Burnout?

“I Went Full Nomad and it Almost Broke Me”

I clicked this article cause I relate to the title – I took a remote job and left my home country. Though I wasn’t travelling while I worked, the experience was similar.

This guy asks “So why did going nomad lead to a magnitude 8 burnout?” I was hoping to find out what a “magnitude 8” burnout actually looks like, but I didn’t get it from the article.

I’d just finished a business meeting with a person I consider a role model. After taking a long pause to examine me he simply asked “but seriously, are you ok?”

What made his mentor ask if he was okay? What does low energy mean for this guy? What came between the realization and the recovery?

For me it was burying myself in social media, reading books, and binging pirated TV shows. I had a pattern of beating myself up for not going out and making friends, taking on or finishing projects, or even doing basic tasks like laundry and cooking. When the voice of self-abuse started – usually the moment after my partner left the room, and sometimes even before that – I’d whip out my phone to quieten it. Many days I’d sit at the kitchen table for five or six hours, scrolling feeds and watching shows, waiting for my partner to come home and give me enough motivation to pretend to be human for a while.

I kept thinking, how can I be stressed? All I’m doing is sitting in the kitchen. There’s no stress here. I’m succeeding in my goals, I’m where I want to be.

But I was living in someone else’s house in a country where I had few friends and didn’t speak the language. I had just started a new, remote job which was mentally demanding, and had no one, not even co-workers, to talk to about it.  The man I moved in with was a brand new relationship as well, and we didn’t have time to build a strong foundation before we started piling stuff on top of it. These are like the 5 most stressful things you can do in life, only topped by “death of a parent” or “death of a spouse”.

There was actually one bit in the article that had substance:

The term ‘burn out’ is dangerously misleading. It suggests visible fire and smoke. In reality the Big Bang when you realise the situation you’re in comes much too late. Burning out is like being the proverbial lobster in hot water. As the temperature rises your self-awareness and ability to save yourself erodes.

I stopped stopped doing my two healthiest activities – writing and cycling – except on rare occasions.

I left the relationship, which was healthy, and with an incredibly high-quality human, and went home, though I didn’t want to. Because I couldn’t recognize myself anymore and didn’t know how to get back to myself except by returning to the last place where I felt like a human.

That’s what it looked like for me. It took me way too long to recognize it, and by then it was too late.

“I wasn’t making friends.”

This wasn’t true, I made friends every time I went out, just about. However, I wasn’t very good friends with myself. It sucks to hang out with someone who tells you that you’re awful all the time, and I was hanging out with myself all day. Couldn’t I forgive myself for that?

“I wasn’t taking on or finishing projects.”

My partner and I opened a business together, and it was successful. Even if it hadn’t been successful, it would have been a bloody brilliant try. I made the website and worked on social media. I supported my partner in his heroic efforts. But besides that, I had one very important project – working on learning Danish. That one would take years to finish, but at the beginning I had no business taking on anything else. Couldn’t I forgive myself for that as well?

“I had no one to talk to about it.”

I had one person there who very much wanted to talk to me about it, my partner. I was so afraid of showing him the ugly side of me, but the more I tried to hide it, the more surface area there was to show.

My healthy perspective evaporated in a cloud of self-abuse.

Call this stress, burnout, depression, whatever it is, it’s real, it’s heavy, and it doesn’t go away if you just grit your cheeks, squeeze your ass cheeks together, and wish for it.

I think the guy in the article is trying to sell a book or something, but I don’t think it’s for me. Instead, I’ve found help from counsellors, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, and a few books that are less scammy than that one. For me this has gone way beyond “yeah, I feel kinda stressed sometimes” and into “I’ve fucked up my life repeatedly and will continue fucking it up until I get industrial strength help.”

But I’m getting there. If this is what burnout looks like for you too, there is a way a out.

Even though these last couple months have been just about the most painful of my life, I’m getting something out of it. The job, the man, the foreign country, and the new language did not make me depressed. They were pressure on a problem I have, but that problem was in me the whole time, bubbling up at different times in my life, for a month or six here and there.

I’ve left jobs, been fired, ended friendships, and moved house because of it. My emotions get out of control and I make an impulsive choice to damage a relationship. Instead of taking time to calm down and communicate, I panic, thrash, push until minor damage becomes permanent (or at least permanent in my eyes). I’ve done it at least six times that I can think of, but this most recent one was by far the worst.

I swear I am not going to repeat this pattern. I’m getting help. I’m doing the exercises. I’m unfucking myself. I can see it working, and I’m going to succeed. The motivation to not hurt people I love anymore is very, very strong. I’m going to count myself among the people I love as well.

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Shannon Graham

Shannon has been writing brief essays and occasional how-to articles at Rocketships, Unaffiliated (.ca) whenever inspiration strikes, since 2012. She is interested in your opinion.

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