BURNING OUT? I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL
Hey ladies! My name is Rachel and I am here to share with you my burnout story. I am doing this because I hope that my experience might help some of you to get through it easier.
So let’s start!
Since I remember myself I have always wanted to work in the live entertainment industry. I went to London at age 18 with not very much money in my pocket to be an actress, to work in a theatre, to do something fabulous and theatrical. And I ended up working in marketing and PR, which is basically the story of most people who work behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. But you know, I loved it. I was good at it. I felt like I found my place I found something I was really good at and it was part of the world that I loved and was so passionate about.
So for 12 years, I worked my way up in my career. Right at the beginning, I worked backstage I worked front of house in theatres. And then for a long time I worked in a marketing agency. And then ultimately, I ended up working for one of the biggest most successful theatre production companies in the world.
And arguably one of the biggest and most successful projects ever and a big, serious, important job.
I was traveling all over the world.
I was working crazy hours.
I was sleeping with my phone next to my face so that I could wake up if anything happened because everything was so important.
You know, and I was incredibly emotionally invested in everything that I was doing.
MY LIFE LOOKED GREAT
My Instagram looked great. My CV looks great…
But behind the scenes of that I was burning out in a big way.
2019 was a really difficult year for me, I was basically stuck in burnout that whole year, completely on edge about everything, not sleeping, not eating properly, drinking way too much. And I just listened to the episode on alcoholism and spread out. And I was like, Yeah, that was me. I was traveling loads, I was crying a lot. I was struggling with anxiety. And I was just trying to keep everything going. ]
I was trying to achieve that by taking medication, drinking gin, and drinking caffeine and just carrying on. And I knew I couldn’t go on. I knew I knew, I was desperately unhappy. But I was so overwhelmed. My confidence and my self esteem were just in the toilet. And I was convinced that I couldn’t actually do anything else.
And I just thought, I gotta keep doing what I’m doing, because I can’t do anything else. But at the same time, I was also trying everything I could to find a way out. And it was not being successful, because it’s kind of hard to sell yourself on your CV, when you are convinced that your CV is just based on dumb luck and no ability…
So imposter syndrome really had me.
So I was stuck in burnout. For most of that year, I was just pushing myself through. I was ignoring the warning signs. And there were a lot of warning signs. But it hit really bad only when I stopped.
I took a holiday over Christmas. And I totally switched off my phone, my emails, my social media, everything for two weeks, which I’ve never done in my whole career. I slept and I went to a spa. And I went to see friends.
And I still drank loads, ate really badly, traveled loads, I tried to fit everything into that holiday and just make up for everything, to force myself to be happy…
And then it came time to go back to work. And to start everything back up again. And my body was just like, nope. It’s like I let my guard down for a little bit. Just having that two-week break. And my nervous system got a little taste of freedom. And then it was like, oh, no, we are not going back to that permanent state of fight or flight. I tried going in. And I would go home with a migraine or something. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. And eventually I dragged myself in to work one day for a meeting, which then got canceled as soon as I got in.
And that was it.
I just crumbled into tiny pieces.
That was ultimately the moment that I succumbed to burnout.
That was the moment when I couldn’t push myself anymore.
I JUST BROKE INTO PIECES
I’m a perfectionist.
A type-A, go-getting, jet-setting, wine-swirling, coffee-drinking, carb-avoiding gym bunny with an overpriced wardrobe, a fantastic Instagram feed and a life to be envied.
At least, that’s how it looked.
In reality, I was permanently stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, emotionally drained, anxiety ridden and depressed. My immune system was compromised, my hair was falling out, my digestive system crippled by stress, I rarely slept more than four hours, I avoided my friends unless they were accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol and I cried at least four times a day.
When my burnout hit, I did something that you ladies should never do – I ignored it.
I kept pushing, kept going, kept pretending everything was okay, until my body physically couldn’t continue any longer and it almost completely shut down.
Suddenly, I couldn’t get out of bed.
I couldn’t get off the bathroom floor.
I couldn’t get off the couch. I just couldn’t do anything, anymore.
I didn’t want to do anything ever again.
Now when I think about it and get objective about it, I can see how completely unhealthy my life was.
I was obsessed with my work.
