Positive Lifestyle Change is Possible

The few talks I’ve done recently led me to revisit the thoughts I had when I was struggling a lot with my health, and the changes to my diet. When I had to give up gluten, I sulked and complained and I felt sorry for myself. I struggled to ask people to cater for my unique and difficult dietary requirements. I was even more miserable when I had to eliminate sugar and most dairy from my diet too. I felt it was so unfair. How come other people don’t have to change their diets so much?

Now, I feel completely different about the subject. I have recovered my leaky gut to the point where I can reintroduce almost all of the foods but the funny thing is that I don’t really want to. I don’t mind the occasional dessert or a cappuccino now and then but I don’t NEED it like I used to. Food has become pretty irrelevant for me. At one point in my life it became a crutch and something I leaned on for comfort. Now, I eat to survive. I relish the occasional gluten-free apple pie but I can really live without it. I can’t believe how much things can change in less than a year.

Possible

I’m trying to focus less on my health, and more on my career now. I am pursuing opportunities to speak, polishing my skills and trying to learn from each speech I give. I’m also working on my book again now that my editor has returned the latest version. It’s a lot of work and I have many new insights to add. I also have to change a few sections due to this change of perspective I have now. Hopefully, it will come across less whiny and more interesting.

The way I feel about ‘work’ now is probably not the way most people feel about it. When people ask me if I’m on holiday I want to answer that I’m always on holiday because this doesn’t feel like work used to feel for me. It feels like fun, recreation and enjoyment. Of course there are times when I have to work very hard on a speech and on my book. But it feels different from my previous jobs. Those felt like an uphill battle, swimming against the current. Obstacles, frustrations, struggle. This feels like I don’t want to stop doing it. I sometimes run over and collect my girls later than I had planned because I’m so enjoying what I’m doing.

I want to share this message to let people know that it’s really possible to love your work. It’s possible to find flow in what brings in money. It’s possible to live a life that is not a constant battle. I’m not just a naive Pollyanna. I’m also not just preaching – I’m doing it myself. I’m following the opportunities that emerge and that feel part of my calling. Of course I have doubts but I keep returning to this path as the right path for me right now.

In my speeches and my writing, I speak about changing my life. Not everyone who hears my message is ready or willing to make changes to their lives, even though they’re unhappy. I know that many people might feel that it’s impossible or it’s not for them. They might even get irritated or angry at me hammering on about how I’ve designed my life. When emotions are so strong, it’s usually telling us something. My message is that it is possible to change your life for the better. It is difficult but it’s also worth it. Who’s life are we living if it’s not the one we want?

Possible

If changing my diet felt so impossible a few months back and now feels part of life, then surely it’s possible for other people to feel that too. Changes to relationships, jobs and habits can also be done, and appear simple a year later although near impossible at the time. I changed a lot all at once because my health collapse demanded it. But it’s not necessary for everyone to do that. It’s possible to tackle one aspect of our lives and to change that. Once it becomes the new normal, we can tackle the next aspect and so on, until we feel we have the life we desire.

At times I feel like this burnout and recovery have taken such a chunk out of my life. But in the greater scheme of things, over a lifetime of hopefully over eighty years, an investment of two or three years of change can yield decades of happiness. That’s well worth the short-term struggle to change, and something that is viable for everyone. I’m not special or different from anyone. I’m just a person who got sick and was forced to change. If I can do it, so you can you.

If the alternative is living an unhappy life, it’s hard to understand why people struggle with change. Isn’t a happy life what everyone wants? What would happen if you slowly started working towards your perfect life every day?

Find the Joy

I delivered two 40-minute talks in the last two days. I also competed in my Toastmasters club contest on Thursday. It has been quite tough for me to practice and remember everything for all three speeches within a few days. I tried hard to balance the tailored audience message and to reuse material from a speech I did last year. It was very difficult not to get the two big talks confused. In the end I made them identical to ease the burden on me.

Joy

Monday’s talk was okay but not spectacular. I was tired and stressed and worried about my health. I was letting the worry drain my reserves and I didn’t relish the delivery of the speech as I experienced last year. What was wrong, I wondered? Why am I not having fun? It was a small audience and yet I was so nervous. I felt that I didn’t want to talk about my illness and suffering so much anymore. It was bringing me down.

