It’s been awhile since I have posted anything as there has been much change these past few months for me. I have taken my own advice when it comes to self care and have given myself the gift of time, to think, to feel, to reflect and wish to share some of those reflections with you.
It’s interesting as the last post I wrote was affirming Glennon Doyle’s words…”we can do hard things” which has been an especially important message for me these past few months. Since I last wrote, we are in the midst of another lockdown, we are in the middle of winter in the longest yet shortest month of the year, it’s so cold that it’s hard to be outside and active and it’s a time when many are struggling with anxiety, depression, lack of motivation and sadness. It’s been a lot once again.
And since September, I have attempted to write an article on burnout five times. This is very uncharacteristic of me because when I set out to do something, I usually do it. Yet, each time I was about to publish an article another thing happened in my life, preventing me from completing it. I felt I couldn’t publish it because the truth was, I was spiralling into burnout myself, so it didn’t feel authentic to speak about it when I was experiencing it.
Let me explain. A word that has been spoken about a lot in the past year is grief. The Harvard Business Review published an article in March of 2020 called, That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief. I think for a lot of people that article was helpful in identifying a big part of what they were experiencing but possibly not knowing what it was. For many people the grief they felt was loss of freedom, loss of income, loss of certainty, loss of stability...the list was long. So much change, so much loss...so much for our bodies and minds to process. That article was helpful for me in naming what I was experiencing but also was foreboding with what was to come.
The beginning of the year was marked with a lot of change in my personal life with a friend losing a sibling, followed by a friend being given a terminal diagnosis, followed by a pandemic that changed my home and work life. It was a lot within 5 weeks. It’s interesting when we are faced with stress, what our bodies do. I usually go into ‘doing’ mode...I start making to-do lists, I have projects, I wake up early, I stay up late to get things done. It’s like the dial on my nervous system gets turned up a few notches and I respond with doing. That doing can easily translate into what I call, a Wired but Tired adrenal response but with time and with grief, I couldn’t keep continuing on at that intensity. My usual way of being and doing wasn’t possible anymore. My nervous system was too overwhelmed and I felt it through lack of motivation, through fatigue, through brain fog and sadness. But life does what life does, it moves on, requiring us to evolve, to adapt and I did that...perhaps more reluctantly than usual, but I did it. With time, I adjusted to our ‘new normal’ but it was all a lot heavier than before. And, in June my friend passed away which knocked down most of the resiliency I had left and as I was attempting to rebuild myself back up, my father died by suicide...and the collapse into burnout happened.
I’m not one who writes a lot about myself or my personal journey. It’s something I don’t readily do, but in this case, I felt it was important. A common theme discussed in my Naturopathic appointments that has been augmented this past year, is that people feel very alone. Although this may seem obvious, as many people are physically alone, it extends beyond this - that even when people are in dialog with others through video chats, phone calls, texts and through their work, many people don’t feel seen, don’t feel heard and ultimately, don’t feel understood. This is one of the most heartbreaking experiences of this pandemic, how alone people feel.
Brene Brown has highlighted for us the importance of vulnerability, of authentically showing up. This is tricky in the best of times, but especially difficult when things are hard. For me, as a healthcare provider, this is particularly difficult and why I feel it is important to share. Our usual Canadian greeting of, ‘how are you doing?” with the expected response of ‘fine’ or ‘good’ is no longer working, which I’m grateful for. It’s important to show up and let others know how we are doing...how we are really doing, especially when it’s hard.
Many people are not doing well. They are genuinely struggling and fear that in sharing this with others, it will be unwelcome, perceived as negativity or complaining. We can very easily compare our grief and our struggles to others...assuming that if someone else is going through something hard that we perceive to be bigger than our own, then we are not able to share openly about our struggles. Although perspective is important and discernment has a place, we can’t compare the struggles of others to our own because we never know what that means for them and how their unique personality is processing it. More so than ever, we need to open up to others, to honestly dialog about where we are at.
To be understood, to feel seen and heard by others are the building blocks to trust, to friendship and to community. To not have these, leads to loneliness, to isolation and can lead to the plethora of symptoms that are under the umbrella of mental health. The Loneliness Epidemic, that is now being researched and explored more intensely has come out with shocking information...that loneliness and social isolation can be just as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s real, the level of pain and disconnect that others feel and the negative implications this has on our whole being.
The point of this article, my intention in writing this, is to let you know, I have been burnt out. I have a lot of wonderful tools in my toolbox and I thought I was doing everything ‘right’ but amongst it all, my life circumstances were too much and my body and mind communicated through the symptoms of burnout. I’ll speak more about burnout in an article to come but for now, please know, you are not alone and that there is value in opening up about your experience, no matter how hard or difficult that may be. When we do so, it empowers others to do the same. That even though your grief and your life experience are unique to you...they matter. If you are struggling, please reach out to get the support you need. For me, it was through the help of a really great counsellor and work with a wonderful Naturopath that built back my body and mind...a process that is ongoing. With time and the support from trusted friends, I am beginning to build myself back up. 2020 threw me around like a bag in a windstorm that then got hailed on. I’ve been broken apart, I’m torn, I’m different than I was before and I’m sharing that with you in hopes that if you are feeling broken, alone or misunderstood, that you have the courage to reach out to those that you feel can help.
Grief can rip us open and with time and with the help of others, we can put the pieces back together. Please know your experience matters, that you matter and I hope in me sharing this, that you know you are not alone.