We all know how important it is to take care of ourselves, both mentally and physically. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done when life gets busy.
Trust me, I’ve been there! I’ve navigated that bumpy road and I’m here to share my story and guide you through the twists and turns of burnout.
Let’s dive in…
Burnout: It Can Happen To Anyone
Whether you’re a CEO of a big corporation or a stay-at-home parent, the stress of everyday life can take its toll.
The outside societal pressures to constantly perform can make us feel like we’re running on empty, just trying to keep up. (And with no break in the action!)
Taking time for self-care, setting boundaries, and finding a support system can all help prevent you from falling too deep.
But how do we know if it’s just fatigue or if we’re headed for burnout? I learned firsthand how important it is to recognize the signs.
Stage 1 – The Honeymoon Phase
Buzzing with Excitement
Starting something new is always thrilling and gets those endorphins pumping. That rush of energy and the excitement of the unknown can be a powerful cocktail.
I remember when I started my new job as a tech marketer while simultaneously training for Ironman competitions. The pure adrenaline that coursed through my veins was real!
And I secretly loved the admiration I received in compliments like,
“I don’t know how you do it all?”
“How does your body keep up with you?”
The truth was, I loved pushing my body to the limits – especially in the early days I felt invisible.
Until I wasn’t…
The Warning Signs
We’ve all been there – you’re cruising along, getting stuff done, and suddenly you realize that the task at hand is a lot bigger than you thought. Maybe you’re more tired after your workouts or after a big work conference. Suddenly you start to feel burned out, and the fire within seems to have been extinguished.
At this point, it’s time to take a step back and reassess our situation:
What am I doing?
Is there an area of my life that is taking up too much energy?
Am I getting enough rest or pushing myself too hard?
What can I do to restore balance in my life?
Answering these questions honestly is the first step towards understanding where we are and what needs to change.
Either way, it’s important to remember that taking breaks is crucial, even in the so-called good times.
Stage 2 – Fuel to the Fire
Ignoring the Problem
This was the chapter where I truly felt like a juggler—with just too many balls in the air.
My demanding corporate tech marketing role came with its own set of challenges – Deadlines, team meetings, late-night brainstorming sessions—you name it.
On top of that, there was my ironman training, waking up at 5 am, grueling workouts, dietary plans, and the mental grit to keep going.
For a while, I wore my busyness like a badge of honor. Lunch breaks turned into quick bites at the desk (If eating at all), and “Me-time” was a concept that slowly faded away as I tried to squeeze in just another hour of work or another lap in the pool.
I told myself, “I’ve got this,” ignoring the whisper of fatigue or the skipped date nights with Paul…
It’s amazing how we often downplay our feelings, isn’t it?
The more I sidelined my personal needs, the more the scales tipped. It wasn’t just about missing a friend’s birthday or skipping a hair appt—it was my body and mind sending out SOS signals, but I was too wrapped up in my hustle to notice.
The tricky part? You often don’t realize how far you’ve strayed from that sweet work-life balance until you’re teetering at the edge.
And I was on the edge…
It’s kind of crazy how the body has its own unique way of communicating when we aren’t giving it enough attention. For me, it wasn’t just the sleepless nights spent tossing and turning, or the sudden memory lapses when I’d forget where I placed my keys or missed important appointments.
The real kicker came in the form of migraines—a pain so intense, it felt like a hammer relentlessly pounding at my temples.
On top of these migraines, my immunity seemed to betray me. I’d catch every flu, cold, or bug that made its rounds in the office or at home.
It became a cruel joke among friends, “If there’s a new virus in town, she’ll be the first to get it!” It was frustrating. Here I was, training for an ironman, supposedly in the prime of my health but falling prey to every minor ailment that came my way.
Looking back, these weren’t just random health issues. They were my body’s distress signals, desperately trying to warn me. If you’re starting to see these signs in your own life, my advice is to pause and listen.
It’s not just about avoiding burnout; it’s about preserving the essence of who you are.
Stage 3 – Chronic Symptoms
Stress is the New Normal
As life progressed, stress transformed from being an occasional visitor to a permanent roommate. It wasn’t just an annoying buzz in the background; it was a full-blown, relentless storm that had settled in.
And boy, did it come with some fierce companions.
The migraines, for one, weren’t just your standard headaches. These were debilitating episodes that brought my life to a standstill. Picture this: throbbing pain, a world that seemed too bright and too loud, and a desperate need to crawl into a dark, quiet space. And just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.
The diagnosis came like a sledgehammer—Lupus, an autoimmune disease where your body quite literally starts waging a war against itself. It felt like my body, the very vessel I had pushed to its limits with ironman training and endless work hours, had betrayed me.
Days turned into a blur of pain, fatigue, and medications. Activities I once loved became monumental tasks. I was trapped in a cycle of pain and exhaustion that seemed unending.
