I know how scary burnout can be. Even though it’s 13 years since I was signed off for a few weeks for depression and anxiety, I remember feeling like I’d never be OK.
I remember when crying at work each day turned into crying at my desk each day and then, openly sobbing walking through the open plan office. Consciously, all I could think of was the fact that my taxes were being used to fund the horrors of more war in Afghanistan and Iraq (but obviously, I was projecting a lot of stuff myself).
When I eventually spoke to my boss and friend and said ‘I think I might need to see my GP,’ rather than encouraging me to struggle on, she looked relieved and told me to go immediately.
I had already qualified (training during long weekends for years) as a complementary therapist and life coach but this experience of feeling incapable of doing anything other than crying was one I wanted to avoid.
Years and years and years of training and work as a counsellor and many other complementary therapies mean I’ve become far more comfortable with crying. I still probably cry most days but not in the same way. It’s usually fleeting, when something touches my soul. And I know it just means that my emotional landscape has got bigger – I feel more joy and other positive emotions now as a result, too.
My emotions rarely scare me and I welcome the whole spectrum, from rage to gratitude, peace to sadness, hope to despair. (Obviously, I welcome some more than others.)
That experience 13 years ago led to my becoming my own boss and working initially as a coach and freelance journalist, adding additional therapies as I qualified.
I love my work. I so value being able to support clients and students in taking better care of themselves and helping them work through challenging feelings and getting closer to a life they love living. And making part of my living through writing is something I didn’t dare even dream about when I was younger.
Ultimately, my writing and client work is all about self-care. This is why it always makes me laugh when I (belatedly but much more quickly than I used to) notice that I’ve been neglecting my own.
Noticing the warning signs last night, I decided to reschedule everything for today and take a Duvet Day / Mental Health Day. Almost as soon as I’d given myself permission to be a human being, I remembered preferring the more invincible stages of my cycle but trusted, like everything else, it would pass.
With Imbolc approaching, it’s a natural time to be looking inward and wondering what is trying to emerge. Almost immediately, I felt better. There was a feeling of stopping the world and allowing myself to step off, momentarily. [Wheeeeeeee – sound of falling off the planet.]
What I’m describing here is mild – I’ve been working with self-care for 13 years and still struggle when I get caught up in feeling more vulnerable, less productive, lonely… not despair (I still have faith in us humans to turn things around) but it’s hard to ignore what’s happening tomorrow.
By the time I woke up (lovely lie in!) this morning, I decided I already felt better so renamed my Mental Health Day a Cat Day. At a spa day for my birthday last year, I told a friend I felt like a cat. Not that cats would enjoy a spa day but they have that sense of being in tune with what they need in any given moment (movement, sleep, food, company etc) and don’t appear to beat themselves up for it.
I didn’t rush my meditation, enjoyed some gentle yoga and imagined myself prioritising self-care all day and emerging recharged and a little smug.
It’s not been plain sailing (crisps for breakfast and dark chocolate digestives for lunch with a kale, cucumber, banana and blueberry smoothie) but I’m looking forward to a healthier meal now.
When I imagined all the lovely films I’d watch, the long bubble bath, a long (at least an hour) River Walk, reading something completely unrelated to work and so on, I didn’t expect to be so low in energy that I’d appreciate the 90 minutes it takes the water to heat up to psyche myself up for a relaxing bath.
That I’d (so far) not manage a single film, just a couple of episodes of Black-ish. Or that it would get to 4pm and I’d have to talk myself into a walk (bike ride felt too High Speed Travel for today).
Within 5 minutes of my 35 minute walk around the block (down the hill, along the river and back up and home), I felt better. I’d met a few lovely dogs, picked up a lucky penny and was taking lots of pictures of the beautiful winter trees and River Brain (more of a stream but I love its name).
My reason for posting is I know I’m not alone re my mood being affected by tomorrow. But politics aside, we all feel a range of emotions. Learning to take better care of ourselves contributes to the state of the world. We’re more likely to listen to others with compassion and understanding, to empathise with people who are different and so on.
I’m also posting this to illustrate how easy it is to get sucked into feeling bleaugh. I have So Much to be grateful for (and as I walked, I started making a little mental list, but if I’d tried to rush this and force myself to feel gratitude, it would have possibly been more detrimental than helpful) and my work is all about this stuff.
I’m not at all suggesting that a single day is enough when issues run deeper (go see your GP, work with a therapist, open up to loved ones, do whatever it takes to heal – you wouldn’t think twice about getting yourself the help you need for a physical issue).
But I am hoping that it might encourage you to pause and check in with what might help you in this moment. To schedule in regular breaks. To do whatever you need. Everyone around you will benefit.
What helps you feel better?
What happens when you stop trying to force yourself to feel better and instead allow yourself to feel however you actually feel (burned out, in need of a break etc)?
Again, I realise it’s much easier for me (yet still a challenge) than for parents and people with dependents but there’s always something we can do.
And while I’m about to log back off and get back to my day of indulgence now, I’m also back to looking forward to work tomorrow.
Feel free to post your favourite Mental Health Day / Cat Day fixes below.