Blog, Mental Health, Self

A day in the life: burnout recovery

A day in the life – very slow living!

A little history

You may have read some of my posts talking about burnout and my thoughts about experiencing this. (They’re mostly grouped under the ‘mental health’ category if you want to search!) Burnout is a term used to describe the state of absolute exhaustion that’s caused by prolonged stress. Burnout is physical, mental and emotional. I’ve had two episodes of burnout, the first being a traditional case of overwork and chronic high levels of stress. The second, a few years later, seemed to be a proper breakdown – mainly due to not changing the circumstances that led to the first one! ‘Nervous breakdown’ is no longer used in medical terminology, but still has particular symptoms ascribed to it.

Fast forward time: It’s now a few years later, so I thought I’d write a little post about how I spend my days now!

This is a way for me to sit and take stock of where I am compared to a few years ago. As I add things into my days and routine I’ll able to read back in the future to see if anything worked!

I left work last year to finally take a proper amount of time to get better with no ‘timescale’ to it. My days looked a lot different then to now. Days were usually spent shaking under a duvet, whilst nights meant terrifying nightmares, flashbacks and endless intrusive thoughts. I’m glad I managed to get through it to be where I am right now. Although I don’t feel entirely fixed, I feel stable and positive and that’s brilliant!

Generally I can’t cope with bad news or anything overly stressful at the moment, so as part of my recovery I avoid the news and also circumstances that trigger certain reactions or memories. It’s hard to explain this to people – even things like sounds and colours! A funny example is that I had the Top Gear theme tune as my ringtone throughout the years I was working my ‘stressful job’. Whenever that first guitar note sounds now I get intense panic and have to seriously fight to keep myself in the present as I get flashbacks, my hands are sweating, eyes wide, shallow breath….off the Top Gear tune! I mean, come on.

I also have CFS/ME, which has its own set of foibles to deal with 😉

Morning

I wake up around 7.30 with two alarms, otherwise I’ll sleep until 10 or 11am. It takes me a while to wake up – I usually wake with a feeling of dread and feel quite down. I snooze for a while, then once I’ve started to come around properly, I’ll check my phone and maybe snooze a little more afterwards. 
I’ll pad downstairs and make a cup of tea and sometimes some cereals, and come back to bed to drink my tea. I’ll open the curtains and sit and ponder for a while, watching the cows on the other side of the valley.

After breakfast, I’ll grab a quick shower, get dressed, and start the day.

I’ll do a little cleaning – this is a recent thing. I got very overwhelmed with cleaning, as I couldn’t manage cleaning the whole house in one go, so I just left it. I realised that this has a detrimental effect on my mood, so I’ve been using the Organised Mum Method, even though I’m not a mum and I’m definitely not organised! I find it has made everything seem so much more manageable and I feel I can keep on top of keeping our house slightly more presentable! I have to skip days now and again when I’m having a tired day, but generally I find it works for me.

After 4 years with CFS I’m finally accepting the whole pacing part (!) so I do one cleaning task, then sit  for a bit, then do the next and so on. So it takes me a while!

Another tea or coffee mid morning, and a sit down to rest from cleaning. I’ll pop 6Music on if I’m not too tired to listen (yes that happens!). Then I’ll check my blog, write a post, read a little, or practice piano. 

I try to get out for a walk a few times a week – I had a phase of walking every day, but then just crashed. I find around 3 times a week is manageable at the moment. 

Afternoon

Lunch is something easy to make – like soup and a roll, or if I’m out and about I might pop to a coffee shop if I’ve got any money spare.

I’ll hang washing out, sit and rest, then do some mindfulness which I’ve found really helpful. If I’m tired I’ll watch some YouTube, if not, I’ll potter in the garden a while or write something.  Sometimes I’ll just sit and think.

I try not to fall asleep in the day – instead I’ve been trying to pace myself so it doesn’t happen! 

Evening

If I’m not tired I’ll pop something on for tea – again it’s usually something that doesn’t need a lot of preparation. I’ve been finding it really hard to make meals as I’ve been getting really tired. If I’m tired, my husband will make tea when he gets in from work. I always feel guilty about this but I’m getting better at accepting it! 

We’ll have tea and relax on the sofa a while, maybe pop out to play Pokemon Go (yes, we love it, yes, we’re middle aged, yes, we don’t care!) or nip to the supermarket or out for a coffee on a good day. If I’m tired I’ll just sit for the evening. I head to bed around 9.30-10pm. 

Occasions

If I’ve been out for a coffee with friends or gone to visit someone, I’ll be tired from that so will just come back and lie down for a few hours to recharge. Sometimes I am too tired to read or listen to music (booo) and if I’m over-tired I can’t form coherent sentences so will slur words or give short answers. I can’t really take in what people are saying either. Great fun! If we’ve had visitors it takes me about 4 days after to get back to normal. After our recent relaxing holiday it took me another week to get my energy back, even though I spent a whole week reading and on the beach! Hoorah. These are the bits people don’t see. I’m kind of a secret sleeper 😉

Some days it just doesn’t happen. Then I’ll just rest for the day – if I’m lucky I’ll be able to move from bed to sofa to chair to another chair! Thrilling. 

Reflection and moving on

It’s really strange to actually write this down and let go of the comparison to my previous life, where I’d be up at 5am, driving 90 mins to work, working for at least 14 hours, driving 90 mins back, working out, working at home, grabbing a few hours sleep, then starting it all again.

To be honest, I don’t miss it. I remember just how stressed I was and how trapped in that life. Now I enjoy my slow little life and am actually glad, in a weird way, that I was forced to stop. I’ve managed to deepen my connection to the rhythms of life and the landscape around me, and I’ve learnt so much about myself. I’ve developed more compassion both for myself and for those around me who may be experiencing a similar situation. And I’ve learnt that although I’ve had to slow down a lot, I can still achieve stuff. Since leaving work I’ve finished my Master’s degree and am heading back to uni soon to start a PhD. Part time!! Slow and steady wins the race!

The theme of the last few years has been to get better and jump right back into it. The hallmark of people who experience burnout! But now I’m beginning to let that go, finally. I might not get any better than I am today, and I’m starting to make peace with the fact that that’s ok. My CFS is mild and I can mostly function to a level where people wouldn’t know I had it unless they look closely. Mentally, I’m feeling a lot further along on the road to recovery and take the ups and downs as they come.

So I’ll keep bimbling along, slowly and softly, and happily let my previous life fade quietly into the background.

 

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