The Power of Stepping Away

It’s ironic, that in the middle of writing an essay for uni about psychological distress in the legal industry, I was experiencing, (whilst pretending I wasn’t), burn out. In fact, I laughed, at all 3 medical practitioners who told me in the space of a week that I had it. I said to each of them ‘that’s not even a thing’.

In October, I was recovering from a medical procedure. The recovery was supposed to be five days. Four weeks later I was still struggling to get up and function.

It initially creeped up slowly and then took hold in a debilitating way. I became exceptionally tired and thirsty beyond control. The effort to participate in conversation was more than I could handle some days. But I kept going, not believing this thing was real even though it had me in its firm grip.

Gradually I realised I had become an angry, agitated and unpleasant human being. I put on a brave face in public, at work, at uni but at home I realised I disliked myself a lot.

Burn out sapped the joy from my soul. It made even the smallest thing feel monumental. Catching up with friends now made me exhausted even when I saw it written down in my calendar days in advance. So, I isolated. I have successfully turned myself into the opposite of who I am; from an extrovert I became an introvert. Then I felt guilty so I planned a huge party at Christmas time. I figured all these people, my friends, I could bring them together, spend some time with them and then I wouldn’t be expected to socialise for a while.

It was epic. I had a great time, enjoyed myself, went through the motions and then fell in an exponential heap. For two weeks I was overcome with physical symptoms that either disabled me from eating to vomiting or terrifying chest pain. I had tests and scans and they were all clear.

The verdict … burn out! Again!! I was advised to quit my job immediately or take a solid leave of absence. I didn’t.

I was committed to my work. I was committed to my uni, to my family, to my life. I wasn’t a quitter. People called me a super mum so I must be. I was so wrong.

During this three month period I had a lot of heavy personal ‘stuff’ going on. Stuff that is beyond my control but weighed heavily. So I completely ignored by burn out and tried to pick myself up and go back to work.

You’d think I’d scale back my commitments but it’s seems I’m not that smart, I did the opposite. During this time I was accepted to sit as an advocate for NSW Health (Pain Management Committee). In my first meeting I was nominated to sit on the Executive Board, I accepted. I then decided to enrol in a full time load at uni and change my degree to a double degree……. yes I know…… I’m crazy!!

All the while this thing called burn out plagued me. I lost my fitness as the mere effort to get to the gym let alone complete a basic workout became too much. With the loss of my fitness came my pain again. Chronic pain needs a fine balance. It does not take to stress lightly. I began getting debilitating migraines and my pain was so severe I had a period where I barely slept over a period of two weeks.

I disliked the person I had become with so much ferocity that I knew I was overdue for intervention. My sister told me that I could keep whinging about it and stay where I was or I could address the issues and move on. It was obvious and finally I listened.

I’ve recently made some very big changes to my life in order to bring back my joy.

I was able to swim everyday this week and try and regain control over my pain. My fatigue and anxiety will take much longer to realign but it’s a start in the right direction. I know I will eventually and slowly ease my way back into my social circle but I’m guarded; of judgement and I-told-you-so!

I am a person who functions at full throttle most of the time and when the wheels start to fall off I hit the turbo button to enable me to decompress from all the emotional noise happening in my life. It’s just what I do. This time though, I was unprepared for the baggage I was carrying heavily from my surroundings.

I am now aware of two other women who I admire deeply in our community who are both recovering from burn out. It was only when I spoke to them both that I had the insight to accept my reality. I wrote this blog today not for me (although writing it lessens my burden). I don’t need sympathy or empathy or a pat on the back, what I want is for society to acknowledge that there are a lot of us out there experiencing burn out. It’s real!

As society has evolved it forgot to realise that women cannot do it all. We bloody try!!! But we cannot. It is impossible to sustain a life juggling child rearing, marriage, work, study, social, home making and all the other stuff we just do. It is absolutely bloody okay to ask for help, to pay for help or cry for help.

We now have a nanny. She looks after my children after school, she cleans, she washes up those really awful bento lunch boxes every afternoon, she folds and irons my washing, she cooks dinner, she ensures my children are showered and ready for bed so I get to spend time with them, she’s awesome and I need her.

This is the power of stepping away, of taking action. Don’t pretend to be superhuman my darlings, because it’s not real. Accept who you are, do not compare yourself to anyone or anything and love that version of you fiercely.

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