2016: Year of the Big Bad Burnout

bigbadburnout

I've been writing this post for a week, going back and forth about whether or not I wanted to share the details of the brutal year I had in 2016 or of what it meant for me to truly burn out for the first time. In the end, I decided to share this little piece of what went on with my mental health last year because I think it's important to be frank about these things - especially since burnout has become so normalized in the nonprofit sector despite not being a normal, healthy state of being at all.

It all started as plain old stress during a particularly busy summer. I thought nothing of it, having spent the summer of 2015 working full time hours in my previous nonprofit job while simultaneously attending university classes as a full-time student (a situation I have sworn never to repeat).

Ignoring that stress was a mistake, and my burnout symptoms steadily got worse over the latter half of the year until I found myself becoming unable to function. I quickly learned that stress is just the start when it comes to burnout. For me, the real deal means daily headaches (literally), constant fatigue (despite often sleeping 10+ hours a night), out of control anxiety, complete loss of confidence or interest in hobbies, and - worst of all - chronic brain fog. My ability to think clearly and stay sharp was compromised, particularly in the last few months of the year, which was completely debilitating.  

The months of burnout that I experienced leading up to the end of the year were some of the most humbling and difficult months of my life, but they have also been a blessing for two very important reasons. 

First, I learned that I have become a person who can experience completely debilitating burnout and anxiety and keep going. I've learned to believe in the light at the end of the tunnel despite not being able to see it, and I've learned to look for solutions instead of constantly ruminating on my problems. I've developed resilience, self-awareness, and patience - all tools that I simply did not possess to deal with the excruciating bouts of depression I went through years ago when I was still drinking. Tools that I couldn't have known I'd developed if it hadn't been for this brutal, emotionally taxing year.

Second, and equally as important, the hardships of 2016 sent me running back to therapy, which is consistently the single most useful and difficult act of self care that I have ever undertaken. To walk into a room and tell a complete stranger that you need help because your head is all foggy and you’re having panic attacks before your feet even hit the floor in the morning is tough. It’s mortifying. But when that person responds and you realize that (finally, thank God) someone is listening and engaging with you without trying to pitch solutions to your problems like you just haven’t thought of the right way to fix this enormous hole in your life? That’s magic. That is everything. Therapy is the shit and everyone should have the opportunity to experience it and that’s an opinion for a whole ‘nother post about mental health care, folks.

I am so grateful that the worst of the burnout is behind me (thinking clearly again FTW) and to have earned these tools and lessons to carry forward with me in 2017. 

Happy New Year, friends. I hope it's a good one. xx