Hello dear readers!
Today I’m talking about a topic I’m unfortunately far too familiar with; burnout.
I’ve written about burnout before, but right now I am in the trenches; fighting tooth and nail to try and find some balance and reprieve. So I thought it might be helpful for me to detail how my days are looking right now, what’s caused this burnout, how I’m managing it and what I’m putting in place to try and prevent it from getting this bad in future.
What caused my burn out?
I personally believe understanding what’s caused your burnout is a very necessary and important step to recovery. Understanding and acknowledging what’s brought you to this point aids you in figuring out exactly what tools, tips and tricks will best help you recover.
For me, my burnout has been caused by a combination of triggers:
- Moving house
- x2 bouts of tonsillitis
- Attempting too many house reno projects at once
- Severe insomnia
- Our 20 year old family cat Oscar, passing away
- CRPS flare ups
- Endometriosis diagnosis
- Some personal matters within my inner circle
- Knee cap dislocation requiring future surgery
- Second degree burnt my boob and had a trip to A&E
Any one of these things would be stressful enough, but these have all occurred within the last 8 weeks.
Tack on to that I’ve been trying to keep working just as hard as normal, keep up with friends and family during lockdown, had two new housemates (who are wonderful) move in, attend all my appointments AND keep up with chores and errands?
Yeah. It’s no surprise I’m feeling depressed as all hell with zero motivation and massive bouts of anxiety.
The Initial Response
For me, the first thing I have to do is realise I’m in burnout.
Because I suffer from a few chronic conditions, it can take me longer than others to realise; “ohhh shit, this might be burnout.”
When I first noticed I wasn’t feeling consistently good, I assumed it was the tonsillitis.
Once I’d had antibiotics and recovered from that, I assumed I was in a low-grade pain flare up due to moving house.
Once it became clear that I was actually oscillating between my regular, intense flare ups and normal pain levels, I wondered whether I was just trying to process grief & trauma, since I was finally in a stable place (i.e. a home that I owned).
The thing that tipped me off to the fact that it might be burnt out? The fact that I didn’t want to work anymore.
I felt like I was dragging my feet through Monday to Friday. All I wanted to do was lay on the couch eating chips and watch wrestling.
And that, folks, is extremely out of character for me.
I adore my job. I love my boss, I love the work that I get to do.
It’s fun, it’s fulfilling, it’s creative.
So for me to randomly wake up one day and be like “what if, alternatively, I just lay down and stared at the wall for several hours” is a big warning sign.
And I’m lucky. For most people, work is the/one of the causes of burnout. For me, it’s an unfortunate victim of it.
The First Battle
So, now I know I’m burnt out and what’s caused it. Now it’s time to take action.
I used to throw the whole book at it.
Every possible self-care trick you could think of. I’d take 2-3 weeks off when possible, have baths, do twice daily skincare routines, time block chores + errands, cancel anything in my calendar that was low priority or could wait, reward myself with delicious food and online shopping, journal, go to therapy + massages + chiro…
But this time around, I’ve realised pretty quickly that a) I get very overwhelmed trying to implement all these things into a small time bracket, b) it isn’t sustainable and c) I’m not learning how to avoid burnout later down the track.
I needed a more nuanced, personalised attack plan.
I had a think about whether I needed to take time off work, and came to the conclusion that taking a block of time off work wasn’t going to cut it for me this time. Instead, I realised I would find it more helpful to drop my hours for a temporary period of time.
I messaged my boss and we decided I’ll do Monday to Thursday for a bit and see how I go. I’m extremely grateful to have a boss who is so chill and understanding of mental health. I’m also very privileged to have the financial security to be able to just take time off without that causing me too much additional concern.
So now I have a three day weekend, it’s time to think about what other self-care tools to utilise in my recovery journey.
Self-Care Isn’t Always Pretty…
Over the last few years, self-care has become somewhat of buzzword on the internet. And for the most part, this rise in awareness and popularity has been excellent!
I am all for more mental health awareness and better work/life/play balance.
However, for people with chronic physical or mental health conditions, oftentimes self-care is not Instagrammable.
It’s not always milk baths with rose petals, picnics in the park or splurging on an internet shopping haul. While these are very valid forms of self-care, sometimes what’s actually needed is the opposite.
