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How my burnout saved my life

Updated: May 8, 2023

I didn’t realise what kind of trouble I was in until I had to buy new clothes.

My weight naturally fluctuates throughout the year, but I realised that my normal generous backside was now distinctly absent, leaving my clothes hanging from me and baggy. I didn’t own any weighing scales so I had no idea how much weight I had lost, but as I look at photos and videos of myself from August 2020, I was a skeleton and don’t ever recall being that thin ever in my adult life. I estimate that I lost around 10kg in a space of around 6 months. I had a few friends ask me 'youre very thin, are you ok?'. I genuinely thought I was.

In addition to working on average 16 hours a day (how? I hear you ask. Well, I woke up before 6am and started reading emails whilst I was eating breakfast, and on my commute to work, a full day of work at the office, followed by more email reading having left the office, time for a quick dinner to then join calls from 8pm until as late as 10pm. I did this on average 3 or 4 days a week. For 3 years) I had recently had a devastating breakup and the silence was killing me. So I threw myself into work. Ive always had quite an unhealthy relationship with work and have always been battling with I don’t know who on how to prove myself. I look really young for my age and I am a woman working in engineering; respect did not come easily from my peers. I had to earn it. How? I hear you ask. By working my ass off.

I will openly admit now that I am in counselling and I got to a point where I knew my relationship with work was really unhealthy and that I had to address it. There is a gap in my life which I fill with work so that I receive the respect and external validation from others. For the previous 4 years, I had worked my socks off and it had paid off; I got recognition, I got a healthy salary, I got a transfer to Asia that I asked for, I was asked to replace my boss after he left. I felt I had figured it out how to make this work. It was all worth the effort. But then I moved companies and it turned out….. I didn’t know anything at all. I was working for a company with people who really didn’t give a sh*t. That would promise you the task would be completed on time but then at the final moment said, oh actually that’s not true and you'll have to wait another week. I was customer and board of directors facing and I constantly had to tell them bad news.

The capabilities of the rest of the team were insufficient and there was nothing I could do to help it. They were not in my department, I could not hire or fire them OR tell them what to do. I was in a very vulnerable position and was in the line of fire from important people within the business.

The only thing I knew what to do was to work more. I found myself working at the weekends, 'to get ahead of the curve', because Mondays and Tuesdays were the most stressful. I tried to instil more regimes with my team to be more prepared.

I woke up every day thinking 'I don’t know how I will get through this day'. I slept for maybe 3 or 4 hours a night. And when I did sleep and dream, I dreamt of questions I didn’t know the answers to, of being late, of being lost.

I would reach Wednesday afternoons and would struggle to keep my eyes open. I HAD to take a nap every lunchtime to get through the day. Anything I did outside of work was to help me survive the work schedule I had. A massage here, anything to keep my spirits up.

Covid had separated me from around 70% of my friend network in Shenzhen. Everyone disappeared for Chinese New Year (including myself) and hardly anyone returned, terrified of the situation in China and the possibility of hotel quarantine. I kept as much as I could going - my improv group gave me respite and energy but I found it difficult not to get anxious around 930pm when I started to think about the following days ahead and the weeks stress repeating itself.

I had heart palpitations and 'hiccups'. I felt like I was going to die at any moment and that I was terrified of who would feed my cats if that happened.

I decided to start speaking to a counselor to help me with my anxiety.

Through my sessions with him, I realised that my path to recovery was to get out. I knew that any money was absolutely not worth this stress and what it was doing to my body. At the end of May 2020, I quit my job without another to go to. I knew I had enough financial support to get through whatever would come next. My target was to be out of the company before my 40th birthday, which would fall end of August. I moved to Italy in late September 2020 to begin my new life. I had been offered the job on the spot through a contact. I was fired from said new job in June 2021 and im legally not allowed to say why or delve into it. But ultimately, I was grateful to be released. I knew I didn’t belong there. I'm now aware that being in that position really isn't very much fun and I don’t much like it. I realised that, over time, my values really shifted from being me-centric to being responsible for the wellbeing of others. I don’t want to work for a company who believes that adding a way to reduce stress and workload of my team is regarded as 'too bureaucratic'. I don’t want to work for a company who ignores the amount of time it took to complete a project in man hours but instead asks more, in less time from the same team the following year. We are all people; we have lives and dreams and our own values and priorities. I want to be the person that listens to those dreams and gives space to help realise them.

I know that I will not sacrifice my mental and physical health for the sake of work ever again.

It absolutely is not worth it. My mental health continues to be a challenge but my number one priority. I prided myself on giving 120% of myself to my job every day and my network know this to be what I bring to the table, but this is no longer who I want to be. No amount of money can bring me back to that point again. I found that I never really spent the ex-patriate cash anyway. I often think that maybe I wasn’t strong enough to tough it out. But ultimately, I know that toughing it out, doing something I don’t particularly enjoy, really isn't worth it. I sacrificed too much of myself as a result. I'm driving my own life in a completely new direction. Its terrifying and I know that once I head in that direction, that there's no turning back

. But….. I don’t want to turn back.

If this article is triggering, then please seek support from your doctor or medical practitioner. The first step to take action is normally the most difficult. Please know that you are not alone in this and there are people out there who can support you.

Sending love.




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