I suffered a health collapse that brought my life to a standstill. At the time I had no idea what was happening and what the next few years would be like. Only with hindsight was I able to label it as a burnout, a condition defined by Merriam Webster to be “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration”.
Of course, being individuals, we exhibit a unique set of symptoms. For me, the two worst symptoms were headaches and fatigue. It can be difficult to get a diagnosis with those two symptoms but eventually I found the correct doctor who used the term HPA Axis Dysregulation, colloquially called adrenal fatigue. The adrenals are part of the endocrine system and with the level of disruption in my body, I also developed an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Life was very difficult at first and I was so exhausted I had to sit down after my shower. There were physical consequences, being radically fatigued after doing something as mundane as cooking dinner or walking down the driveway to pick mulberry leaves for my children’s silkworms. It’s hard to imagine what life is like when everything is so hard and you still have hopes and dreams to achieve, relationships to maintain and things to do. Of course, it’s not the slackers who burn out, it’s the achievers, the A-type personalities who push themselves beyond breaking point.
I wrote my first book to help others because I was so shocked at what stress had done to my life. Before burnout, I was an ultramarathon runner with a healthy diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, very little junk food and what I thought was a normal life. When I got sick I struggled to understand what had happened and the writing helped me to unpack it and to offer the lessons I learnt to others in the hope that they are able to learn from my mistakes.
It took three years for me to recover from burnout to a point where I could exercise, work for at least seven hours, and still have time for my children. Being who I am, I put a lot of effort into healing. With my personality that meant making a schedule for afternoon naps and forcing myself to learn meditation. I can see how it can take many years to recover from such a health incident and I think many people don’t know where to start.
An important observation for me has been the fact that healing isn’t just about the medication. An important lesson was finding the right practitioner and I’m not afraid to be treated by multiple people. I have an endocrinologist keeping an eye on my blood test results. He prescribes hormones made naturally in the body to help my energy levels to climb. I also see a homeopath who has made some wonderful suggestions in treating me with autosanguis therapy, a method of calming down my immune system to prevent the attack from damaging more tissue. I also see an integrated practitioner who helped me to heal my leaky gut and who tested me for parasites, viruses and toxins that could impact my health. They all provide supplements, medication or treatments in different formats, for different purposes and it’s all complementary in supporting my improving health.
Taking the medication and supplements and making sure I do regular blood tests and check ups is important. But it’s not the only part of the healing. In unpacking and understanding how I got sick, I came to the conclusion that my stress came from many sources. My relationships were not all healthy, I wasn’t getting enough rest, I was doing the opposite work for my personality type, a toxic staff member was affecting me, my diet and exercise were not supportive considering the remaining factors in my life. So the recovery had to include solutions in all these areas.
I changed relationships. I had to end some that I could not repair. I implemented boundaries in areas where people were taking advantage of me. I pushed some people further away if they were not supporting me and I pulled others closer, who were. It wasn’t an easy process but the relationships I have now are stronger and more meaningful to me.
I also changed professions. My career was previously in corporate IT and in the five years before the burnout, I was the owner and managing director of a family business. I learnt a lot from the experiences, people and industries but this was not my calling. The work I was doing in the years prior to my burnout was the opposite of my strengths. I believe this to be the biggest factor in my health collapse and it is a phenomenon supported by research done by Dr Arlene Taylor and Katherine Benziger (a colleague of Carl Jung). I became a writer and a speaker in the field of stress management. This work feels meaningful to me and I have much to share with my audience.
I changed my diet to be aligned with the findings of the integrated practitioner. I eliminated foods that were aggravating my health condition and I introduced more greens in the form of a smoothie every morning. I was able to reintroduce most of the foods I had temporarily eliminated, and I have adjusted to this new state of normal. I’m mindful about what foods I put into my body and I read the labels of foods I buy and eat.
I taught myself how to meditate and experimented with different formats until I found one that worked best for me. I also sleep more than I used to sleep and I try very hard to get to bed early. From more sleep and meditation I find that I’m much more patient with my children and my life works a lot better.
My life is a lot happier and healthier than it used to be and I’m grateful for the catalyst of burnout in getting me there. I also consciously worked on healing all aspects of my life that were not working and I believe that to be the reason I managed to maintain healthy thyroid function despite a very serious issue years ago. I now only require supplements and I take great care in how I eat and how I look after myself.
You can only enforce a better life and change if you assess where you are, where you want to be and are open to multiple solutions for each need you are lacking.