Living next door to burn-out
This post is long, and may seem a little bit random. But it’s where I’m at right now and I needed to get it off my chest.
Living with post-burn-out is a little bit like having a noisy neighbour. You didn’t choose it, but life decided that your paths should cross and now you are in each others lives, whether you want to or not. Like any neighbour, it may not bother you much on a daily basis. You may just carry on living separate lives without much interference from one another. The occasional nod over the fence or ‘good morning’ by the bins. And then there’ll be those times when your neighbour throws a big party, maybe a few big parties, maybe a whole weekend of party. You miss out on sleep for nights on end, and may feel like you are going temporarily insane. For a few days, your life is turned up side down. So much so, that you will start to dread the next party your neighbour throws. There may not be another party, or at least not one like this one, but the dread is there. It is always there. Will always be there.
I am a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie. I have always had an unhealthy relationship with stress, performance and ambitions. My boundaries for what I am capable of, physically and mentally, have been pushed to distortion and my body has objected – loudly. I have been rushed to hospital with bleeding kidneys, with a stomach trying to digest itself, and with panic attacks so severe the doctors though I was suffering from blood clots in my lungs. I have woken up with stress rashes all over my neck and chest, or with cracks in the skin on my hands (my hands tend to do that when I’m stressed or not sleeping enough). But man, have I been able to DO STUFF! I have tackled the biggest projects, ticked off the longest to-do lists, moved the biggest mountains. I have been Miss Fix-It, it’s been my identity. And I have loved every second of it.
Until I’ve crashed. Until my body refuses to take anymore. And then I’ve spent a weekend or so in bed, sleeping and crying, and soon enough I’ve bounced back and carried on again. At first I though I always bounced back to full strength, but after a few crashes I realised that everytime I ‘bounced back’ I lost a little bit of me, of my resistance. And the crashes started to last for longer as well, I needed more time to recover everytime I fell. And then I fell completely. I remember being in the grocery store, shopping for ingredients for Mr Man’s birthday cake, thinking to myself that I should probably pick up everything else I might need for that week while I was there. And I drew a blank. My brain could not handle holding so many things for so many days in my head at the same time. I just couldn’t figure out what to buy – I couldn’t even figure out what day it was. It was my ‘Game Over’ moment. A friend of mine, who also burned out a few years ago, told me that his ‘Game Over’ moment was when he came into work one day and couldn’t make any sense of the keyboard at his computer. He didn’t understand it anymore. It’s the same thing. Something that he and I had been able to do in our sleep for years (him typing, me food shopping) was all of a sudden too much for us to handle. Scary.
I quit my job that week. I had no real plans on what to do with my future, all I knew was that I just needed to stop. So I did.
I felt like a failure. I had felt like a failure every single time I had crashed before, but this time was different, it felt more permanent. I went to stay with my parents for almost a month, which gave me a chance to recharge my batteries and to gain some perspective. To be back on the island where I grew up was very healing, and it helped a lot.
I needed to figure out what to do to make me happy. Something that I felt passionately about, something I burned for – but that wouldn’t burn me out. A few years ago, in an attempt to understand my own destructive behaviour, I underwent an investigation for bi-polar disease (my grandmother suffers from bi-polar, so the doctors thought that maybe…). A very friendly psychologist turned up at my door (they prefer to asses your crazyness in the comfort of your own home) and we chatted for a while. After about an hour he smiled at me and told me that I’m not bi-polar (score!) but that I have extreme perfectionist tendencies (whack!). He told me it was a huge concern to him that I was in the line of work I was in (I had been in my first Kitchen Designer role for about 4 months at the time) as it was most likely feeding in to my perfectionism, and the customers I worked for were expecting high levels of perfectionism from me. He said he would much prefer to see me work with, say, reclaimed furniture – where the beauty is really in the imperfection. At the time I thought ‘Yeah, that sounds nice’, waved the lovely man goodbye, and went back to work.
Four years later and my soul is crying out to work with reclaimed furniture. To build things. To paint things. To make things happen with my hands. After my month in Sweden, I came back to London (this is where my Life and my Man is) and decided to try and somehow get to do just that. But London is an expensive city. Feeling guilty for letting my employer down when quitting on the spot, I contacted her and offered to work for her a few days a week on a freelance basis. Which is what I do now, 3 days a week. It’s great from a financial point of view as it helps me keep my head above water, but I’m still not sure it was the best thing for me. You see, I still feel like I failed. And 3 days a week, I’m here, staring failure in the face, trying to pretend I can’t see it or feel it, trying to pretend I’m ok. When actually I’m not. I can’t be myself here. I feel and hear myself transform into somebody I’m not the second I walk through the door. I do 3 days straight here, and by the end of day 3 I’m wondering how the hell I was ever able to do 5, sometimes 6, days a week. It takes me an entire day to recover afterwards. A day of doing nothing, of not wanting to do anything, of feeling guilty for not being able to do anything. It’s been 6 months since I quit my full-time job. I’m still damaged. Scary.
Now I’m trying to look forward. I’m trying to find ways of earning money by being creative. I do a bit of window dressing for a few companies, I design logos and at the moment I’m also working on a stand for a trade show. At home I’m building furniture, painting and planting things in the garden. The other day a company contacted me asking if I could spruce up their office. I was really excited! I told a colleague, who was also really excited for me. She asked if I had made sure to ask the Universe for a lot of work now, going forward. As I am a firm believer in the Law of Attraction, I said that I had. But as I said that, something bubbled up inside of me. That dread. That fear. That paralysing worry of falling of my own pedestal, of failing. Again. I feel like I am walking wounded into this, it feels like the only thing I can think of doing now. And if I fail at this… Then what?
That fear will always be there. That fear is what keeps me still. It’s what keeps me from chasing after the next adrenalin rush – even though I’m dying for one. That feeling of ‘I can do ANYTHING’.
I am an adrenaline junkie without a fix. And I miss it every single day.