What does it mean to have a burnout?

I’ve been in a bit of a funk, mentally, for the last few months. I’ve had problems creating things, making things, doing things at all. It took me about two months before I realised that this isn’t just normal mental funk but a genuine burnout.

I’ve burnt out once before. Since then, I’ve been borderline there plenty of times, but that was the only real one until now. Back in 2008, when I was only 24, I was working too many hours and had been diagnosed with severe depression although I didn’t have effective treatment yet. One day, I remember it clearly and I can actually feel the tears coming on just from recalling it, I had a run in with my supervisor at work. It was something minor – I’m sure he doesn’t even remember it – and if I’d been in a normal state of mind it wouldn’t have fazed me at all. But it happened, and it broke me. I was practically unable to speak for the rest of the day, and when I woke up the next morning I couldn’t get out of bed.

I’m going to go even further back for a second, because I think it’s important to give some background. I developed the depression over Christmas when I was a mere 15 years of age. I can pinpoint that too, which is a bit weird I suppose. One day I was fine, the next there was no colour in the world anymore. I lived with this mental illness through the last half year of lower secondary school (equivalent to GCSE or Junior High) and throughout upper secondary school (equivalent to Sixth Form or High School). It affected my grades and I’m sure people suspected something was off, but I hid it from everyone and even my parents didn’t know for certain. I didn’t admit it to a doctor until I was 20.

Anyway, back to 2008. It was right before Christmas (again! Why is that time of year so hard for me?) and I took out all the holiday I had so I wouldn’t get fired for not showing up. Come January, I figured, I’d be fine again. I just needed a couple weeks’ rest.

Well. I wasn’t fine in January. I wasn’t fine in February either. I was completely broken. I got time off work for illness. Then I went on social security. I couldn’t do anything. We had to downsize to a smaller flat. I still couldn’t work.

Four years, it took, before I came to a point where I could do enough in a day to start my business. And that was only because I had a lot of support and because I could do it at my own pace.

And now, here I am again. I’m terrified that this will be a long term burnout too. I couldn’t pick up the pliers for nearly two months. I’ve been able to keep my business open purely because it’s been my quiet months and people have been ordering items that are already in stock.

It hurts, deep in my chest, to admit to all this to the world. I have it ingrained in me that showing weakness is bad. It’s something I fight every day, and writing things like this is one of my rebel acts against that mentality. Because, honestly, I don’t think it’s weak to burn out. It just means you’ve been doing too much for too long. Your brain and mind can’t always keep up. It’s perfectly human.

But it still hurts.

I’d love to end on a positive note, to say that I’m back and ready to go at it, that my pliers are red hot from use, and so on. But I’m still struggling. Creating is hard. Everything is hard. I’m hoping that expressing all this and telling the story will relieve some of the pressure.

Please, if you take anything from this then take burnouts seriously. Don’t do too much, and especially not for extended periods of time. Take care of yourself first. You’re no use to others if you’re broken yourself. Put the oxygen mask on your own face before you help others.

If you’re struggling, please reach out. If you’re in the UK you can contact the Samaritans at 116 123 from any phone.

If you’re not in the UK, you can google helplines that are relevant to you. Or reach out to a friend or your family.

Don’t go it alone. It’s not worth it.

2 Replies to “What does it mean to have a burnout?”

  1. Oooh this is a brave and wonderful post. Thank you.

    I know how hard it is to write this and you’re to be admired. This is a show of strength, believe it or not.

    You’re a human being, not a human doing 😉

    (And what is it with Christmas time?!)

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