This was my new normal…
For me, this stage hit hard. My once-beloved role in tech marketing and the thrill of my Ironman training started feeling like chains.
The passion I had was overshadowed by a growing resentment, especially as my body waged a war against me with autoimmune flare-ups and relentless migraines.
Burnout wasn’t just knocking at my door; it had moved in. I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to pause and reflect when these feelings arise.
It’s more than just a bad day; it’s a sign that something’s got to give.
Stage 4 – Crisis Mode
The Breaking Point
This stage felt like facing Everest without any gear. Waking up was a Herculean task, with the weight of the world feeling like it was constantly pressing down.
Tasks that once seemed effortless, from work presentations to ironman training, suddenly felt annoyingly difficult.
I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything that I absolutely didn’t have to be at. Which meant I had little to no social life.
It wasn’t just the physical toll but the emotional one, too—like being in a never-ending marathon where every step drained more of my spirit.
Being trapped in a body and mind that felt misaligned was both daunting and isolating.
My husband was trying to warn me, but I wasn’t ready to listen…
Chronic Illness Takes Hold
At first, it was easy to brush off those mystery symptoms—maybe it was just a bad day, perhaps the after-effects of a grueling workout or a particularly stressful week at work.
But as the days turned into weeks, and weeks to months, those symptoms began to paint a clearer, yet more puzzling picture.
There were mornings I’d wake up with an unexplained fatigue, even after a solid night’s sleep. Or those moments in meetings when a piercing headache would strike out of the blue, leaving me clutching my head in agony and having to call it a day. (Gosh, did I hate looking weak!)
And then there were those untraceable aches, ones that didn’t fit the usual post-workout soreness profile.
I knew something wasn’t right. Denial was my first defense, but it became harder to ignore the signs when my body began sounding louder alarms I couldn’t evade.
In June 2020, I left my corporate job on medical leave – I was literally too sick to continue.
Stage 5 – Hitting Rock Bottom
I’ll never forget the day my husband sat me down, his eyes lined with concern, and gently insisted, “You need therapy.” His words echoed the sentiments of my doctors who firmly believed that a medical leave was not just a suggestion but a necessity.
Being an ironwoman and a go-getter in the corporate world, this felt like a slap in the face. My job and my training weren’t just activities; they were integral parts of my identity. To be told I couldn’t partake in either felt like the rug was pulled from under me.
Every fiber of my being resisted the idea. Not working? Not training? To me, this was the epitome of failure. Those spaces, once filled with tight schedules, meetings, and training runs, now echoed with emptiness and uncertainty.
I felt like a bird suddenly caged, trapped in a malfunctioning body that I couldn’t trust anymore. It was as if I’d lost my sense of self overnight, and the journey to find it again felt daunting.
Time for a Break
There’s a peculiar clarity that often comes in moments of forced stillness. For me, it felt almost like being plunged into cold water; a shock at first, but then a realization that perhaps I’d been overheating all along. It took that enforced break, that pause pressed upon me by my body’s rebellion and my loved ones’ concern, to truly see that I was burning the candle at both ends.
I never thought I’d be grateful for a forced timeout, but in hindsight, it was precisely what I needed. Now I even say that God was trying to get my attention…preparing me for the next seasons of life…
If there’s any silver lining in this ordeal, it’s the newfound understanding that sometimes the universe forces you to take a breather because you won’t do it yourself. So, if you find yourself at such a crossroads, consider it a sign.
Maybe it’s time for that sabbatical or a change in pace. Because, believe me, sometimes the Lord knows you need a break even before you do.
Stage 6 – Recovery & Seeking Solutions
The Turning Point
I didn’t choose the forced rest; it chose me. But during that time, amidst all the inner work and reflection, I stumbled upon a surprising ally – an animal-based diet! It was a game-changer for my recovery.
And you know what? Once you hit rock bottom, the only direction to go is up!
Diet wasn’t just a tool; it was my compass in navigating this storm. Read all about my healing experience with animal-based foods here!
But what truly anchored me were the people around me: my friends, family, and particularly my husband’s rock-solid presence.
If there’s advice I’d give anyone going through similar struggles, it would be this: wrap yourself in love, reach out for help, and remember there’s always a way back. Sometimes, the most unexpected paths (even a diet change!) can lead you to the most incredible places.
Nurturing Yourself Back
Wrapping this up, I’ve learned firsthand that recovery isn’t a straight path; it’s a winding journey with its share of highs and lows.
It took me three long years, sprinkled with moments of doubt and hope, but here I am—back on my feet and with more fire in my heart than before.
Reflecting on the six stages of burnout, if there’s a nugget of wisdom I’d like you to carry with you from my story, it’s this: Listen to your body whisper so you don’t have to hear it scream…
I am cheering you on!
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