I woke up yesterday morning feeling glum that I’d have to spend the day practicing the same old speech. So I did something crazy and impulsive. I changed it. Yes, I changed a 40-minute speech on the day! In the past I would never have taken such a risk, but my intuition was telling me to find the joy. The whole point of building this new life is to make it happy, and to have enjoyment in my work. I wasn’t going to let it become a grind.

I pieced together bits from last year’s speech, some snippets from recent Toastmasters speeches and the one I delivered on Monday. I deleted some slides, imported others and left some alone. Yesterday, as well as practicing the new speech, I even did a yoga class, watched a TV show, took a nap and did some colouring. I wanted to follow the joy – to do what I enjoy doing. Not to spend the day sacrificing what I enjoy so that I can work.

Are you wondering how the talk went? It was great fun. I enjoyed it, the audience was receptive and engaged and I got great feedback. I’ve learnt an interesting lesson from this experience. When the joy shines through, it’s a happy experience for me and my audience.

Joy

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we define success. I think it’s much like happiness – we can spend our lives looking for it outside ourselves but both originate from within. Both are highly subjective. Even the term to measure happiness in positive psychology is ‘subjective well-being‘. I got caught in the trap of working so hard on my success that the happiness was suffering. Part of what I talk about is that success follows happiness and I experienced that first hand yesterday.

I received good feedback from the Monday talk and I know I can be hard in myself. The major difference in the two talks, however, was how I felt about it. Joy was present in the second one and that made all the difference. I felt successful in the second one and I’m really happy I listened to my inner voice and followed the joy.

Do you have a clear picture of what success and happiness look like in your life?

Is Fear showing up as Self-Sabotage?

Recently my functional doctor told me that I’m doing so much better. My adrenal and thyroid health is excellent, and my leaky gut is healed. I am now allowed to re-introduce all foods, except gluten, because gluten creates the leaky gut in the first place. But wow, what news, right?

I had a slight cold at the time of this news and I felt so invincible that I went to yoga and really gave it my all the next day. That brought on a massive flu incident that lasted weeks. Not so invincible afterall. Of course, I was so excited to have a cappuccino again after not being able to enjoy caffeine or dairy for a long time. Knowing that dairy causes mucous I decided to wait a little bit before indulging in dairy, given the flu I was fighting.

Fear

Finally, the flu was over and I very slowly started exercising again. There were many days that I probably well enough to exercise but I was fearful to give myself a setback by pushing too hard, so I just took more time. I also felt bouts of nausea for a few days, so I took a few more days off.

After a few weeks, I had a cappuccino and enjoyed it tremendously. I got the shakes from the caffeine that my body was not used to. I decided not to stress my body out too much with a deluge of strange foods again so I’m still keeping to my diet even though I’m allowed to deviate. It feels like I’m a caged animal that has had the cage removed and is too scared to step outside.

Two weeks ago we got two new kittens. We had to confine them to our room at first, then the house and finally we have released them into the garden. My allergies have flared up tremendously. I have been feeling terrible so I haven’t done much exercise. It felt like my brain was playing tricks on me. Because I felt these symptoms much like a cold, I felt afraid to exercise, even though it would help.

I have also been worrying terribly about whether this affects my thyroid disease. My immune system is reacting to the kittens and with an autoimmune disease, I am always concerned about the effect on my thyroid. There’s no question of getting rid of the cats because we are completely in love with them by now. I considered rushing back to my functional doctor to check whether my thyroid is okay. I feel like an overprotective mother who is scared to let her child have fun.

It feels like I wasn’t allowed to enjoy this news of recovery. I keep feeling this fear that I’m having another set back. I keep wondering if I’m sabotaging my own recovery in some way. Why all these issues just as I’m doing so well? Is my fear of being recovered pulling me backwards to what has become the norm?

FearYou might wonder why anyone would fear recovery? Well, I suppose I’ll have no excuses if I’m fully recovered. If I don’t succeed on my new career path, I can’t blame illness. It will mean that I failed to create the future I have been striving to create. I’ve just got over feeling like a failure from burning out and leaving my business behind. I’m not sure I can deal with another failure.

