Living on my Own Terms

My Journey Through Burnout.

The dread in my stomach was so intense it was making me nauseous. I was ugly crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot when I should have been celebrating. After years of long hours at the office, I was asked to be executive director of the nonprofit I’d poured my heart into for almost five years.

It was a promotion.

But I felt trapped. When the chairperson of the board called with their offer, I stuttered out a reply that I was expecting more. Instead, I was told the board felt the $5,000 raise they were giving me was enough. It was barely enough to pay my bills. The tears came harder as I thought about how most of them earned double or triple what I was offered.

It was still more money than I’d ever made. And I was desperate to pay off my student loan debt instead of asking for another deferment. So, I blew my nose, dried my tears, and called to accept the job.

That parking lot and I became well acquainted over the next nine months. When I was yelled at in a meeting for something I didn’t do, I took the first opportunity I could find to drive over to my favorite parking spot and cry. When I realized the extent of the financial mess left by the previous director, I sobbed in the parking lot with the financial reports sitting in my lap as I tried to figure out a way to keep everything afloat.

I would work 12 hours a day, bring work home and then do it all over again. I started having migraines that would keep me in bed for hours. Panic attacks would wake me up in the middle of the night. Debilitating pain plagued me during meetings and when I was trying to get to sleep at night. I resorted to using a cane because dizziness caused nasty falls which left me bruised and shaken. Even though I was open about these signs of burnout with our board of directors (many of whom worked in the mental health field), the unrealistic demands they made of me never changed.

Finally, the day came when I couldn’t do it anymore.

An hour before I announced my resignation to the board of directors, I had a panic attack in the bathroom. I couldn’t catch my breath. The tears pouring down my face left a trail of runny mascara on my eyes that didn’t fully come off. When I hobbled into the boardroom, the faces staring back at me were shocked.

There was no job waiting for me. All I had was the money from my 401(k) and a side hustle as a social media manager. All I was concerned about was getting out of there. When I carried the last box of my things out of my corner office, I cried with relief that I didn’t have to step foot in that building again.

In those early days of unemployment, my physical pain was still at an all-time high. I visited specialists and had multiple tests. Terms like Fibromyalgia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome became an everyday reality. When my head wasn’t spinning, I would scour the internet for tips on how to start a full-time online business.

After four months, I graduated from working in bed to sitting at my desk. I stopped writing other people’s blog posts and started writing my own. But I would still lay in bed at night and feel like something was missing. I bounced between writing online courses and trying to land copywriting clients. I toyed around with coaching and even started looking for part-time administrative jobs close to home. I had no real plan or agenda. It seemed burnout had even robbed me of my ability to complete a simple to-do list.

One afternoon, I was chatting over a cup of coffee with a friend who needed help with her social media content strategy. We were deep in a discussion about how she needed to trust she had everything she needed within her to share her story. Suddenly, all the wisdom I had accumulated through my burnout, health challenges and hours of meditation during the last six months came spilling out.

I didn’t have everything together in that moment. But I knew the pain of trying to live on your own terms. I resonated with the frustration she was sharing about the times she was told that she was “doing it all wrong”. I started coaching her, asking questions to move her into a deeper understanding of why she wasn’t listening to her intuition. We developed a strategy to move her forward into becoming more visible in her business.

In that moment, I realized I was born to teach other women that they are born to excel. I want them to know they are capable of making hard changes and coming out stronger on the other side.

These days, when I drive past that parking spot I once shed so many tears in, I smile. Because it was in that spot that I realized I deserved more, even if I wasn’t brave enough to act on it just then. I feel peace because I know I’ve moved past burnout. Now I’m stronger, wiser, and ready to help others live on their terms too.

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