Nine years ago, I was burning out and didn’t even know it. I knew something was wrong and that I needed a break in the biggest sense of the word, but I didn’t know I was experiencing a breakdown of my nervous system (aka nervous breakdown or burnout). I had to do SOMETHING, so I decided to take a sabbatical year off from my job in health care. To everyone including myself, I was taking a year off to “explore other options” and try other fields of practice in Occupational Therapy. In reality, though, I was attempting to keep myself from crashing and burning. I was trying to save my own life! With time, I learned to see and acknowledge what was really going on. Turns out my sabbatical was a burnout in disguise. Maybe you’re experiencing the same “signs and symptoms” I was, and are willing to take a look at things more closely. Could you be burning out? Because if you are, preventing the full-blown nervous breakdown is a hell of a lot wiser than spending 2 years trying to get back out of bed once you finally do crash.
Signs and symptoms:
- You’re ALWAYS tired. Exhausted. Going up the stairs feels like climbing Everest.
- You’re not sleeping well, even though you’re exhausted.
- You get sick often (colds and other viruses or bacteria). Your immune system is weak.
- You have major cravings for sugar and everything “comfort”.
- Your mind is like a Monkey on steroids. Your thoughts, worries and preoccupations are out of control and you feel powerless to stop them.
- You live in a constant state of anxiety. It can be mild or manifest into panic attacks.
- Your emotional sensitivity is heightened. You cry often, are hurt easily and may even feel depressed.
- You feel like you’re constantly on survival mode.
- There are days you literally can’t get out of bed and have to call in sick.
- You’re a pro at pretending “all is well”. Nobody even suspects you might be suffering.
- You’re frazzled, overwhelmed and feel like at any moment the earth could crack open and swallow you up. And you wouldn’t care.
In conventional medicine, there is no real test for burnout or nervous breakdown. The patient may present with all the signs and symptoms of burnout and end up with a diagnosis such as:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Adrenal fatigue
I’m not saying this is the case in every situation…But when your doctor doesn’t know what is wrong with you and can’t treat your fatigue and other symptoms with drugs (except possibly with anti-depressants), chances are you fit in the category I’m talking about here:
“On Way to Full Burnout”
Is that you? Could that be your spouse, sister, best friend? It is possible to live with someone who is burning out and have no idea! Especially if that someone is a woman. You see, she will carry on with her obligations and duties even though she feels like she is dying inside. Her will and sense of duty may be stronger than the burnout. But she can’t keep going like this for much longer. She may be taking care of the kids, working at her job and putting food on the table, but every chance she gets, she lies down and closes her eyes or cries in her car. She takes a few moments to gather herself before important meetings, does a lot of self-talk (“Come on, you can do this!”), pushes herself and when she can’t, she collapses on the floor and prays.
Men and women experience burnout differently, in most cases. Imagine a race car that drives along at very high speeds then crashes into a wall: That’s a man burning out. He will just fall one day and no one will understand what happened. Now take a regular car that drives long distances and begins to experience mechanical problems. It breaks down, stalls, loses parts…It gets taken to the mechanic often and gets patched up, with temporary fixes. But one day, if the problems aren’t addressed properly, it will break down and be useless: That’s how a woman burns out.
What to do if you’re burning out:
- Don’t panic! If you finally realize the truth, that you’re burning out, be grateful that you’re catching it before it catches you. You can get help. You are not doomed.
- Go see your doctor BEFORE you go to your employer. Get a note for some time off. Let them call it sick leave if necessary.
- Go to your employer’s HR department and hand them the note. You are under no legal obligation to give details.
- TAKE TIME OFF.
- If you are self-employed, the previous 3 steps may not be so simple, however you have NO CHOICE but to figure something out. Hire help. Delegate everything you can. Drop a project/business that’s sucking the life from you. Schedule in some rest/you time EVERY DAY. Take a week or two or three off.
- Get on the path to recovery. You’re not going to get help from the medical system, let’s face it. If you need the anti-depressants to get you out of a hole or keep you functioning while you seek alternative help, great, but don’t make drugs your only solution. Consult a naturopath/specialist in functional nutrition. Go to energy healers. An Ayurvedic doctor will be able to help you immensely. See a massotherapist, an acupuncturist, osteopath, counselor, coach, etc. Take one discipline at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed with appointments and regimes to follow.
- Be kind to yourself. Rather than beating yourself up for getting here or basking in self-pity, have some compassion toward yourself. Treat yourself the way you would care for a precious loved one in need. It’s time to give yourself a break. It’s time to heal on a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level.
Having been down the burnout path, I can tell you there is light at the end of the tunnel. I did what I had to do to get myself through, but I did it the hardest way there is: in secret. I suffered alone…You do not have to.
When you feel like you can’t put one foot on front of another anymore, consider the truth, and ask yourself: “Could I be burning out?” If the answer is “yes!”, turn off your computer or device right now, and make a plan. Who will you call? When can you go see your doctor? What can you drop from a full plate RIGHT NOW?
Here’s to burning bright, instead of burning out.