To Burnout and back….slowly

Hopefully some of you are still around to read the blog, I know, it’s been awhile.

So let’s talk about where I’ve been.

2015 was supposed to be my year. I had just gotten married (awesome!), just started a new job with a serious promotion (also awesome!), I had it made – I was now officially living the dream. So everything should have been perfect, right?

Everything.was.not.perfect. And as it turns out, I also was not perfect.

This is a bit of a story about the unrealistic expectations we can put on ourselves – and consequently let others put on us. And what happens when those turn out to be unrealistic…and unhealthy.

Let me clear, this is not the story of a marriage going wrong – without G, I’m not sure I would actually have made it through this year. To quote my dad “I’ve got a good one there.” (Love you, honey!)

Nope, this is about the quest, the need to be perfect and how actually f*cked up that can get.

So there are a few key factors in this story:

When I started my new job, I was given two giant projects to do. These were major initiatives, they needed to be done in a ridiculously short period of time and we were under-resourced. I wasn’t worried though. Because I have always worked in stressful, time-crunched environments. I thrive on this sh*t. I get stuff done, it is simply what I do. It is why people are willing to deal with my slightly less than charming personality. A huge part of who I am, or who I think I am, comes from my successes at work.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the projects did succeed, at a heavy cost to my health.

After months of straight 18 hour days, I burned out. I simply didn’t have it in me to keep going at the pace that I had been keeping. And here is where I made the biggest mistake – I kept going. I thought if I could just push through, I would make it to the end of the projects and then things would calm down and it would all be fine.

The other mistake that I made, was thinking that I could maintain the other aspects of my life while working these crazy hours. I wanted to be a good wife, I wanted to eat paleo and get crazy strong at Crossfit – in fact, I’d set a goal to increase all of my weights by 15lbs or kgs (I can’t even remember which).  I wanted to lose weight, be a good friend, a good daughter etc… you name it, if society told me it was something I was supposed to do then, gosh darnit, I wanted to do it too.

As you can imagine, it just didn’t work.

One thing to note is that  you don’t burn out right away, you’re not fine one minute and then burnt the next. No, things start falling off, for me, the first thing to go was the healthy eating – who has time for that? M&M’s, Coke Zero and red wine were my staples during that time. All improvements to my sleeping disappeared and I was back to 2-3 hours a night, max. Then Crossfit fell away – I kept telling myself that it was due to the fact that I just didn’t like the classes/people/programming etc… I never told myself that it was because I was just too damn tired. I know I saw my husband during this time and I know I did the best I could, but it must have been like living with a tired, grouchy shadow. I knew things things were falling away, I knew that these were things that I cared about, but I just couldn’t muster up the energy to do anything about it. But, I kept working, I kept pushing through – until my body finally gave up, but more on that later.

It was my boss who finally flagged it for me – and nicely, I might add. After I’d started snapping at people at work and overreacting to everything, she told me to take a few days off and to see a doctor. This was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life – I had always been able to handle everything – who was I, if I couldn’t handle everything? But I was so exhausted, so emotionally wrung out, that I listened. I went to the doctor and was told that I was in the middle of a serious episode of burn out and I needed to make some changes immediately.

So I took some time off – and it was this time that allowed me to realise what my need to be successful – or rather my need to be seen as successful was costing me. So I dialed it back. I had to stop everything and rest. (I’m a terrible rester, btw. On my 3rd day off, I gave the cat a haircut. That’s a true story). During this time, we did a few blood and urine tests to see if there were any physical reasons for why I was so tired all the time. It turns out that my hormone levels were all over the map and my cortisol levels were in the toilet. The stress I had put my body under had also taken a physical toll. One that could take up to two years to recover from.

So I’ve been taking steps to recover from this for the last 6 months. There are good days and bad days. Only just now, do I feel like I have anything left over in the tank after work.

Which brings me to Crossfit, most days, I simply don’t make it to Crossfit, there were months were I didn’t go at all. My strength (once a source of pride for me) has gone way down, my endurance – never my strong suit – is non-existent, I get tired really easily and don’t have the hormonal reserves to recover, it’s like starting over. But here is what has happened recently, there are days when I do manage to start over. I’ve been back to the gym a couple of times, and the other day, was finally able to do a full WOD. Sure, I scaled the holy heck out of it, and I went slow, but I finished it.

I’ve learned a lot this year, and have come out of it with a much better understanding of what is important and the dangers of trying to do too much. So 2016 will not be about living the dream, or conquering the world. 2016 is going be about getting back to the life I want – a balanced one. I have no goals. I don’t even really have any expectations – although I have to fight myself constantly from setting them.

So CoveredinChalk is going to be a bit different this year. It’s going to be about my journey to balance across all areas of my life – which hopefully Crossfit will be one of.

If you’re still reading after this long, albeit, cathartic post, I hope you’ll come back every now and then to see how things are going, and maybe share your experiences and ideas for overcoming burnout and getting back to a new normal.

 

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