When I burnt out I was traveling at 100 mph being batman; saving my business world from the bad guys and crooks who appeared disguised as project managers and stakeholders; and in my private life, fighting off the evil villain of my daughter’s chronic illness. I was working harder and harder and doing it with a smile and sometimes a snarl.
Finally, a message came through. My body finally broke through the wall I had put up in my mind to avoid the truth. My body is a dirty fighter and hit me hard with aches and pains and finally, took my mind. I was tired, cranky and short tempered. I was forgetful, I couldn’t even remember how to spell forgetful. I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted, worn out.
I had an epiphany. ” I need to stop, take a break before I break”. I thought I was so smart and that I had realized in time. Ha! Could I have been more wrong?
So I parked my bat mobile, got ready for a 4 week timeout and …… just stopped. Everything just shut down. I could barely function. I had used up all my reserves and was empty.
It took a long time to start back up again, 1 step forward, 1 step back, a step sideways etc. I started making progress, recovering, to function. However I realized that there were some things that I couldn’t do anymore and I feared I was broken. I felt broken.
You see, I thought that people are like elastic bands; when you stretch them too much, they break and they stay broken.
With my burn out, these are the “elastic bands” that broke:
– multitasking. It took all my concentration to make a cup of tea. I couldn’t have a chat with you at the same time.
– being able to take on the intensive 24 hour care of a critically ill baby with just my husband and I to split the shifts over. (Of course I had been trying to do this perfectly). A lot more work fell on my husband’s shoulders (sorry dear) because I wasn’t able to do my part.
– Being a superhero. Batman was gone, suit back in the cupboard. I just didn’t care to fight the bad guys anymore
– Being helpful: saying yes, I’ll fix that / take care of it, you can count on me. Gone. I just wanted to tell people to, well, insert your own swear word here.
I really thought I had lost a lot but something strange happened during this mega timeout. I started to see things in a new light. Those things I mentioned just now? This is what I like to call them now:
– ” tolerating being overworked”
– ” being taken advantage of”
-“not asking for help”
Now that I see these “elastic bands” for what they really are; negative, destructive behaviours. I am glad they are broken.
Who actually wants to be a superhero, working non stop, taking care of everything? (Never mind having to wear your underpants over your tights).
Who wants to do it all alone?
It was with relief that I realized that people are not like elastic bands, we are organic. We grow, adapt, learn new things.
New things have taken the place of the things I lost. These are my new things:
The ability to
– say no. Or “not now” and fit it into a time when I can do it without adding stress.
– recognize if I am becoming overloaded and getting cranky
– take action if that happens and get myself back to feeling good: look after myself
And these two are my favourite:
– letting go
– asking for help
Whatever I am doing, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
I can let someone else do it. I still think there are a lot of things that I can do better than anyone else – I’m not humble, I admit it!. But if it means that I can take a break, get other tasks done, just breathe, then it’s worth letting someone else do an average job. I can live with imperfection if I can just breathe.
So did burn out leave me broken?
Actually, it set me free. Those restrictive bands have burnt away, leaving me covered in a fertile ash where things can grow. I have grown, improved, become a better me.
I can get more done than ever before because I delegate and share the load. I accept and ask for help. I focus on what is important and I’m mindful and do one thing at a time (well, ok, I’m not living a zen life but I do it a lot more!).
I feel happy again, I laugh and I experience joy. I dream and I expect to make some of those dreams come true.
So people, remember this: we are creative, we are resourceful and we are whole.