It also affects my personal life too. If I’m fully recovered or in remission, will I still be able to ask for time alone, for afternoon naps and time to meditate on the weekend? As a highly sensitive person and an introvert, I will need time to restore my energy after busy periods or stimulating outings. Will my family understand that if I’m better? Will I feel entitled to ask for it, or will I feel guilty for being such a wimp who gets tired from merely interacting?

I have been sick for such a long time. My health collapsed at the end of 2014 and obviously was declining for a period of years before that. I’m probably feeling better than I have been for years. I will never fully recover but I’d like to be in remission and to reverse my symptoms as much as possible. That’s what I’ve been striving for, for over two years.

But that remission in itself brings about change. It’s a new state of normal that I will have to adjust to – and my family along with me. If my fear is subconsciously sabotaging my recovery, how do I get it to stop? Or do I just get over the fact that there will be setbacks from time to time and I must learn to roll with it?

Feel Entitled to be Happy

I’ve been thinking a lot about my future and this new career I’ve started. It’s hard to start a new career in your forties. I’ll make no bones about it. It takes a lot of faith and courage to develop a new trade, to learn new skills and to promote yourself based on them. It takes balls. Some days I feel I have the balls. Other days I don’t.

Entitled

I think it is particularly difficult in a creative field. I find it hard to feel and show credibility as someone who has something to offer. This is just me and this is just my story. I often have doubts that make me wonder if my story is boring, or that it wont have any influence on anyone. I’m not a negotiator or a persuader. It’s not my style to encourage everyone to be the same, and particularly to be like me. I want to inspire people into taking stock, and implementing change to enrich their lives.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, she talks about following your passion in creativity. She says “in order to live this way – free to create, free to explore – you must possess a fierce sense of personal entitlement, which I hope you will learn to cultivate.” Entitlement feels like such a negative word but I feel that we are all entitled to things like happiness, success and love.

Entitled

I have always been a people-pleaser, someone driven by harmony. I like to make people happy, to serve others. I love to solve problems. It feels contradictory to being entitled to my own happiness and success. But in a way I feel it as a calling to pursue this line of work. I feel that it will help others if I share my story, and potentially will help people to not get as sick as I did.

When people ask me what I do, or when they talk about work, it feels so foreign to me. At first, I thought it’s because I’ve lived in this cocoon of recovery at home for so long. I’m making my foray back into the world but things look different now. I have realised that I feel strange talking about my work because it doesn’t feel like work for me. It feels like fun. I want to do it on the weekends. I’m not relieved when Friday rolls around (well, apart from making school lunches). I actually love what I do.

This week I earned some money consulting and it felt so great. It’s really small change and wont cover much of my expenses but if feels monumental. It feels like the tide is turning and that opportunities are opening already. I am at stage where I have healed enough to be working. I have learnt that I have to do things that I love and am passionate about. I’m looking for opportunities to speak and they are arriving.

I am learning to be grateful for even the small things that go my way. I’m feeling blessed and excited for this opportunity to design my life. I don’t think many people have had that opportunity and it is indeed a great blessing. If I had not become so ill, I would never have made the changes I have made in my life. I’m living on purpose now and it’s such an amazing feeling. I have suffered greatly to get here. And now I need to get used to it and to feel fully entitled to this happy life I’ve created.

How Resilient are You?

Recently, I had a nasty case of the flu. I haven’t felt that rotten for a long time. When you’re in that state, it is really hard to see the wood for the trees. It’s hard to see beyond the situation and it’s hard to know that you’ll feel better again. It made me think about resilience and how we find our way out of difficult situations.

When my burnout symptoms became obvious, I was confused about it because I thought I was quite resilient. How could someone so optimistic become so very sick just from stress? I read The Resilience Factor to gain an understanding of where I went wrong. And what I found was even more confusing.

Resilient

There are many factors influencing our resilience. I scored high on most factors and average to high on the remainder. Certainly, serious illness affects both our happiness set point as well as our resilience. And yet I scored so high on almost all components. How did I get sick, then?

I’ve come to realise that I was in the perfect storm of unfavourable conditions for flourishing. My work was wrong. The work itself, the people and the industry. My relationships were not working for me. My boundaries were weak and I felt that I was being taken advantage of. My diet was wrong – healthy but wrong. There were many foods that were creating physical stress. And then I was training for ultramarathons on top of it all. I was swimming against the current in many areas of my life, and not taking any time to restore my energy after it was depleted.

