Healing the Brain I Fried - Lessons 6 months into recoveryJun 05, 2023
Feeling tired, overwhelmed or stressed? What about irritable or forgetful? Perhaps you feel like you just can't seem recharge fully anymore. Overnight, weekends or even a vacation just doesn't seem to really charge you to 100%. You know something is off - maybe you have even googled or tossed around the term burn out with colleagues, friends or family. I saw it in others long before I realized the depth of darkness that had become my new normal. Read on for more about my journey and the lessons I have learned thus far in my recovery.
Exactly one year ago this week, I schedule a doctor's appointment to discuss some unusual symptoms and changes in my health. But it wasn't until 6 months later when I returned that was the real turning point in my life.
The turning point
I realized something wasn't right when I didn't recognize myself anymore. Extreme? Yes, but it was the truth, I had been pushing and trying to rely on all the usual self-care tools like massages, extra days off, increasing my therapy appointments to just bounce back. The physical symptoms just kept compiling, warning signs including blood pressure climbing, weight gain, migraines evolving and daily, cognitive function was diminishing, vertigo, anxiety climbing the list was long! So, my doctor strongly recommended a complete lifestyle change and removing every shred of stress from my life. This would allow us to tackle the health issues one at a time.
When I stepped away from work and switched off emails, I honestly didn't know what to do with myself. And if I am being honest, was terrified of what others would think. I was also embarrassed, my ego wounded. Thinking that I wasn't strong enough, good enough to find my own way free of this another way. Wondering who I was without work.
At first, I just slept - like a lot!! Being tired had been my experience of life for so long, it was hard to describe the levels of fatigue that had become my norm. It didn't help that I was constantly in a phase of migraine which also impacted energy levels. Every small daily activity - depleted me. Just having a shower or making a snack required recovery.
What I didn't know
Burnout is more than simply working too long or too hard. There are so many factors contributing to burnout and when these are chronically mismatched between a person and their work/life, burnout emerges. It affects your cognitive functioning, your neuroendocrine system (hello cortisol) and screws up with your immune and cardiovascular systems too.
In short, it fries your brain & body.
The reasons for burnout are always very personal and specific to your situation and personality. For me, the key triggers were my chronic illness of migraines, having an ADHD brain (just diagnosed), and long term anxiety/PTSD, being a high achiever and success driven person at work and in my own business also played a big role. For the past 3 years during and post COVID the uncertainty, change and demands at work increased. Adding in ADHD hyperfocus and relentless drive accelerated my pace, but my crucial mistake was neglecting my own health for too long.
As I reflected on my past 6 months with my coach & therapist this week, I thought it would be helpful to share my experiences and lessons in the next few blog posts.
3 Lessons Learned
It is going to take longer than you think:
At first I thought I just a short break from work and all would be right in my world again. I believed that if I did the work, read and research everything, I could figure out how to "fix" things quickly. The irony, is that is exactly how I ended up in this state in the first place. Trying to power through and do everything my way, on my time. I realize know that I needed time - and lots of it. Time to do nothing but let my brain and body heal. Once I accepted that it will take however long it takes - I was able to let go and the process began.
Everything is connected:
Accepting that body and mind are not separate. Chronic stress affects both your brain and your body. Healing requires a holistic approach from the inside out. I had to work on all aspects of my health and wellness to begin recovery. Learning to listen to what my body and brain are tell me, understanding regulation and the role of the vagus nerve and owning my role in daily choices has started to serve me better. Incorporating all tools and resources including a community of professionals including my doctor, neurologist, therapist, physio therapist, and chiropractor. As a certified coach and fitness professional, I have been able to design programs for myself to begin to repair the damage stress has done to my body.
Compassion & Understanding
Acceptance that the healing journey isn't a holiday or being lazy. Doing nothing and learning to pause or stop is vital. Taking on 'extra' stuff because you have some extra time, space or 'capacity' is a mistake. Even on days where you feel like you have more to give, or perhaps experience some guilt about your level of contribution or activity. Realizing that you need to look after yourself first, fill your own reserves and fully heal first. Here is where I remind myself of lesson # 1 and that it will take even longer if I don't take this seriously. This means showing yourself some compassion and understanding too. Not being so hard on yourself. My doctor shared that a burned out brain is "bruised" or injured - just because you can't see it, doesn't make it less real or less deserving of the time, effort and care to heal it.
My healing and recovery journey is by no means over. I have a least a few more months to focus on me, my health and my routines. But, I also know that the work will not stop there. When I am ready to return to work it will be slowly and intentionally with more focus and effort put into boundaries, tools and strategies to support health & harmony.
So if you are one the same path, my advice? Life is meant to be lived fully & enjoyed. If that is not where you are at today - choose better. Get help & heal. Think about what matters most to you: then be honest about the impact your current state is having on that precious thing.
When I realized the true risks of the health factors, and was living in constant pain daily - the choice was clear. Nothing in this world matters more to me than Living My Legacy. Enjoying life, showing up for my husband, family & colleagues. It was time to recalibrate and put myself first. Whatever your WHY is; it deserves everything you've got too.
If you have stayed with me this far, I'm guess this resonated with you. In that case, please keep following me for more on this subject and take care of yourself.
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