A few years ago, I had 14 different ailments in one year.
I wrote them all out in a journal so I could always look back and be reminded. Among them:
I was exhausted beyond words
I was anemic
I had bouts of hives that would cover my body
My mouth had swollen shut - twice - leaving me parking and running for the closest pharmacy
I had sinus problems
My joints were swelling
I had developed high blood pressure
My heart was doing something weird and needed to be checked
I had pneumonia and ongoing respiratory problems
My anxiety was mounting and depression came and went
And no amount of visits to my doctor or the allergist or the heart clinic or emergency could fix me. Instead I just kept hearing the same word...
My body was staying 'stop!'
But my mind was saying 'go!!'
Despite all the warning signs, I just kept pushing myself down the same insane road because I couldn't see any other way.
As the mom of three exceptional children, the demands were crazy high. I couldn't run away to a spa for three weeks or head off to a mountain retreat. Going to a gym just added another thing to my to do list.
And my children had a portfolio of needs and specialists for each one. Managing their files took a tremendous amount of brain power, acquired knowledge, and years of history. Delegating was not an option.
Also, as the CEO of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC), I had people counting on me; my employees, board members and mostly those we served. How could I stop when 1 in 10 needed our help?
But beyond the health issues, other things were happening. I was burning out.
How about you - do you have any of these telltale signs?:
1) Everything feels overwhelming - we all have days when we are juggling multiple demands, but this feeling is different. Even the smallest task feels out of control and everything is a chore. You become the camel with the load of straw and one more piece is going to break your back. The simplest things - making lunches, tidying the house - can feel huge. Going out for an evening with friends is a task to be endured not enjoyed, where you are counting the minutes until to can get home to your couch.
2) You are physically exhausted - during this time, I would have sold my soul to the devil for an extra hour of sleep. I tried to ramp up the exercise, thinking it would be good for me, but instead, I felt worse. My mind kept telling me: 'this is what I need - this will zap the stress' but I would not be able to keep pace and workouts were draining. All I wanted to do was sleep. Yet once in bed, the anxiety would take over, making it impossible to get a good night's rest.
3) You are emotionally dull - you don't experience any real highs or real lows and instead live in a state of neutral. Suddenly you find yourself crying all the time - at weird times - and you can't seem to help it. The crying feels like more of a release than actual sadness. And laughing, really laughing, with your whole belly is just not possible. You want to feel angry, sad, happy, fired up - but you just can't.
4) You are always sick - you find yourself experiencing the strangest ailments and each month it seems like something new. You go from being the person who has always said 'I never get sick' to suddenly being sick all the time. You are always looking for the 'next greatest thing' on Dr Oz thinking that maybe - just maybe - this will be the one! But no amount of vitamins or acai berries or green tea makes any difference.
5) You are constantly forgetful and can't concentrate - it takes three trips in out out of the house to finally get the car out of the driveway. You find that you can't concentrate and your mind keeps wandering. Soon the piles on your desk begin to really grow. Names, dates and words seem lost in the abyss that once was your brain.
6) Nothing gives you pleasure - I could not find joy, real joy, in anything and no experience gave me any real pleasure. The only activities I wanted to do were things that involved sitting and staring straight ahead. I couldn't even read because of the effort it took to concentrate. I had always loved gardening but could now barely move a shovel. Work used to give me a rush but soon It became a habit to go into work late and leave early, making me feel guilty and awful.
Finally, I did heed my doctor's advice and reached out for help. Since I had no idea how to make changes on my own, it was during this time that I started with my own coach. The truth is, I really just wanted him to keep me patched together so I could function, but coaching doesn't work this way, as I soon found out.
In the beginning, it was a tough and very uncomfortable journey to work with my coach. I didn't like the way I felt, because I felt vulnerable. I hated crying. It made me feel weak and out of control. But slowly, over time, I got inside myself in a way that I had never done, never allowed, before and slowly I began to find ways to change.
And for the first time, I allowed failure in my life.
I stepped down from LDAC after yet another budget cut decimated the national disability sector, knowing that my sheer will was no longer enough to keep things afloat and that I couldn't get better while holding this job.
I enrolled in the CTI coach training program and began a six month process of deep discovery. The training was draining and invigorating at the same time but I began to learn about myself and understand what I needed to do.
I made changes in my personal life and soon my home became a place where I had true support and unconditional love.
And I slept.
The official diagnosis was 'adrenal fatigue'. I had lived in a state of 'fight or flight' for so long that my adrenal glands were worn out and they were no longer functioning properly. All that I knew was I couldn't stay upright and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. No amount of will or pushing or effort was going to make any difference.
So I put what energy I had into my children, brought our household budget down to a bare minimum, pulled out some RRSPs, learned to endure a messy house and said no to everything that did not involve me resting and my children being tended too.
I also came to count on my boys. When they discovered that mom wasn't a super hero, they really stepped up. I realized I didn't have to control everything and I had raised some pretty smart, kind and insightful kids.
I spent the summer recovering and when I knew I was truly better, then I began to coach.
Today, I make sure to take care of myself. I now practice yoga daily, spent time walking my dog in the woods and take a 20 minute nap (or at least close my eyes). I see the result of having invested so much time teaching my children to be self-advocates and I let them lead, whenever they can and want to.
I now listen to my body.
Are you listening to yours?
If you have reached the point of feeling like you are too busy drowning to ask for help - then you need to slow down.
First, take some time to breathe.
Then, look at your priorities.
Next, think about making changes in your life.
And learn to say no.
And if none of these work, then picture yourself laying in bed, helpless.
I know how hard it can be to even imagine life slowing down, but take it from me - you can make changes.
If you can't see a way out, then get help; talk to a friend, find a support group, hire a coach, see your doctor. Make the time.
Burnout is not like a cold - it takes a long, long time to recover. So find a way to put the brakes on now....before your body takes over and brings you to a crashing stop.
Judy Mouland has 20 plus years experience personally and professionally working with individuals with LD, ADHD and other co-conditions. She is the former C.E.O of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada and now works as a Life Coach to empower people to live life on their own terms - no excuses.