Burn-out: Pushing the reset button
08 April 2020
The new blog of Carin Jansen is online! This is the third of a serie blogs which will tell the story about her experiences of being burned-out. In her first blog, Carin gave an insight on how her burn-out started. The second blog was an overview of the signs of her burn-out. In this blog, the main topic is to get back to work and what she did during this time.
So I hit my head, called in sick, and stayed home for a few days. Thinking this will all blow over and next week I will be back at work. Well… That did not happen. I even went to see my physician as my body was failing on me. My heart rate was up, my hands were shaking, I cried about everything and nothing and going outside for some groceries was a huge challenge. So my physician gave me two weeks ‘house arrest’ and a referral to the psychologist. In the three months (!) that followed a lot happened with me.
I had to deal with the fact that I was sick and could not even handle the simplest things. Getting up, having breakfast, going to the supermarket. Next to that, I was not really feeling at home in our new house. I could not get the interior decorations right, because I was constantly trying to make choices I could not make anymore. In the meantime, I went to therapy, which was harder than I thought it would be. I will not get into many details, but retrospectively it was not very strange that I burned out like this. Having a high sense of responsibility to others and being afraid of failing was a good mixture to go overboard. Being burned out was a kind of failing too in my book, so my therapist had a hard time getting me to think differently and more positive.
At work my manager was asking every few days how I was doing and when I would be back. As I did not know I could not tell them, which must be very frustrating when working with several clients. The problem was that I did not break my leg, where a timeline of recovery can be given. I ‘broke’ my spirit, my will and my determination to get back to work. Ask any physician, psychiatrist or other therapist to give you a timeline of recovery and reintegration… They will all tell you the same thing: it depends on the issue, the therapy and the person. There is no timeline of recovery. It could take a few weeks, months, or even a year to fully recover and go back to work. And even then, there will always be some damage to deal with, which also depends on the individual. There is no clear guideline, map or procedure for a mental breakdown in any sense of the word.
Well, that is not entirely true, as there is some kind of playbook for this illness called burn-out. Yes, it is an illness, just like a common cold, or a broken leg. When you call in sick in the Netherlands you have to deal with something called health and safety service. They handle any illness the same way, with the same timelines. So my employer took that playbook to heart and we followed the rules together. After several weeks, I had a talk with the health and safety service, we set up a so called plan of action and discussed the timelines to go back to work. I went to therapy and dealt with my issues and feelings. After three months, the health and safety service, my employer and I agreed I could slowly start working again, a few hours a week. And yes, I really felt I had it under control again. I had a good talk with my partner about how I was feeling and that things needed to change drastically. I was confident I could stand up to the huge pile of work waiting for me, and fight for my right to take care of myself.
Not knowing that the help I was getting was not suitable for me personally. Not realising I had more issues than I thought initially. Not being in contact with myself. Remember what I said “it depends on the issue, the therapy and the person?” For me, all of the above was going in the wrong direction. I trusted the people around me and not myself. I relied on those who needed me to do what was expected of me and not on myself. And you know what I learned about this whole illness? YOU NEED TO DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU! It needs to be your choice what steps should be taken to get better. Even though it feels like giving up and you cannot take care of yourself anymore, you need to dig deep and feel it. The best thing that ever happened to me is realising I was stronger than I thought. Calling in sick because live is too hard is not a weakness. It is the best thing I ever did in my life. It is like running a marathon and not being able to finish.
Owning up to the fact that you just cannot do it, is better than struggling to the end and have everybody waiting for you. Making promises you just cannot keep is worse than letting people know your limitations.
So when I was ‘trying’ to get back to work, I felt worse every day. After two months of struggling at work and at home, there was only one thing to do. Find a reset button and push it hard. I called in sick again but this time on my terms. I found my own therapy that did work for me and I told my manager not to wait for me and have someone else finish my work. I left my partner and my new house to find my own place. Finally, the time for healing could begin.
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Stay tuned for Carin’s last blog!