Resilience has many aspects, examples being as follows:

  • Do I blame others for what happens – is it someone or something else’s fault?
  • Do I let one bad thing ruin my entire day, week, life?
  • Do I take responsibility for everything that goes wrong? Blaming myself?

“Research shows that the essential ingredient in steering through chronic stress is self-efficacy – the belief that you can master your environment and effectively solve problems as they arise.”  ~ The Resilience Factor (Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte). In my efforts to turn the business profitable, I lost that belief along the way and I eventually gave up hope. I believe that is the time my body gave up too.

Of course when I was burning out, there were areas where I was not completely resilient and I was not functioning at my best. But I didn’t burn out because I’m weak or lacking in resilience. I burnt out because my life was broken, and I was the only one who was capable of fixing it.

Getting sick helped me to step away from everything and take a good look at my life. I tackled each area and two years later my life looks completely different. Now, I do work that I love and I find flow everyday. I surround myself with people who build me up and I avoid those who break me down. That goes for friends, colleagues and relatives. I eat according to what my body likes and I take care of myself. When I’ve pushed hard, I schedule down time.

Resilient

I have found a joy that many people spend their lives looking for. I love my life and my family. I’m doing work that I enjoy thoroughly. I have moments where I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the past two years and what I have learnt. I don’t have to push or fight or struggle for my little slice of happiness. I’m immersed in waves of it every day. I think what led me there is the realisation that my fate lies in my own hands and that I am able to master my environment.

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?

I’ve just finished reading a book by Elaine Aron, called The Highly Sensitive Person. In the book, Dr. Aron explains that being sensitive is an inherited trait and not a dysfunction. In fact about 15 to 20 percent of the population have this trait. Introversion is also inherited and affects approximately 25 to 30 percent of the population. I have come to realise that many aspects of my personality are more attributed to sensitivity, rather than introversion.

I find that I am easily overstimulated by loud noises, strong smells and a lot of people around me. I need time to retreat and to recover from outings and busy environments. Dr Aron provides some wonderful tips for when we find ourselves overstimulated in social situations. We can remove ourselves from the environment, engage in self-talk or deep breathing to induce calm and change our posture.

Sensitive

Being sensitive is not something that is highly valued in our society, and is often seen as a weakness. However, there are great advantages to being sensitive. Dr Aron provides many examples including being conscientious, excellent at detecting errors, being able to concentrate deeply and the ability to process materials at deeper levels of what is known as semantic memory. We notice things, we have stronger intuition and we tend to have a rich inner life, spending time thinking about the meaning of life and how complicated everything is. If you follow my blog regularly, this might sound familiar.

it’s not just our brains that are different – our bodies tend to show marked differences to our less-sensitive counterparts. We are typically morning people, sensitive to caffeine, very good at holding still and we have excellent fine motor skills. Dr Aron encourages us to value our strengths, and not to undervalue ourselves and what our sensitivity offers us and the world.

There were parts of her book I found earth-shattering considering my experience of burnout. She says that HSPs are highly prone to burnout. We are people-pleasers and tend to put ourselves in the front line, not understanding that there are others who are more suited to the task than we are. This passage talks of exactly what I experienced:

“It is true that even when exhausted you are still providing something to those you serve. But you are out of touch with your deepest strengths, role-modelling self-destructive behavior, martyring yourself and giving others cause for guilt. And in the end you will want to quit or be forced to by your body.”

And boy, did my body quit. My adrenal function collapsed and I developed a lifelong disease. If only I had understood my trait better, I could have prevented such a health collapse. I would not have put myself through so much. I would have fought harder for more time alone to restore, in the knowledge that my brain and body are actually built differently to others.

It was no surprise to read that sales is not well suited to the sensitive person. I was doing a lot of sales in my old job and I mostly didn’t enjoy it. I was thrilled, however to learn that public speaking and performing are actually well suited to HSPs. That is because we tend to prepare better than most, and with a lot of preparation, we perform well. That’s good news for me since I’m pursuing public speaking in earnest lately.

I can also use what I have learnt to be a better parent. Dr Aron states that about 30 percent of sensitive people are extroverts. That was surprising for me and I have realised that my five-year-old fits into that category. She loves people and thrives on fun, but she is very sensitive to loud noises and feels deep empathy.

