The first time I wrote about my burnout was back in 2017, and I was scared to publish the post. It was three years after my second burnout, and I was well on my way on the road to recovery.
But I was scared to talk about it.
I thought people would say I was weak – and we all know that in corporate life the last thing you want to do is show any sign of weakness.
I thought that people would no longer take me seriously – who else but someone stupid would burn out twice in five years?
I thought that people would treat me with kid gloves and underestimate what I was capable of – I may have come through burnout, but I wasn’t a porcelain doll.
But I did it anyway – I published the post …
When I did, people told me I was brave.
They said thank you for sharing my story, as it helped them assume theirs.
They showed my article (and later the TEDx) to their spouses or their friends and used it to talk about what they were going through.
So many who contacted me were either on their way into burnout, or they had come through burnout to the other side.
I realised that I wasn’t alone by any stretch of the imagination in going through this. And I saw confirmed that there is a conspiracy of silence around burnout.
“Burnout” is a shitty and scary word, and folk don’t like to talk about it.
Those heading towards burnout don’t want to talk about it because even when they can see where they are headed, they think it means they are weak. To ask for help goes against their core beliefs and values. They are supposed to be the strong ones, the ones helping others – not the ones asking for help themselves.
Those working or living with someone going through a burnout don’t want to talk about it either because they are faced with their own mortality and weakness; or because they are scared to watch their loved ones (who are usually so strong) crumble in front of their eyes, and they believe they have to fix it, but they don’t know how.
So people don’t talk about it.
But “burnout” is just a word. Don’t be afraid to mention its name.
In this time of lockdown, it would be easy to think that everyone is sitting around having an extended paid holiday at home, eating chocolate and resting up. But the reality is that many of us are busier than ever – particularly those in leadership positions. Pulled in all directions – by our teams dispersed in different locations as they work from home – by our clients still needing deadlines met, by our bosses still needing the results. On top of that, many will be home-schooling, and handling the situation of being on top of one another at home. Two spouses working, vying for the wifi or a bit of peace and quiet to get their work done.
Others won’t be home schooling and will be able to focus more on what needs doing. But possibly feeling guilty and thinking that they should take on more, because after all, they don’t need to home school the kids, so it would be selfish if they didn’t take on some more of the burden from their colleagues. So, they are taking on more and more things.
Now, perhaps more than ever, we are all more susceptible to taking on too much and burning ourselves out.
So, please, reach out. Don’t wait for things to be falling apart to sound the alarm.
If things are pretty shit at the moment – it’s ok to say it like it is. It’s ok to feel like its tough. And it’s ok to ask for help.
And if you are seeing someone go through this – it’s ok not to know the answer, or how to fix it. Just be there to listen, even through the ugly tears. Just be there.
Either way. Please don’t wait.
Don’t be afraid to mention its name and reach out.