Sometimes self-care looks like going to a therapy session you really don’t want to go to, buying yourself a bag of frozen veggies, rice and chicken to cook yourself instead of ordering food again, or forcing yourself out of the house to sit in the sun for 30 minutes when all you want is to, oh I don’t know, lay on the couch eating chips watching wrestling.
Self-care can be hard. And for me personally, I need to find that balance between gentle self-care and tough love self-care.
The Yes and No List
This was something my boss, Leonie suggested I do, and it’s brilliant!
Making a “no list” of boundaries and things you won’t do is really powerful.
Whenever I get burnt out, I get depressed. Whenever I get depressed I skip meals and my floor becomes a floor-drobe, with a mix of clean and dirty clothes. And this? Makes my depression and burnout worse.
So as much as I just truly cannot be bothered, I’ve been taking 5 minutes at the end of each day to pick my clothes up off the floor. Clean clothes go back in the clean basket and dirty clothes go in the dirty laundry basket.
And that is so much easier and less overwhelming than getting to the end of the week and realising I’m gonna have to spend at least an hour sorting through the floor-drobe.
I don’t yet have the energy or motivation to put away my clean clothes, but by keeping them in one spot instead of them spreading out across my room I’m managing my overwhelm really well.
I’m also still adding to both Yes and No lists in my journal.
I have to add to my Yes list:
- dry needling
- stay hydrated
- colouring in
- cleaning one things a day (i.e. one load of washing, a sink of dishes, clearing the coffee table etc)
For the No list, I need to add:
- getting into bed later than 10:30pm
- cancelling appointments because I can’t be bothered going
- drinking coffee or energy drinks
So, you can see I’ve tried to have a more varied list of tools. A balance of gentle, creative tools and some tough love.
If you’re stuck on ideas for self-care tools, Pinterest is a great place to start. And asking people for ideas is worthwhile too! I’m forever indebted to Leonie for the fabulous No list idea.
Preventing Burn Out in the Future
Ideally, I’d like to never have to experience burnout again. It’s incredibly frustrating and exhausting.
Looking back at the causes of this bout, I can see one glaring mistake I have made: I scheduled far too much in.
For sure there are a decent chunk of triggers outside of my control but I absolutely could have done some things to better take care of myself.
For example, I only took two weeks off to move house, knowing I have CRPS and a knee cap that likes to pop out and say hi. Ideally I should have taken at least three weeks off, two weeks for the move and one recovery week.
I also (foolishly) booked several major medical appointments in the same week our new housemates moved in. Some of these appts were over a 1.5 hour drive away. And I took no time off work to attend any of them. Whoops.
That week in August looked like this:
- Monday – Important work call, local appointment
- Tuesday – Work, non-local appointment (which ended up being quite traumatic)
- Wednesday – Work, pain flare up
- Thursday – Work, local appointment, pain flare up
- Friday – New housemates move in, non-local appointment, pick up furniture, pain flare up
Gee wizz, I wonder why I’m burnt out…
Now, I limit myself to 1 non-local appointment per week + 2 local appointments in weeks where I don’t have any major life changes booked.
*taps forehead* I’m so clever.
I also mentioned earlier I’m taking one day off a week instead of a big chunk of time off. This is to try and recover from burn out without having to stop everything.
I want to get better at recognising the warning signs of burn out earlier so that I can implement smaller, less interruptive changes.
So What Now?
Well, for me I’m going to be sticking to my Yes and No lists.
I’ve been doing a great job of eating a decent breakfast and dinner, not working after 3pm and my sleeping schedule is slowly but surely starting to recover (seriously, total insomnia can get so far away from me).
I spent this past weekend colouring in, journalling, writing a friend a letter, indulging in hot baths and watching wrestling (a true comfort).
This week the plan is to attend therapy and see what my psychologist can add, continue keeping my bedroom floor clear + eating good meals, read in the evenings, clean one thing a day and work 4 hours a day Monday to Thursday.
And I’ll just assess my burn out and how I’m feeling as I go.
I’m being gentle but lovingly firm with myself.
I’ve got this, and so do you.
🍄 🐾 🌙 🍃 🪐 🌈