Sensitive

I can now use Dr Aron’s strategies to educate my children how to handle themselves. Certainly, they will have to learn that balance between being out in the world, and recovering from excess stimulation. But the knowledge of why others don’t need that recovery will help them in life, and they will learn to self-regulate better than I did. I now realise that being a sensitive parent is a great asset for our family.

I have felt misunderstood a lot in my life and it is understandable since the majority of the population are not like me. People cannot understand why I’m bored with small talk, and perhaps find my conversation a little intense. There are many social activities that I’d rather skip, and my recovery from burnout has been a great opportunity to learn this. Luckily, I am at a stage in life where I can choose how I spend my time, and I know myself well enough to know when I’d be happier at home. Not everyone understands this, but it’s important I do what’s necessary for my well-being.

I’m often judged for worrying too much about a ‘vibe’ I picked up. I realise now that I’m not being paranoid – I’m just more attuned than the average person is. I can use this knowledge to accept myself in a way that I wasn’t able to before. I can also make sure that I care for myself properly, giving myself what I need to recover from too much stimulation. I’m excited to see the world through new eyes, appreciating myself more for this new knowledge.

Hooray, my Leaky Gut is Healed!

Yesterday I went to see my functional practitioner for a check up, now with a frequency of three-monthly. Functional medicine aims to treat the individual and to create homeostasis, or balance in the body. I believe it to be the future of medicine, due to the uniqueness of each of us, our lifestyles, histories and illnesses. My thyroid disease is not the same as other people’s thyroid disease and my burnout presented differently too.

For the past week I have had a cold, which is not so great for anyone with autoimmune disease. The immune system becomes reactive and can trigger worse symptoms. I was hoping to see a lot of improvement in my thyroid and adrenal health but I was worried about the effect the cold would have on the results. Happily, my results were amazing. My thyroid function is still healthy and my adrenal health is now normal. I only had a small indication that the Influenza A virus is in my system.

Leaky

The other great news is that my food sensitivities are gone, which means that my leaky gut is healed. Intestinal permeability, or ‘leaky gut’ is a consequence and a cause of autoimmune disease. It played a part in me becoming ill and it aggravated my condition. Fortunately, my healthcare providers recommended lifestyle changes such as eliminating gluten from my diet, along with the reactive foods and focusing on healing. I make bone broths, I eat a green smoothie every day and I completely eliminated gluten and most dairy from my diet in order to recover.

I can now have milk, yoghurt, all cheese, cream and ice cream again! I’m really thrilled as it has been difficult to cut out so much dairy, on top of the gluten. As soon as I get rid of this cold, I’m having a cappuccino. Ah, I can’t wait. It has been several years since I’ve been able to enjoy a simple cappuccino. It’s those small joys that make life so rich. And it’s hard to explain to someone what life is like having such a restricted diet. I have to chuckle when I’m invited to a cheese and wine event. I can’t have alcohol due to its effect on my adrenals, no gluten so the crackers are out, and I wasn’t able to have cheese – until now, of course!

I have worked extremely hard to change my lifestyle, diet, sleeping habits and more in order to heal, not only from leaky gut but from my burnout too. I am so happy to see that my health is coming right. I will always have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis but my thyroid is working and I don’t require any medication for it. I’m hoping that I can stop the medication for my adrenal glands when I visit my endocrinologist next month. I’m also really excited to see how low my antibodies (which measure the autoimmune attack) have dropped since I have been taking such good care of myself.

Leaky

I think it’s so important to celebrate these happy moments. The recovery has been very long and slow, filled with frustration and a fair amount of sulking. But I am so happy to see that persevering and being kind to my body have really paid off. My leaky gut is gone and if I continue to stay off gluten, it shouldn’t come back. I won’t go crazy eating ice cream for breakfast but I think I’ve earned a weekly cappuccino.

Under what Conditions will I be Worthy?

I wrote a book about my experience of burnout.  The first half is about how I got there, and the second half is about how not to get there. I shared my experience, in the hope that others can benefit. Stress is a dangerous thing and I had no idea what havoc it would cause in my life. My true desire is to help as many people as possible not to get as sick as I did.

I understood that since I’m not a famous journalist, no publisher is interested in publishing my non-fiction book. I realised after some research that self-publishing was the only way to go, particularly for my first book. I was terrified because I knew that there would be lessons to be learned and mistakes that I could not prevent. But my story had to come out. So I took the plunge.

