Burnout Diaries — Chapter 2: Work Hard, Be Kind And Good Things Will Happen. Or Will They?
On how I attempted to slow down after burning out. And failed.
The title of this post used to be (actually, probably still is…) my life motto. I found it written on a chalkboard outside a coffee shop in my old neighbourhood of Clapham on a Saturday morning. I had gone for a run to clear my head after a long-winded, emotionally charged (now in hindsight timely and necessary) break-up. The chalkboard gave me a spring in my step and reaffirmed two things that, without knowing it, I had come to live by since childhood: that one must always work hard and constantly strive to achieve things and that one must always be a nice person to the people around them. I hadn’t really made the extrapolation to the “good things will happen” until then, but it was written on a sign outside a café so it must have been true.
Fast-forward to November 2016 and the “work hard” part had definitely caught up with me. By December 2016 I was in limbo: still going to work, but having weird facial paralysis, weakness and pain episodes (see chapter 1 for details) that eventually forced my doctor to tell me to “stay at home for a few weeks, don’t work and try to slow down and rest to see if we can stop these attacks from becoming persistent”. As I look back on what happened during the weeks that followed, I can’t help but chuckle at myself a bit…
I just didn’t know how to rest. Or chill. Or slow down. I kept checking my work emails. I had major work FOMO and started to get concerned as to what would happen with my career progression. For two whole weeks my head was constantly spinning thinking about what I was going to do. But I was also determined to follow the doctor’s orders (thinking “I may get a pat on the head from him after all…”) so I did the only thing I know to do: work hard. At resting. Lol.
I was told that I needed to cut processed foods and refined sugar from my diet and “eat cleaner”. So I went to a healthy cooking class, frantically took notes and became the teacher’s pet by the end of the day. I was told to exercise for at least 30 minutes twice a day for endorphin release and muscle building. So I went to all manner of exercise classes every single day and followed a million fitness celebrities on Instagram. I was told to spend quality time with friends to relax and unwind. So I filled my calendar with breakfasts, lunches, decaf coffee dates and dinners. In my head I nailed resting. What an absolute idiot.
I went back home to Spain for Christmas, and as days passed and the signature facial droop hadn’t made an appearance, I became convinced that I had put “hemiplegic migraine gate” behind me. I was ready to resume normal life, turn the page on 2016 and kick ass in 2017 — which was set to be a big year both personally, with my wedding fast-approaching in May, and professionally, with lots of opportunities coming up at work. And as the sun rose on January 2nd and we made our way to catch the Ryanair flight back to the UK, the hemiplegic migraine made an unwelcome come-back (maybe it was the thought of flying Ryanair, who knows!). I went to work the following day thinking that this may be an isolated event (I had nailed resting after all!) but unfortunately that was only the first attack of the nearly 90 consecutive episodes that would follow over the next 90 days.
Through January I tried to do the odd day of work here and there, clinging onto normality as much as I possibly could by setting up shop in my living room and dialling into meetings. The thought of not being able to work absolutely terrorised me. So much of who I was (and am!) was linked to my work persona. All of a sudden I didn’t have a clue who I was.
By the end of January the neurologist put a stop to this half-life nonsense and said that I had to be off for two months with absolutely no work (even email!!), prescribed really strong anticonvulsant medication and gave me a fairly strict set of diet and exercise guidelines — otherwise we could be facing some permanent damage. I finally understood: shit was getting serious.
But did I actually manage to slow down? Kicking and screaming, maybe a little — I’ll let you know how in the next chapter.
Much love and cortisol,
Paula (Instagram: @_burnoutgirl)
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Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk on April 24, 2017.