30 Aug I was going through burnout and didn’t know it
I hadn’t really felt like myself for a long time but I brushed it off as being due to the change of season (I hate winter) and just a general sense of being tired which happens to everyone every now and then. At least that’s what I thought.
On Monday, about 30 minutes after hosting our first series of She Brigade’s #SheMeansBusiness events I felt a wave of physical exhaustion overcome me, but I had already made plans to go to the cinema afterwards so I powered through. I slept throughout the entire film.
I decided to take it easy and rest that evening and showed up to work as I usually would on Tuesday. It was one of the longest workdays I’d ever had and I ended up sleeping for over 10 hours that evening. On Wednesday I woke up and physically could not get myself out of bed. It felt like a boulder was on top of me. My body felt heavy. It was actually painful.
As part of the #SheMeansBusiness event’s, one of our panellists, Dr Faith Makhubele, spoke on burnout and I immediately recalled and recognized the symptoms she mentioned in me. I was burnt out. I couldn’t believe it.
The thing is, I had been exercising regularly, delivering at work, had just hosted our first event series and we did it well might I add. I was showing up for my daughter, fiance and friend duties and I really hadn’t felt tired or exhausted for weeks until that Monday. As much as I felt a bit off and not like my usual self, I never felt exhausted showing for my different roles.
I took Wednesday off from work. That day, I woke up at 7 am, went back to sleep at 9 am after having breakfast. Woke up again at 12pm, had lunch and fell asleep again at 2 pm. Woke up at 6 pm, had dinner and fell asleep again at 10 pm only to wake up on Thursday at 7 am again.
I slept for over 16 hours that day. 16 hours! I allowed my body to do what it wanted and it decided I needed to sleep for over 16 hours. I woke up the next day feeling physically rejuvenated but mentally I wasn’t there yet. So I knew I had to make a change.
After recognizing that I was burnt out I took another day off and completely shut down my She Brigade responsibilities to recover. I mentioned my ordeal to trusted work members and friends in order to ensure that I could receive the support I needed.
You see, I had an idea of what burnout is and what it isn’t and that’s why I never recognized it in myself until I literally could not get out of bed. The signs were always there though, for weeks in fact. Here are some of the signs that I didn’t realize could be burnout:
- Procrastination – I truly thought I was just being lazy about things but procrastination is one of the indicators of burnout especially if it’s out of character.
- Apathy, loss of motivation, disengagement- This was definitely the biggest one. I was doing and delivering my work as per usual but I truly did not care or have any vested interest in the work I was doing, including She Brigade. I wasn’t attending any work virtual socials, I was actually becoming more and more annoyed by them. To be honest. I believe Zoom fatigue played a role in all this. I was doing JUST what I needed to do for work. I figured as long as I’m getting the work done it’s okay.
- Muscle aches – Like I said I was exercising regularly so I thought that was the cause of my muscle aches only later did I realize these weren’t the usual exercise aches I’m used to.
- Irritability and frustration over little things – So much irritated me. An email to do the work I was being paid to do irritated me, lol. Of course, I’d do it but the thought of it irritated me. Any slight inconvenience in my work or personal life annoyed me.
While I was recovering from my burnout I was on a mission to find the cause. The job I’m doing is exactly what I want to be doing and I’m definitely not overworked. So what could be wrong? One thing I came across was the fact that burnout can manifest in your work but may not necessarily be as a result of your work.
Burnout can be caused by internal factors too and when this is true, you need to figure out what is causing this internally and then identify internal factors, rituals or practices that will keep you motivated, help you to show up when you don’t feel like it and help you function at your best. That’s the work I’ve had to start to learn to do.
Burnout is complex and definitely doesn’t have a one size fits all overnight fix.
It looks different for everyone and also looks different depending on the cause. It’s important to pay attention to yourself, pay attention to your mind, your body and any behavioural changes.
Whatever you’re feeling, pay attention to how long it’s going on for and if you’re unsure, see a doctor. I’m not 100% there yet but I’m definitely on a more balanced journey.