The publisher provided an ‘editor’ as part of the package I purchased. The editing and layout were complete and my book was ready for printing. But I was not happy with it since the editor was really a proof reader. For my first book, and such a personal story, I wanted an editor to provide me with tough, honest feedback so that the end product would be something I could be proud of.

I sent it to two friends to get an opinion. Both of them said that the first half was not pleasant to read. And sure, there’s lots of suffering and it’s not pretty. But the real problem was that I wrote it in the wrong frame of mind. I wrote it when I was trying to make sense of my burnout and autoimmune disease. I wrote it at a time when I was so angry and confused that this had happened to me. Obviously, that tone permeated the writing.

Worthy

I”m better known for my solution-oriented outlook. I’m not a whiny person who dwells in misery. The first half did not reflect me, and I was worried that my readers would not get past the suffering and into the solution part – the best part. One of my alternative healers did editing in her past and I asked for help. She struggled with the first half as much as I did. When she took several months to return with anything, I realised that the first half had to be rewritten. I did that, and felt much happier with the tone of a person more at peace with her fate.

But it has still been months since my editor has contacted me and I keep wondering what that’s about. Every time I pushed her to complete something, I couldn’t help but feel there was a reason for the delay. My editor said that my story caused a lot of emotions about her own health journey, to surface. That was encouraging to hear, since it means my story has impact.

However, I felt enormous frustration that the book was not ready, as it would be a great way for me to start a new career. As I became well enough to work, I wanted the book to be published. It could provide me with credibility, and it would be wonderful to call myself a writer at my speeches and workshops. The longer the book took to be complete, I began to realise that there is a lesson in the waiting.

Worthy

I realised that I was tying my worth to the book. People will think I’m worth something if I’m an author – and nothing without it. People will be impressed by the fact that I wrote a book. Another way of gaining approval. I went to a workshop recently and I drew a card that said “It’s time to give up.” It’s so contrary to how I am – I never give up on things that matter to me. But I realised that I need to surrender to the wait, and to get on with my life. I need to find a way to feel worthy without a label like ‘writer’. I need to know, and feel my own worth just as the person I am. And then the book might come right.

It’s a difficult thing to pull yourself up after an experience like burnout. I’m trying to build a new career but it is very difficult. I have been out of a working environment for two years and I feel vulnerable. I am often uncertain of where to turn next. I’m unsure of what opportunities to look for, and which ones to take. I’m scared about what I’m doing, and what I’m not doing. It is hard to feel worthy and useful with all this self-doubt, and without income. I’m doing my best to convince myself that I have a lot to offer, even if no-one happens to be paying for it right now.

Are you trying to be Perfect?

I’ve written about perfectionism before but Brené Brown has resurrected this topic for me in a new way. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes that “perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.” She writes that healthy striving focuses on how I can improve, rather than what will they think. I think this is a wonderful way to summarise a shift that was necessary for me.

Perfect

In the past few years while recovering from burnout, I have realised where my perfectionism comes from. It comes from looking for approval from the authority figures in my life. It started out with my parents. I thought that if I did really well at school, they might pay more attention to me. Although I did well, they didn’t really notice me, or my results.

In my work, I tried really hard to get everything perfect. I used to get upset when things didn’t go according to plan, ending in tears of frustration. Seeking the approval of others didn’t ever get me to a point where I felt good about myself. I still felt inadequate and kept striving to deliver perfection, even though I got excellent performance reviews.

When my health collapsed at the end of 2014, I had no option but to stop working. I retreated to home so that I could recover. I didn’t. I then arranged a sabbatical so that I could recover. I didn’t. So eventually I resigned from my company and surrendered to the fact that my illness was serious and that I needed to regroup in a number of ways.

It was during this recovery period that I realised that I was still spending a lot of time looking for approval. From shareholders, from my father, from my friends and family. At last it dawned on me that until I love myself and approve of myself, I would never really feel it from anyone else. And the irony is that as soon as I learnt to be kind to myself, I realised that I didn’t need that approval I spent so long searching for. Another benefit is that once I treated myself with love, kindness and respect, my other relationships slowly started to transform.

