
- Withdrawing into myself
- Increased appetite
What about you? Have you ever experienced Burnout?