How I bounced back from burnout!

I'm heading into my burnout period.

It creeps up each year with the cold weather, the dark skies and insidiously mounting workloads.

The leaves fall, so do my boundaries and along comes winter.

Winter seems to be the time of year that I have to pay the piper. The time of year that all the things I gallantly said yes to, in months gone by, arrive on my doorstep for completion all at the same time. My edges get frayed, and I come undone as I try to juggle the demands of my commitments.

Burnout for me happens mostly because I have a bit of an 'I can do everything' personality that is massively at odds with being neurodiverse. I have to pay very close attention to organisation and planning; otherwise, it can get out of control in the blink of an eye. And guess what, I'm not very good at paying close attention.

For me, burnout shows up first of all as irritability and losing my patience quickly. My mood naturally affects my relationships and my ability to be supportive. I lose track of things. I miss deadlines and fail to stay accountable for my responsibilities. Then it will start to show physically; a tight chest and a heavy sensation around my heart. Not to mention the cold sores and touches of the flu. As the malaise sets in, I have a dreadful time at work (covered up with a smile), but I also don't feel like socialising either. If I do go out, I would have a few drinks too many and feel regretful the day after.

Historically I had handled burnout remedially, treating symptoms of stress with acupuncture, meditation, medication and sometimes, as mentioned earlier, with alcohol. I had pretty much accepted my winter blues as a thing that just happened to me each year. But then, about five years ago, something changed. I had been working with a Life Coach and slowly learning to question everything that I wasn't happy with. Winter came along, bringing with it the first signs of fatigue, and I started to ask; why had it become normal for holidays to be about recovery? And why did I still feel like I needed a holiday when I had just returned from one?

I wondered what it might be like to feel energised in the holidays rather than recovering, and the work began. I found a formula that helped me to bounce back from burnout, and it changed everything.

Awareness = Opportunity.

Annoyingly simple, isn't it? Though it's the most intense, emotional work I have ever done, and it started with a book recommendation. 'The Artists Way' by Julia Cameron. The book is a twelve-week course of lessons and tasks designed to unlock creativity. I got fed up with the book pretty quick and didn't complete it, but I fell in love with a process that the author refers to as 'Morning Pages'. The pages are a commitment to beginning each day with a free writing journalling task, filling 3 pages with the first thoughts that come to mind.

As I scribbled my morning thoughts, I realised how oblivious I had been to the notions that were in my brain. I was embarrassed to admit these ideas were even mine, though I found myself unable to look away from them, and I was gripped by the process. It brought the awareness that lead to the changes that improved my health.

I'm not saying that the writing ended my burnout, but that through it realise how much I disliked myself. Then, I would never have changed my lifestyle and slowed down without finding the compassion that came through seeing my thoughts on paper.

Ultimately the writing made it easier for me to address what I was going through. Like many people, I am conditioned to provide the 'I am fine', or 'Everything's OK' response when asked how I am. My brain didn't know how to come up with any alternative answers to questions about my well-being. I had never really been taught any brain management skills, and I certainly didn't know how to articulate emotion. One of my teachers, Brooke Castillo, explained for me that our brains like to do what they are good at and they are good at what they do a lot of. My brain had been doing a lot of suppressing of emotions and semi-conscious ruminating on negative thoughts. It wasn't that I didn't want to to talk about the shit time I was having, it was just that my brain wasn't wired for that and therefore it resisted doing so. The writing was an awareness tool—a window into my mind, that brought the opportunity for change.

It was only recently that I realised I had been dealing with burnout. In hindsight, I could easily feel dispirited at having taken such a long time to find the self-respect and love that would lead to beating it. But part of bouncing back is in loving what is. A bouncy-ball doesn't carry the floor with it, but it wouldn't bounce without it.

Happy Holidays Everyone.

Phil x

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