I can’t tell you exactly how I made this shift and of course, I would never say that I’m fully ‘there’ because it is an ongoing process. I know that meditation has something to do with it. I know that I consciously shifted my self-talk to be more positive. I try hard not to berate myself for mistakes, and to be kind to myself when I mess up. I think knowing that we all fallible is helpful too.

Perfection is something we will never attain. Certainly, I always advocate giving your best in any situation and I try hard to do a good job of whatever I’m tackling. But my best might be horribly flawed in some instances. And in others, it might be pretty good. It’s okay to suck at some things, it really is. I’m trying to teach my children this too, so that they don’t grow up as I did, trying to be perfect.

I’m teaching them to love themselves, to be kind to themselves and to accommodate failure. They are truly intrigued when I make mistakes. I certainly don’t love that part, but it’s a chance to teach them how to be kind, and to model behaviour that I’d like them to adopt.

Perfect

I don’t think they will feel that frustration I did as a child in not ever getting the approval I looked for. One of my father’s favourite lines was “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” I don’t think he realised how much of an impact that had on me. It’s a pity I spent so many years looking for approval from the very person who should have made it unnecessary. I hope to undo this pattern with my children. To offer them love and approval, unconditionally. And to teach them the importance of self-compassion.

Wholehearted living

I have just finished reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Every time I read one of her books, I marvel at how honest she is about her flaws, mistakes and her deep-seated fears. Not many people have the courage to talk about those things, or the interest in tackling such heavy subjects. It’s part of why I love reading her books.

Currently, I’m creating a new career path for myself, post burnout. I feel that I have recovered and I await blood tests to prove it in a few weeks time. I am now on the other side of a momentous life event. Something that shook the foundation of my identity and my life. It changed me, and I’m glad I let it. I now get to lay down a fresh path, on purpose, one that contains all the elements I desire in my life.

I get to choose it. I get to design it. I’m not a victim of what opportunities other people offer me. I’m not at the mercy of a boss who will tell me what I’m worth through flawed corporate processes. I get to design something that is as unique as I am. It’s exciting and a little scary. But this is the very best part of the gift of burnout – that I get to start again. Many people don’t get an opportunity like that in their lives and I am thrilled for it.

Stripped from my old job title, and almost every way I defined myself, it took some time to actually figure out who I was and what I wanted. I spent a lot of time reading during my recovery. I studied positive psychology, I read extensively on what constitutes happiness and I’ve actively included the practices that resonated with me, into my life.

Dr Brown provides ten guideposts for what she calls Wholehearted living. I found it fascinating that I’ve unknowingly incorporated these guideposts into my new life. Things like a gratitude practice are now a part of my routine. I make time for creativity, stillness and fun. I’ve learned to be kind to myself, and to cultivate authenticity. I left WhatsApp groups that didn’t fit with me and I was prepared for the fallout that followed. I even ended relationships that were unhealthy because I knew that my life needed to change. Not just because, but for my very survival.

Wholehearted

I learned to really feel the emotions and to connect my head and my heart. I learned that feeling things is critical to really living, and that we can’t enjoy the best things in life if we try to numb the pain. I don’t have crutches like other people do, since I can’t drink alcohol, I don’t do caffeine any more and I can’t drown my sorrows in pastry since gluten and sugar are also out of my diet. I have to actually deal with my problems, and not escape them through addictive behaviours. Date balls don’t really have the same comfort impact as a chocolate croissant. So instead I was forced to face what I was feeling. And I’m better off for it.

Comparing the person on the way to burnout and even during recovery to the person I am now, is so incredibly rewarding. Dr Brown speaks of people who experience joy and that it takes time to cultivate it. I can honestly say that there is true joy in my life now. There was none in the years that led up to my burnout and it took a long time for me to find it. In the past year I started to play. I wrote about it in a blog post about our holiday at the coast. The one where my children said “Mom, you’re like a kid.” Joy has now become part of my existence and I feel so very grateful for the life that I lead.

Wholehearted

I now live a wholehearted life where I embrace each day, I live with hope and enthusiasm for my future. Many people might think I’m delusional since I don’t have a clear idea of what the path ahead looks like. But I’ve learned that not knowing is okay and that it will unfold as it needs to. What matters to me is that I believe in myself, I’m kind to myself along the way, and I keep moving forwards towards things that I love and that I find meaningful.