And it was the thing that completely defined me because it wasn’t just work. It was my social life. It was my friends, it was my passion. And a big part a big part of it was because I was genuinely living my dream, or what I thought was my dream. If you’d gone back and ask teenage me what her ideal perfect dream life would be. That was what it was.
The reality is that that perfect dream life was not great. It was not what that optimistic teenage girl dreamed it would be. And it appeared like it was great from the outside. And that was kind of all that mattered to me towards the end, because the appearance of success was kind of all I had, by the time burnout really started hitting me hard.
I can also see that it wasn’t just from that job, or from that particular year.
I didn’t know that I had anxiety in a general way. I thought it was stress related, or like the PTSD that I got from my burnout, but I’ve had anxiety my whole life, I’ve been afraid, my whole life. And that has been my motivator. For so many decisions. I’ve cared so much about what people think of me, what I look like to them, that they’re impressed by me. And what I do, and what I’ve done. And all of that was there. The whole time I was in the arts industry, I just needed to be successful. Because if I wasn’t I was a failure. And that was the worst thing I could possibly be.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
I was sent to a fantastic doctor, who referred me to a fantastic therapist, who gave me the tools to go back to my GP, who gave me the right medication that got my anxiety under control enough that I could handle working with said therapist, who gave me a structure, a safe space, and the coping mechanisms I needed to face the reality I was in and essentially save my life.
But of course those four lines cannot convey how hard was the way. I will try to elaborate on that.
So here’s how I found the middle. Here’s how I found the balance.
Most of the work I’ve been able to do has been on myself, like the internal factors that have contributed, and that did contribute to my being in a place physically, mentally, emotionally, in which there was nowhere else to go, but to burn out.
And for me, it’s been a lot about healing myself, and dealing with my anxiety, about physically getting out of London.
I actually moved, I moved back in with my parents over the pandemic. It’s much more harmonious than it sounds because they live in a lovely countryside. And I’ve got a dog and just, it’s so different to where my life was before. It’s different in so many ways, but having this opportunity now, spending this time reconnecting with my family, figuring out, having the time to figure out what’s important to me.
Figuring out who I am, who I’ve always been away from the person that I spent all this time convincing myself that I had to be…
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE
When it comes to practical advice apart from moving away from stressful environment, practice is what has gotten me through..
Practice even when you don’t feel the benefit of the practice. Because that I think what had happened with me, and this is now what I really sort of, I really, really emphasize this to clients that I work with, is that:
I did the meditation,
I did the yoga,
I did the therapy,
and I did it until I felt better.
HAVE YOU HEARD THE ONE ABOUT THE FROG IN BOILING WATER?
As I look back on my experience with the benefit of hindsight, I can see what trouble I was in so clearly.
But at the time, when I was in it, I just couldn’t see it.
Have you ever heard the fable about a frog in hot water? If you toss a frog into a pan of hot water, it will leap out immediately.
But if you put a frog in a pan of cold water and slowly heat it up, it will keep regulating it’s body temperature over and over until it can’t regulate any more, but by that time it’s too late and the frog boils alive.
Gross, right? Well, exactly. If you wouldn’t wish it on a frog, why are you letting yourself boil alive?
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
Since my burnout, I have completely transformed my life.
I made the decision that my burnout was going to be my SUPERNOVA moment, my chance to reset, and shine brightly in a brand new life.
I left my job, I left my industry, I even left London! Though the pandemic obviously played a role in that. I left my ‘dream life’ behind, swallowed my pride and went to stay with my parents in the Lincolnshire countryside.
I’ve built my business from my little studio just outside of Lincoln, gained qualifications and certifications in coaching as well as yoga and meditation. I gained my 200 hour Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher training qualification from Sampoorna Yoga (Goa) and have since dived into my love of Yin Yoga (which was a HUGE part of my Burnout Recovery Journey) through online trainings with Sampoorna and Norman Blair.
After discovering what a huge difference meditation made to my life, I studied guiding meditation with Jeff Warren and have since developed my skills in writing and guiding original mindfulness meditations.
Burnout Recovery is not quick. It doesn’t happen overnight. I have faced relapses and navigated my way out of them, and you can too. I’m managing my own recovery every day so I know it’s a long old road!
To sum up, I know it’s hard to see the benefits if you are going through it right now, but believe me it might be the best thing that ever happened to you as it gives you a completely new perspective on life!