On February in 2019, I had a mental break down.
Now, this was not the cinematic version where I lose my cool at work, break out into a tantrum and burn everything to the ground, begging someone, anyone to help me. It was a slow burn that was fully known and acknowledged by my boss and my colleagues at the time. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to be my line manager. She was kind, considerate and patient as all hell. At one point, prior to this complete breakdown, she even asked me if I wanted to take some time off. Being the hard-headed person I am, I told her I could power through until the end of the year.
I did…but at a cost.
Anyway, back to my break down. I remember that day clearly. I’d been having regular panic attacks on route to work, and usually, by the time work officially started, I would have calmed down just enough to make it to the end of the day. At times, I would even be distracted enough by the people I work with to ignore the gnawing feeling rippling through me just beneath the surface of my skin, signalling that something was in fact not quite right.
Something was very wrong.
I got into work, and as I tried to come down from my panic attack, I realized it was there to stay. By the grace of God, my boss walked in right then, took one look into my panic-stricken eyes and called me to her office. She sat me down, got me some tea and let me cry without saying a word. She simply sat next to me and put her arm around my shoulders.
Eventually, I had the courage to look at her. I didn’t know what to say or do. I had nothing left in me. She smiled, put her hand on mine and told me her plan: I was going to go home that day and sleep. (At that point, she was aware that I was functioning not very well on very little sleep.) She told me that I would not be coming in for the rest of the week and not to worry. I was going to take time off of work to get rest, get sleep and, most importantly, get help.
And I left work. For the entire month. I went to counselling more regularly (weekly instead of monthly), and I met with a doctor to talk through and experiment with developing a medication plan just right for me to help me sleep, decrease the number of panic attacks and get me back on my feet.
I eventually returned to work full-time feeling shaky on my feet, battered and sore. But I made it through. I also quit that job, but my boss was relieved to hear it. She knew that many teachers experienced burn out, and she reassured me that it was perfectly normal to take time off. Quitting at that point didn’t mean I was a failure or that I wouldn’t be welcomed back when I was better. Quitting, in that instance, meant I was finally putting my mental and physical health at the top of my to-do list.
Then my mom died.
The months that followed my mom’s funeral were mostly comprised of not showering, staying in bed all day and not being able to think clearly. I accepted that that was how grief was manifesting for me and bided my time. One day I would wake up, feel less shattered and more motivated. Maybe I wasn’t going to move mountains, but dammit, I was going to shower.
There’s a lot I’ve left unsaid about the hell me and my family went through with mom’s death, but it boils down to this: I am still unwell. Here I am, contemplating that time in my life when I burned out at work, exactly one year ago, and I’m left wondering: why am I still burning out?
I do have my good moments. Those days came in fits and spurts from August to December 2019, until it finally turned into a more normal routine. I was getting up. I was walking the dog. I was writing and reading. I was taking care of my home and myself. I was brushing my teeth.
However, I started to notice a pattern following this stage in my recovery. I would wake up feeling motivated and do productive things. Then I would get sick and be laid out in bed for several days. Following this, I would feel physically and mentally better and take another stab at living life again. Unfortunately, I would then fall down with illness again which totally halted any progress I could make towards a liveable, enjoyable future.
I kept burning out.
As I sit here and write this in the wake of another bout of burn out, I wonder why I can’t seem to move forward. Yes, I am still struggling with the loss of my mother, but I have so much in life to be thankful for. I am thankful for everything.
Looking at my life from the outside, it appears that I am in the perfect place to fully recover from anxiety, depression and grief from the loss of my mother. I am not working full-time anymore, and I have an insanely supportive and awesome husband who looks after me, constantly reassures me that there’s nothing to feel guilty about and cooks some damn good comfort food.
So, why do I keep burning out?
I’ve been blessed with the time to pursue my interests (e.g. reading, writing, alone-ing) with zero obstacles other than my own mind. My schedule is my own, and I use it as wisely as possible when I am not laid up in bed with a bad cold or stomach issues. The anxieties and pressures that built up for me in the workplace are no longer a constant thorn in my side.
But I’m still burning out.
I’m still getting sick, still getting panic attacks, still waking up to days where everything comes to a grinding halt. I’m no different now than I was back in February 2019. I am still struggling, and I still don’t know why, even after months of intensive counselling and finding the right balance with my anti-depressant medication.
Honestly, I’m stuck. Like that old-school “First World Problems” meme, I feel like I’m complaining about being in the perfect scenario for getting better: counselling, medication and actual time for self-care.
I want to be better. I want to be that fiery woman my husband met who was happily exploring the world, not afraid to get dirty, speak my mind and pursue my passions. I mean, I still am that woman, but she’s buried underneath piles and piles of debris in the form of physical and mental illness.
So, what do I do? How do I stop the burn out? How do I keep pursuing my passions while maintaining a knife’s edge balance on my mental and physical health?
I wish this piece of writing was one that would lay it all out for you, reader, in a nice, approachable list. But the truth of it is, I’m writing to you, reader, because I’m hoping you can tell me what I should do. I’m hoping you have the answers. So here I am, laying bare my heart:
How do you stop the constant burnout? Is there any hope?