“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administrating stimulants to an exhausted nervous system.” ~ Sam Keen
A burnout experience is never your own. It would be selfish to think that it was.
Your actions and behaviours have a ripple effect on those around you that range from small to seismic but here’s the thing, it isn’t like dropping a stone in a pond with immediate effect. The burnout stone is stealth like in nature. It gradually sneaks up on you and those in your life, moonlighting as the ugly stepsisters of – stress, anxiety & fatigue – until you hit the wall.
As the rolling stone gathers momentum, everyone around you politely accommodates your step-sisters. They adapt to your behaviour and accept this as who you are. All the while, your inner conflict is mounting, your confidence deteriorating, and your subconscious efforts of self-preservation see you withdraw.
Deep down, you know this life isn’t working. Still, you put your foot down harder.
Friends phone calls are left unanswered and social invitations dry up. Work becomes your excuse because it makes you feel important and justifies your behaviour. Unwittingly, you create an identity that isn’t easy to coexist with.
Those around you leave you be.
Therein lies the problem – acceptance. From everyone – including you. With burnout comes a decline in mental health and overall well-being. Others might recognise the mounting problem, but until you are ready to admit it yourself, you won’t listen.
Those around you don’t understand why you continue to put yourself through it. They don’t understand the fear driving you. The fear of losing your identity and high income. The fear of never being successful again. The fear of leaving what you worked so hard to build.
If you don’t understand it, how can you expect anyone else to? It’s a big ask.
The Life-Changing Impact Burnout Has on You and Your Family
Take your immediate circle. They live with the symptoms and absorb the tremors closest to the core. Your middle circle, or neighbouring allies recognise you are under pressure and learn to navigate your behaviour as required.
Besides, at the end of the day, you both go your separate ways. Then there are those on the periphery. For them, it is easier to put you into the too hard basket and move on – dismissed.
My inner circle is made up first and foremost by my Mr 15, Lewis. For the first 10 years of his life, he knew me as one type of person. One I didn’t like much and as I found out recently, neither did he.
5 years ago, I was forced to resign from a lucrative career that no longer served me well. It turns out being on call 24/7 for 14 years, servicing the implant needs of Melbourne’s spinal surgeons, had a finite end for this single mother.
At the time, I chose to share what I was going through with Lewis. With only two of us in the household, I couldn’t hide what I was going through, nor did I want to.
He knew the reason I resigned was because I wanted to change the person I was. He knew I visited my psychologist every month and was piecing together a new, more fulfilling life. One that for the first time, prioritised us.
Because of the burnout I was redesigning me, piece by piece.
Relentless curiosity that served me well as a sales professional became my self-discovery superpower. Energy became my currency as I looked for my purpose. Understanding what I stood for, what “lit me up” and how to protect that fiercely to prevent myself ending up in the same mess again.
No more burnout. No longer would success be defined by my sales number. It would be defined by the integrity of what defined me and how I brought that to life through the gesture of giving, human connection and learning.
Recognising the way out of my anxious mind, would always be through the world.
Today as I watch Lewis wolf down steaming crepes drowned in amber maple syrup, I can’t help but cast my mind back to the times where he sucked his breakfast through a thick red and white straw, a barber shop pole sticking out of a domed plastic cup.
We would leave home at 7.05am. Some mornings it would be in such a flurry it was like the house vomited us out the door. I would speed dial the local cafe as I started the car ignition and order our liquid breakfast ahead of time. Collection at 7.10am. If we heard the 7.12am morning quiz on the FM radio on the way there, we were late.
There are no words to describe how happy I am to leave that morning pressure cooker in another life. In comparison, today’s teenage mornings are best described as a slow cook simmer. We rise without the unwelcome intervention of any shrill alarm, our bodies and minds well rested and ready for the day ahead. The morning is calm, as is my brain.
It welcomes the luxury of space it has been afforded, relishing in newly paved neural pathways, illuminated by inspired creative thoughts.
The new relaxed pace has given my brain the opportunity to heal from 15 years of reality I had swept under the carpet. To relearn how to function using its entire capacity rather than singeing its edges through a constant state of emotional reactivity.
It’s a brain that is happy where it is, not desperately wishing it was somewhere it wasn’t.
Recently I had a light bulb moment grabbing Lewis, his teenage enthusiasm and a rainbow block of post it notes. Together, we completed what I can only describe as an intimate moment of truth.
With a line down the middle of a poster board, blue tacked onto my European laundry door, I asked Lewis if he would be happy to share how he felt within himself and how he would describe me, before and after I had left my job. I reassured him he had free reign – “say what you like, be honest, there is no right or wrong here.
I will respect everything you write.” I was going to do the same from my perspective. The left side representing “before”, the right “after” my resignation.
His post-it notes were pink, mine were yellow – and did he paint the board pink! He let rip. Pink notes were slapped left, right and centre with gusto. His handwritten words “angry”, “lonely” and “never listening to me”, staring me in the face, impossible to hide from.
There I stood thanking god his words on the right, “calm”, “laughing” & “listens to me”, now balanced the scale. Phew.
Two particular notes that needed some explanation were the name of the company I used to work for on the left and “Sitcheff” on the right. “What are these for buddy?” I asked. “For ages I thought that was your surname Mum”. I guess when your Mum has answered the phone that way your whole life, you probably would.
I was stunned.
In that moment I was instantly grateful for giving it all away. And for the realisation that my journey, would always be his journey too.