Burnout Didn’t Happen To Me — It Happened For Me
My seven steps of healing and starting fresh.
In Spring 2020, I broke down. I sat on a train on my way to work as a university lecturer, and suddenly my heart started racing. It went faster and faster, then it skipped a few beats, and raced again. My breath became shallow and urgent. I felt dizzy. I looked around but no one else seemed to notice that something was wrong. Then the terrifying thoughts started:
I’m all alone! Am I having a heart attack? I need to get out of here!
I know now that I had a panic attack.
It was the first one of many, and anxiety took over my life like a crashing wave — to the point that I could not use public transport, drive my car, or go to the supermarket without crippling fear.
That same evening, I called in sick at work. I said I had a cold. I honestly didn’t know what else to say, and I did feel sick to my bones. I went to bed and stayed there.
A week later, I went to the doctor’s office. When she asked me how I was doing, I started crying and felt ashamed. I told her that I didn’t know what was wrong. I had no energy whatsoever and I was afraid of leaving the house. In fact, I had almost canceled the doctor’s appointment because I was not sure I could get there. Everything and everywhere felt unsafe. The doctor wrote ‘anxiety, low mood, burnout’ on my sick note and sent me on my way to rest.
How do you rest after years in the academic hamster wheel? I had no idea.
I got on a waiting list for cognitive behaviour therapy. I sat at home and watched Netflix. I tried meditation, yoga, and walks in a local park. Sometimes, I did nothing.
But the fear stayed with me like a shadow that I couldn’t shake. It felt like there was no clear way out of this, and I felt alone.
Every time my sick note ran out, I started crying and felt incapable of returning to work. So I went to the doctor again. And again.
Four weeks of sick leave turned into four months.
When I look back today, I wish I could tell my past self that I will get better. That I will become resilient. That I will change my life in unthinkable ways.