My Breaking Point
At the end of January, I attended the first Ladies of Code Leeds meet-up of 2019! I went to my first LoC meet-up in the summer when I moved to Leeds and immediately felt welcomed by all the friendly folks I met that day. 😊Since then, I’ve always been keen to go to the meet-ups whenever I can. So being asked to speak got me pretty excited (evident with my talk, I’m sure 😂)
At the meet-up, I shared my recent experience with burnout and how I’ve been dealing with it since I first identified it as impacting me – I wanted to share this with you all today! You can also find the slides here.
This isn’t the story I wanted to tell
My university days seems like it was years ago now, but this time last year, I was on the peak of my doing-it-all game. I had just finished my January exams and immediately thought about all the free time I had to do other things, like plan talks, go to events, plan events, write posts, film stuff, learn more tech stuff, do more tech stuff, apply to more jobs…
And guess what? I did it all. Every single thing, just in time for graduation. My 24 hours never felt like it was enough, but my output was still quite impressive if I do say so myself. At the time, I thought that I was becoming superwoman (Note: I still think this, but less dependent on external things to make me feel like it 😉) but listing it out like that now makes me feel silly for not seeing the inevitable future.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
After my final exam at University, I took a week break away. That week was certainly enough for me to fully process the crazy year I had (especially since it was quite the opposite of relaxing), but I didn’t give myself any more time to slow down… as soon as I returned, I moved to Leeds to start my summer internship the following Monday. I had hardly moved in or even so much fully took a proper breath by this point. 😂
In addition to adjusting to the new working life, I suffered from great anxiety and fear after moving away. Overwhelm was an understatement. So I did what I usually do when I got overwhelmed, continued to overwhelm myself with other things… by adding more to my plate with the hope of crushing my anxiety. I mean, it worked throughout University so what could possibly go wrong?
Short answer: everything
To my delight, I secured the graduate position I had applied to earlier in the summer. Come September, I said goodbye to my summer internship and quickly packed my bags for a two-week induction on the road to welcome me to the company and left Sunday to be at Ipswich for Monday. It was such a fantastic experience and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but it was when I was in London when the first signs hit.
I woke up one morning sick. I hadn’t been so ill like that in years, and the panic got the better of me when I remembered that I was miles away from my family. Luckily, I was with amazing company and soon recovered.
When I started at my base location, I began the adjustment process – learning things from company culture, exceptions, tools used etc. It was so exciting, I was raring to go and provide as much value as soon as possible. So I did. I put myself up for everything “extra-curricular” including running CFG classes again, giving talks at Universities and featuring in video campaigns. I even spent weekends either learning more about the company, the job and even went to events to promote it!
It was just like being at University again, apart from the fact that it was my first few months at a huge company where I would go home feeling a new level of tired from learning so much but continued to push through learning more and doing other things because Pauline-at-uni would do the same. I did some sort of talk or event every week in November, either in the evenings or weekends.
I fell ill a couple of times since September, but continued to ignore it until I reached my breaking point in December – where I kid you not, I had NEVER been so ill in my whole life. On top of that, I began getting anxiety attacks again where I’d wake up in the middle of the night sweating buckets with an elevated heart rate. My interest in things like my blog, videos and even health began to suffer. I found myself actively avoiding friends, my family noticed the lack of enthusiasm towards things, I found myself stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and was easily irritable to those I love the most.
As Marie Kondo would say, things I loved no longer sparked joy. Everything felt like a chore, and honestly, looking back at the things I had published in the time period doesn’t feel like me.
I essentially lost in touch with myself. And that sucked.
Do you feel the pressure?
Looking back now, I know that I put unnecessary pressure on myself throughout the year. Everything I did was my choice to do, I had the full power to say “no” but even when my heart was begging me to say the words, I couldn’t do it.
Someone asked me such a great question during the meet-up and it was simply, “Why?” Why did I do all this? Even when I knew my mind and body was screaming slow down, why did I do this?
It’s strange but I never asked myself this even when I was at my breaking point. It wasn’t until I was stood up there being completely vulnerable in front of so many people that the answer sort of just hit me in the face.
I was doing it all because yes, I loved every second of it. I enjoyed the journey, the learnings, the people involved, future-proofing myself.
But there got to a point where it was all driven by fear.
Fear of being left behind. Fear of not being good enough. Fear from deep-rooted imposter syndrome.
Being honest to myself feels shameful at times (especially in the pressures of the modern world to be perfectly fine all the time) but it is this honesty that is genuinely the step forward for positive change.
Today – Project: Me
I’m still in the learning process to say no, to prioritise my workload and check my capacity often. But it is now at the forefront of everything I do now, I ask myself:
- How does this serve me?
- How does this serve others?
- Can I do this on time and top quality?
- If it isn’t for me, is there someone else I can recommend? (Recommending others is an awesome practice y’all)
In addition to asking myself these questions, I’ve also:
- Deleted work-related apps from my phone. That means no more checking my emails when I find it hard to sleep.
- Switched my work phone off after 5 and on the weekends.
- Switched off notifications FOR EVERYTHING but Messenger (for family) and Calm (for mindfulness reminders.)
- Blocked out “ME TIME” on my calendar
- Planned all of my holidays for the year
- Stopped bringing my phone to the table when I’m having a meal with friends or family
- Continued to kick butt at the playground (i.e. my own butt at the gym 😂) and participated in Office Yoga for a mid-week break
- Been more honest when I’m not feeling my best instead of trying to push it under the rug and pretend everything is perfect when life is far from it!
This doesn’t mean the end of taking up opportunities
…In fact, it is the beginning of taking up opportunities that make you scream, “HECK YEAH!” whilst running around the apartment feeling like Iron Man.
Your most important project is you. By focusing on this project, above everything else, output on everything else is at the highest quality.
“Despite the world’s absurd expectations, the laws of space and time really do apply to you. You cannot attend every event, every meeting, and every unhappy hour. You cannot support every cause, solve every crisis, and teach every lesson. You cannot be everything to everyone at all times. You cannot pick up all the slack that other people obliviously drop at your feet. If you attempt to do all that, you will snap in half. It will be ugly.
You won’t find true balance unless you install checks on your time, energy, and other resources. Draw the lines you will not cross lines with permanent markers, laser beams, and barbed wire. Defend your bandwidth with repeated, firm resolve. Your survival depends on it.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Choose quality over quantity any day.