I had no idea what was happening to me. But it happened.
What started 8 years before as an energetic, umped up, high energy job became a draining drag. It felt like it happened overnight but it hadn’t.
When you love what you do, you ‘attack’ everything about it with gusto. You want to prove yourself. To show yourself competent. It is no surprise then that at the beginning of it all, you have no boundaries.
For me, it was working full time, being on call morning to morning and not even considering boundaries.
The lack of boundaries meant that my bosses called my office phone – which I carried home with me – all the time. They asked me about the day’s work, plans for the next day, reminded me of appointments, and kept me on edge to stay in performance.
Despite growing in the company to management level, my boundaries were gone. I could not assert myself and knew no other way of working. I fell into habitual burnout.
Burnout has many definitions; It’s the overwhelming sense of unending mental and emotional fatigue, the stress of taking on too much, the crossing of boundaries, and, it’s a pillar of impostor syndrome.
Burnout is characterized by symptoms and consequences. Ignored symptoms turn into suffered consequences.
So what are some of the symptoms I ignored and what consequences did I face?
If you are sleeping but not resting, going to be tired and waking the exact same way, it’s not your bed. It’s your stress. I was always tired and unable to relax no matter how hard I tried. Even vacation days didn’t help.
Imagine forgetting what you went into a room for, but constantly and daily. I started to forget both big and small things. If I didn’t write it down, it was gone. This caused me to procrastinate and fail to achieve my ‘perfect’ work goals.
Nothing could get me to work on time. Not the five alarms I set every morning, or my husband kicking me out of bed. I got to work late day after day and could not find a way out of it. While my work didn’t suffer, it was not to my desired quality. Every task was a chore. Things I used to enjoy were now unbearable.
I became emotionally absent from my work and slowly but surely, I stopped caring. I was now working to get through the day. It wasn’t important anymore, how I did it as long as it was done. I counted the minutes, hours and seconds until I left the office. I stopped talking and engaging with my colleagues like I used to and everyone became an annoyance.
I was emotionally spiraling but at home, I was easily triggered. I caught myself overreacting to small matters and no one was spared my wrath. Basically, I brought my work home in more ways than one and any chance I had to avoid people, I took it.
What stands out to me was the lack of knowledge. No one knew how to support or help me. People thought I had changed but that was it. My personal journey to find healing is why I became a coach. And here are some of the steps I took:-
Luckily, I had google. I learnt what was happening to me and I knew I needed to accept I had a problem. Acceptance is also about learning to be okay with your feelings, fatigue and suffering.
I had responsibilities and I could not avoid accountability. I had to tell my team and those I was answerable to, that I was suffering. This was roll of the dice because if the organization you work with doesn’t know how to help you, they may see you as a weak link. For me, I got no assistance, only ridicule.
What have you lost because you are burnt out? I listed it all down. The time for rest, family, opportunities, networking, socializing – all things that were important to me within and outside my employment. I then asked myself the question that would change my life and how I worked after that; I’m I willing to keep losing all these things? My answer was NO.
If you haven’t been insistent that your boundaries be respected, you will have a hard time asserting them to a group of people who don’t know what you are going through. But there is no other way out. I started aligning myself with my needs and boundaries. It rubbed people the wrong way but it was necessary. My boundaries covered my time, space, private life, and grew to doing exactly what was my job, not more. As you can imagine, I was not making friends and those who felt I was changing against their expectation, fell by the way side.
However, your boundaries are not validated by those who accept them or invalidated by those who don’t. Your boundaries matter.
Boundaries can be set everyday but if you don’t respect them yourself, it’s all a waste. There will always be people trying to get you to reduce, let go or change your boundaries. I faced these challenges and uncomfortable moments but it was part of the journey, and I could not escape it. Eventually, the environment became too toxic and I had to leave. This might be your reality if you get no support. But if you are to fight burnout, you must hold your end and live according to your new regime.
Fighting burnout doesn’t have to be a lonely journey but if it’s your first time setting them, be ready to fight for your space. If you stay in habitual burnout, the consequences are not just emotional but eventually - physical.
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Coach Mary Medley
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