You may have noticed that I write a lot about self-care over here. That self-care might be choosing not to cut out sleep in order to be more productive, finding the balance between laziness and relaxation, or just some general tips for taking care of yourself.
My obsession with self-care started when I suffered from burnout. Wanna hear the story? Keep reading.
I believe self-care is one part of positive living and is something that needs regular attention. Grab the Well-Being Check-in worksheet to regularly check-in with your self-care journey!
My Journey to Burnout
You either feel this way or you remember feeling this way before your own episode of burnout:
I can stay up late and wake up early – I’ll just feel tired for one day.
I can take on another project.
I can work through this stress. Things will calm down two months from now.
Other people are doing more work than this, I have to keep going.
I’m not happy I’m sick, but it also means I have a good reason to take it easy today.
One more hour, one more job, one more, one more, one more. I can handle it.
There are no repercussion to this stress.
Some of those statements may be true for now, but none of them are sustainable. But so many of us think we’re special, that we’re the exception, that burnout won’t get us.
I have news for you. In this case, you’re not special, you’re not the exception, and burnout will get you. Tomorrow? In a year? Ten years? I don’t know when, but if you keep carrying on with those thoughts driving you, burnout will get you.
Looking back on my journey to burnout, the signs are so obvious. Hindsight 20/20, right? I was literally counting down the days until one of my three work contracts ran out, everything that fueled my soul got put on the back-burner, my friends weren’t sure if I was alive or dead because they never saw me, and I felt like crying all the time.
My burnout was caused by a few things – the stress of balancing three jobs, the anxiety that came with regular highway driving at night for one of those jobs (I was sure there would come a day that I hit a deer, which terrified me), the frustration that comes with struggling to connect with my students.
I was generally unhappy. I wasn’t living, I was surviving. My only concern was keeping my head above water, not enjoying the swim.
Counting down the days, weeks and months to a respite from the stress began. Just get through. You can do this. There was no other option. Just keep swimming.
A mere two weeks away from the finish line, from the point I knew my stress levels would go down and I would start to feel okay again, it happened. My breakdown.
What My Burnout Looked Like
I was driving to a work event. It took place in a small town 30 minutes away from the town my hotel was at. On the 30 minute drive over, I felt like a zombie: unfeeling and inhuman. The thought of work that evening was stressing me out and the thought of doing another highway drive at night was stressing me out. I knew if I let myself feel, ALL the feels would show up.
I arrived at the work event. A co-worker saw me and immediately asked if I was okay. I’m still so grateful to her for noticing. Of course I lied and said I was fine because that’s what you do, right? I can’t remember if I was able to fake a smile, though.
I went to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall. And I started bawling. My head wasn’t above water anymore, I was drowning, water choking me and filling my lungs. Instinct told me to call for help when I wouldn’t let myself ask for it before.
I called my mom, still locked in that stall, still in tears. I don’t remember what I said. I think I just told her that I wasn’t okay. She told me she was coming to help me. Already, things started to feel just a little bit better.
My co-worker came into the bathroom. She offered to drive me to the hotel that night. More relief.
This episode might sound like a whiney girl who doesn’t know what struggle is. But it was the most unlike myself I’ve ever felt, the most scared I’ve been, the most desperate I’ve been. It was my breaking point. Maybe it was a privilege for me to have a breaking point; I know other people might not have that option. That was what my burnout looked like and it might look different for others.
I’ve come out of that experience a changed person.
Immediately after my episode, I felt fragile and I wasn’t yet my normal healthy self.
Looking back, I think it took me a few months to recover. But even after what I call my recovery, I no longer think I’m invincible. In fact, I’m more aware than ever of the fact that it can happen again, that I can start drowning. I’ve even heard that once burnout happens, it’s easier for it to happen again.
As a result of my burnout, I’m far more protective of myself and my needs. I’ve made the decision to do less, which has me wondering about the balance between doing things in order to have a fun-filled life and taking time for nothing in order to rest.
And I started obsessing over self-care and wellness.
My Journey to Self-Care
The word self-care might make you grind your teeth these days. It’s such an oversaturated market filled with people taking advantage of the general population and feeding them stories of all the ways they aren’t taking care of themselves.
While that’s partially true, I’m also a firm believer that self-care done in the right way for each individual is a necessity for living a positive life. I wrote a post about the commodification of self-care – check it out here if you’re interested.
But for me, self-care was about protecting the things that were important to me – my social life, my time, my health, etc. I became protective of my bedtime. I paid more attention to when activities fuelled me and when they drained me. I listened to what my body, brain, and soul were telling me when it came to my happiness and wellness.
I realized that when I stopped taking care of myself – I had no time for that frivolity at my most stressed – I wasn’t at my best. When I wasn’t at my best, it was a struggle to leave a positive impact on the people around me, which is part of the mission of See Heather Smile. When I wasn’t okay, I didn’t have the ability to make the difference I wanted to make.
With that in mind, it became part of my theory of positive living that in order to spread positivity and kindness and make a positive impact on the world around us, we need to start by being kind to ourselves – AKA self-care.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, I want to say thank you. And if you have any stories of burnout or self-care to share, feel free to comment below.
Look after yourself and enjoy the journey.