“Congratulations, you have burnt yourself out”.
My first reaction was denial. “No, there is no way I burnt out while half of the world was completely frozen”, I laughed. My friend had a serious look on her face. “It happens faster than you think”.
I was confused. I could not shake the idea after this conversation. Was I experiencing a burnout?
I was exhausted, extremely irritable, stressed out of my mind, and feeling increasingly hopeless. Every task was taking twice, three times as long as usual. I was missing all of my deadlines because I couldn’t find the motivation to finish my projects in time - which would increase the anxiety levels and keep me up at night. Each new email alert would make my heart sink, randomly provoking full meltdowns throughout the day.
Yes, I felt quite down, it was true. I told myself I was certainly not the only one struggling with my mental health in the midst of a global pandemic, so I kept going for months without questioning my new locked down lifestyle. But thanks to my friend, once I started thinking about the issue, it became quite clear how I reached that point.
My workflow had tripled. But wasn’t I lucky to be able to work at all, when so many people had lost their jobs and were struggling? I embraced it, more or less willingly. Maybe it was because disappointing clients by saying “no” was not an option, or maybe it was because I felt like I was supposed to.
All I would see on social media was that this was the perfect opportunity to do all the things I ever wanted to do without finding the time to do it. There were no more excuses. I had nowhere else to go. I would see this fantastic movement of people taking online classes, launching new businesses, reading and drawing and redesigning their houses. So, my thing would be work. Although I envied the people who would be able to dedicate their time to fulfilling activities, I would only take small breaks to play a quick game of Call of Duty with my boyfriend, and immediately feel guilty about it.
Yes, the guilt. Actually the guilt was the worst part. It was bad before I realized what was happening to me, and it was bad after. Before, I felt guilty for being unproductive, unreliable, late, lazy, negative. After, because I didn’t feel entitled to that burnout. I was working from the comfort of my home. I was not on the front line, a nurse like my cousins, a police officer
like my best friend. They were working crazy hours out there, trying to keep everyone safe. I was writing for a living. On my sofa.
The first step to recovery was to recognize that, no matter how I felt about it, it was a burnout, it was not my fault, and I needed to stop being so critical and asking so much from myself. I had to be as kind and understanding as I would be with someone else in the same situation. I had to be my best friend on that one, not my own boss.
A burnout is a serious thing. It sucked all of the fun out of my life and out of my job. There are many symptoms, but in the end, you are left with depression. I started asking for help; mind you, I was not alone, at all. A lot of my friends and acquaintances had, at some point in their lives, experienced a similar situation. I went to see my doctor, who took my anxiety and insomnias very seriously. One very important thing is to not self medicate. I can not stress this enough.
Now, it was time for some real change. This situation was obviously wrong for me. I could not stand the sight of my laptop anymore, I had lost all of my inspiration and dreaded work altogether. So against all logic, I meticulously undid everything I had done career wise in the previous months and years. I called my clients, one by one, and told them that I would not be working for them anymore, that I needed to focus on another project that had been on my mind for a while. It was true, but it took me weeks, months even, just to feel strong enough to be able to focus on it enough to make improvements, but it is on the right track now.
Slowly, carefully, I took on smaller missions and tasks which I felt more enthusiastic about to help me get back to work (because I still need it). I tried to rest more, eat better, move a bit. I saw my family at the end of the lockdown, finally. I think it helped. Just a healthier lifestyle and a lot of self love. There is no secret, it takes time. Be patient.
Today, after a few months, I am doing a little bit better. I am dealing with some of the consequences, though. I have to say that avoiding my computer at all cost… does have a cost. I had to pay fines and penalties for late declarations and bills, I lost a bit of the trust of some of my clients who I consider friends. I am still struggling with any type of commitment. I sometimes don’t feel like working, although I enjoy it so much more now, or even getting up. My Netflix account has never been used so much. Ups and downs.
But looking at the big picture, I am a bit more hopeful. For as long as I can remember, I always seemed to move forward in unexpected, dramatic and extreme steps - changing my university courses in the middle of it, leaving my job unexpectedly, moving abroad. This may or may not be the start of something new, but this burnout set me free of several elements of my life I was not happy with anymore.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, if I want to be very basic. It is a long process, but we get there.
written by Allison Queiroz