5 Stages of my burn out
I was becoming more and more moody. Normally I’m very patient, but the worse I got the short tempered I was. Stuff would annoy me that normally wouldn’t bother me at all. Not just from others, but also in myself. Losing interest in things I liked to do. For example for me it was cooking. I love cooking and I’ll actually launch my own YouTube channel shortly. Keep an eye open for it. But while burning out I lost interest in cooking. Was less creative with my dishes and didn’t care much about a balanced diet. Change in habit. Normally I’m a very good sleeper. Actually I have a black belt in falling asleep. But in the first period of my burn out I struggled to fall asleep. My brain didn’t seem to be able to switch off. A clear sign that something is bothering you. The above mentioned points could just be temporarily and can be endured for a while, but be aware of the changes in your life that might lead to something more severe.
Sliding further in
I generally had too much on my plate. Which I have to admit I was handling okish as the first signs above show. I had a fulltime job, am married and have twins. I was president of a sportclub and was politically active in the local parliament. This all worked fine until 3 external incidences happened. My father had a stroke, war in eastern Ukraine (were my wife is from) and my work life balance got screwed up by a new manager. I couldn’t process that I couldn’t do anything about my fathers stroke nor about the war in eastern Ukraine. Both outside of my influence sphere. I wanted to be there for my mother and somehow help out my in-laws. So I put even more stuff on my plate. And then the stable center point which was my job, that secured my family’s life standard, started to be unstable. Suddenly I had a boss that didn’t rate me. I started to have existential fears. Afterall we just bought an apartment with a mortgage, we had young twins and I was the sole bread-winner at the time. It didn’t occur to me that I could look for a different solution. I thought I was stuck in the situation.
The signs I describe in the first part obviously got much worse. Sleeping was maybe 2-3 hours a night. Not being able to fall asleep and if I finally did, I used to wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again. On top of that I had a few incidences when I woke up and couldn’t breath and had a chest pain with my heart pumping like mad. When I went to the Doc and had my heart checked, he said my heart was fine. For the first time I was asked if I feel under pressure/stressed. The important message here is that yes outside circumstances (within my influence sphere or outside) contributed to my burn out, but it was my personality that prevented me from dealing appropriately with what life through at me. Coming soon, I’ll write a blog post about this topic. Contact me to make sure you don’t miss it.
I simply couldn’t function anymore. I couldn’t accomplish the simplest of tasks. Writing an e-mail took forever because I read it 5 times before sending it. My self confidence was non existant. The smallest tasks would seem overwhelming. My wife asked me to shave, I just thought not another task. I considered killing my boss. Not really, but as close as it gets. I stopped that thought because I felt responsible for my family and therefore didn’t want to go to jail. But why on earth was he so against me. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Thoughts that couldn’t be answered occupied me. We went on holiday to Malaga and specifically went there because we could do some day trips to Seville, Cordoba, Gibraltar, etc. but I wasn’t up for it. When we arrived and I went to bed at 9pm and woke up at 9 am for the first 3 days I slept 12 hours straight. Towards the end of our holiday I again didn’t sleep at all. That is when my wife said to, that is enough. Once we’re back you’ll make an appointment with the Doc. This isn’t normal for such a long period of time. I’m still not sure if I would have had the courage myself to go to the Doc. I’m eternally thankful to my wife for forcing me to seek help.
Fighting my way out
After describing my situation to the Doc he immediately said, that he will give me a sick note for a month. This then was prolonged every month for 6 months. He said to me that I shouldn’t do anything for 2 weeks but then very importantly to bring a structure and routine to my day. The feelings that I had was one of relief. The next step was to find a therapist. We did some very simple but substantial exercises that helped me get better. These were among others:
1. Setting my priorities in life.
2. Know your personality & embrace it.
3. Learning to accepting that with some things, there is only so much you can do. Focus on what you can do.
4. Learning that some things are outside of my influence zone and therefore you can’t change them. Focus on your sphere of influence.
5. Reviewing my past and education.
6. Learning from the 3 previous stages. As example: Shit happens and sometime it’s outside of your sphere of influence. It’s how you react to shit happening that counts.
7. Stop blaming others and take responsibility for my own life.
Another part of getting well again was my reintegration into the work process. After about 5 months of being on sick leave I was starting to feel well enough to considering going back to work. Luckily I had a large network and found a department within the same company that was willing to help me with my reintegration. I started of with working 50% and was given simple tasks in excel that I could manage. Building up my self-confidence step by step. I lot of folks I spoke to thought starting off with 50% is a bit steep. But it worked out for me well. Coming soon, I’ll write a blog post about this topic. Contact me to make sure you don’t miss it.
Believing in yourself and being in charge of your own life is what keeps me healthy. I have set my priorities right and my life is driven by them respectively myself. Rather than work or outside influences. I’ve learnt to say no. If I don’t want to do it or don’t have the capacity to do it. I learnt asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Knowing how much income me and my wife need to achieve to live the life standard we want to is also important, we can’t be naive here and think you don’t have to pay your bills anymore. Understanding that you need to pick and choose your fights.