Celebrating Burnout Progress

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how my life has changed since my burnout. I started this blog in February 2015, a month after I was diagnosed with my stress-induced autoimmune disease. I started the blog to chronicle the journey to a new career path, to act as a way for me to process what was happening to me, and to share my struggles with others who might be experiencing something difficult too.

Chronic fatigue during burnout

As part of my burnout, I experienced chronic fatigue for approximately three years. It would have been shorter if I got the correct medical treatment upfront, but I have made peace with that. My life looked so different when I was struggling with such intense fatigue. I couldn’t go out much, and when I did, I needed a lot of time to recover. That meant that I had to be very selective of which social functions to attend. I went to important ones, like a fortieth celebration for a very special friend or meeting up with someone who is visiting from overseas.

A major part of the struggle was that I didn’t have anyone telling me what I could and couldn’t do. I had to figure it out by experience. That meant three days recovering from a long coffee with friends that I should have cut shorter. The initial doctor who provided inappropriate treatment told me not to exercise at all. That was good advice initially, but at which point could I start doing something gentle, like walking? No-one could tell me. I had to test it out and suffer the consequences if I pushed too hard.

And pushing too hard is quite in-built in my personality, otherwise I would not have burnt out in the first place. So that was tricky. On top of that challenge, was the incremental recovery. Once I got the right care, I started to bounce back, but very very slowly. I would feel better for a while and then decide to go for a walk around the block. I felt so great to be out exercising that I got carried away and went too far.

This seesaw pattern continued for years, and I am now at the point where there is no more of that. My adrenal glands are functioning normally and I can exercise, work and cook dinner for my family. We tend to take that for granted when we don’t know it can be taken away from us. It’s a blessing to be able to do all of those things in one day. And you can only know how that feels, if you have been there. It’s difficult to describe to someone, and even difficult to remember, now that I’m beyond it.

My life now looks completely different to the way it looked before burnout. I’m happy. I love my work and can’t wait for Monday morning so that I can spend all day writing. I get to choose what I work on and I get to decide when I host workshops or talks and what opportunities I choose to engage in. I am grateful for every aspect of my life and I value my health, my children and my husband more than ever. It’s great to live like this and I would never have guessed that my life would change so radically.

I wrote my first book, Avoiding Burnout, when I was in the middle of the struggle to recover. One of my early blog posts shows how I was figuring out how I got sick. I was still grappling with the enormity of what I had lost and how my life would change forever. I had not fully accepted and become grateful for all the positives that emerged out of the forced change. I needed to write that book to explain what happened to me, mostly for myself so that I could unpack it and deal with what happened.

I’m now busy writing my second book, Mastering Stress. It is a different book entirely, and it is focused on the stories of other people and how they deal with the stress in their lives. As part of this process, I interview people to hear about their struggles and what they do about it. Every single interview offers me something of value, and I’m blown away but how much grace there is in the world. People carry huge burdens and yet carry on with their lives anyway.

Interviews on stress and burnout

I am at a place where I have moved beyond the confusion and misery of my own burnout and illness. I’m at a place where I love my work, I’m very happy with my life and I have clarity of purpose. I know what I need to deliver as part of my calling in life, I even turn down opportunities that don’t align to my values or my vision, and I fill my time with what brings me joy, people and activities.

I may sound smug about where I am in life, but know that it came with an immense amount of suffering and work on myself. My life isn’t perfect, and I have much to learn and I need to grow in many ways. I also know that there are many challenges ahead of me and that I will encounter difficult experiences going forward. But I’m content with who I am and my life. And I think that’s pretty rare today and something to be celebrated.

Starting this blog I was confused, angry and miserable. How much life can change in a few short years. Take comfort, if life is not smooth for you right now, if you are struggling with stress, illness or grief. Things can turn around in ways you never imagined and your life can be transformed with effort and persistence. I have transitioned to a new career that I absolutely love. I write books, I do public speaking and I host workshops. I have no doubt that there are many fun opportunities ahead of me that will take me to interesting places and I can’t wait to discover them.

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I am a champion for living your passion. Writing is my passion, my destiny and my calling. I am a mother of two beautiful daughters and a wife and live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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