My journey from burnout to grace — Part 1

Susan Telford

In September 2016 I was in bed, burned out, exhausted and scared about the future.

Today I am a life coach, coaching professional women and female entrepreneurs who are feeling the effects of stress on their minds and bodies. My motivation for my work is I was a high school teacher who worked crazy hours, neglected my own needs and burned out. I lost the career I loved and it broke my heart.

When I recovered, I trained as a life coach because I see so many women ignore the signs of stress and become increasingly depleted and unable to give their best selves to their work and to people they love. We hide how we feel until we can no longer hide, but by then it is too late.

It is my passion and calling to coach women to find another way.

This is the first in a series of articles about what really causes burnout and the surprisingly easy way to regain your health and joie de vivre.

I wrote the following blog post in September 2016 when the first inkling dawned that my burnout might be to do with more than working long hours.

“Love after love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Tears fall as I read this poem. I have lost myself. I yearn for “the stranger who was myself. I wonder how I got here. I have been on a spiritual path for more than 20 years, I have read thousands of books on spirituality, been baptized as an adult believer, learned from Tibetan Buddhist masters, studied yoga and meditation, gone on retreats, spent my life searching, searching, searching.

I have accumulated knowledge from external sources. But now, as I face an ongoing crisis in my health, as I watch accomplishments disappear, the realization hits me, I do not KNOW anything. I have ignored the voice of my body, of my soul, of my heart, preferring the wisdom of others to the voice of my own soul. My life energy is draining from me; I have quite literally given my power away. My life has been reduced to the four walls of my house and I know that the restoration of my physical health is inextricably linked to being willing to finally be still, to listen to and follow the guidance of my own soul. My mind is stuffed with the good advice of a hundred self-help gurus, but still, here I am, unable to pray, meditate or stretch my way out of the mess I find myself in.

Somewhere along the way, along the shining path to spiritual fulfilment I got lost. Somewhere in the process of trying to be good, the essential goodness inherent in all of us has been covered up. The still small voice of internal wisdom has been silenced, drowned out by other people’s voices, other people’s plans, other people’s wisdom.

There is a dawning realization that the answers can never be found outside myself, in any external source, teacher or book. Of course, these can be useful pointers, but my tendency has been to look for gurus and to slavishly follow their advice. Tell me what to do and I will be a perfect student, existing to please the teacher. This is a painful realization and I do not know another way to be. The answers lie within me, only I can excavate what is truly right for me. This realisation has come only when I reached the end of my ability to strive, when I admit that I have burned out from too much seeking, too much trying, when my body quite literally collapsed with exhaustion and my mind burned out from its incessant search for peace, when my spirit felt dry and parched, when there is no-one to ask, when none of my usual strategies are working.

Now, as Walcott says “The time will come.” The time will come when the soul steps out of the shadows and asks to be heard. Asks me to see what is really here, what is seeking to be born in me. Invites me to take a deep dive into what remains among the debris of the life I built, to let go into what is calling me, what is asking to be seen.

Now is the time to let go of all my striving. To turn inward, to listen to my own soul and to bring what she has been trying to tell me, first in a whisper, now in a shout. To finally embody her wisdom.

This is the clarion call to return to Love. This is none other than Love calling for my own attention, to return my focus to attending to my own needs as they arise in this moment.
Yet, the impulse persists; I seem hardwired to look outside myself for some other to save me, soothe me, love me. What I am beginning to intuit is that my feelings of loneliness, of not-enoughness, my need for recognition, validation, acceptance and love is Love’s call to return to myself.

Rumi said

“Love said to me
There is nothing that is not me
Be silent.”

I want to see if indeed there is nothing else but Love. I want to look deeply into my life and into the world and ask “What is it I need to learn here, how is THIS pointing me back to Love?”

The one thing I know for sure is that I no longer want to follow anyone else’s plan/guru/spiritual path. I want to listen to the voices of those that have travelled this path before me, but I want to test it all in the crucible of my own life. I don’t want second-hand theories, I want to open my heart to Love. I want to live from my soul. I want to “love again the stranger who was yourself”. I want to give back “your heart to itself”. I want to “feast on your life”.

I have no idea how to do this.

I suspect though it will be learned through grace, or not at all.”

It WAS learned by grace — read more in part 2.

Susan Telford

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I help women thrive in their own unque way. Get your free guide “It’s time to thrive” at https://www.susantelford.com

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