On burnout – and recovery

Those of you who follow this blog may have noticed that my posts have been few and far between for the past while, especially the past few months.  It’s time to share what’s been going on with me.

One of my areas of responsibility  with terra20 was media/PR.
One of my areas of responsibility with terra20 was media/PR.

On March 10 I was laid off from my job at terra20.  It came as a complete surprise to me. While there had been challenges, as there are with any job, not working for terra20 had seemed like an impossibility.  I had put my heart and soul into it, and become a walking and talking billboard for the company and its values.  Furthermore, I had dropped my other side contracts, and hadn’t even been perusing job boards.

I was both terrified, and completely knocked off-kilter.  Because it wasn’t as though when it happened, everything else was going just great.  Mooey had just passed away, and the six months prior to that had been among the most difficult periods of my life.  In late October, after consistently sliding backwards for several months (and after years of fending it off), I burned out.  Hard core, for real, burned out.  I’ve had periods in the past when I’ve come close, but have always managed to pick myself back up and keep trucking along. This time was different.

It was an accumulation of things, touching on every facet of my life: personal, professional, financial, extra-curricular. Especially the latter.  I had tried to reduce my commitments, but always managed to top them up again, even adding more while becoming less fulfilled and able to make time for the things I really wanted to do, and more resentful.

The balls in the air that I had carefully juggled for so long started to drop. I felt increasingly frantic as I sensed it happening, but it was as though I could only move in slow motion, sort of like running as hard as I could in water.  Then several things simultaneously came to an abrupt end, creating a huge void but also creating the pressure release that I needed to just…stop.

I knew it was coming – I could feel it for months – but figured I’d be able to cope, to bounce back quickly, since I always had in the past. I tried to hit the pause button, by taking a few extra days off work and trying to breathe, and to clear the growing pandemonium in my head.  But it had finally caught up with me, and it was time for me to face things head on.

I posted this to my Facebook on Oct. 25. It received more positive responses than anything I’ve ever posted.

After a great deal of consideration, I’ve made the much-needed decision (at the urging of my friends and family) to take an extended hiatus from volunteering, and begin an intensive period of self-care.

My constant companion, and source of love and strength.
My constant companion, and source of love and strength.

I’ve given a lot of myself over the past seven years or so, and have had so many wonderful experiences. I consider volunteering to be paying my rent for living on this earth and using its resources, so it was difficult to accept that I badly need this break. I’ve tried doing it piecemeal, but I keep getting drawn back in because there’s so much need.

I find the need overwhelming, and at times it breaks me down. I’ve ridden out periods of burn out and rebounded and kept going, but the burn out I’m feeling now isn’t going away, and I’m realizing that it’s compromising my ability to function in other areas of my life.

I plan to spend the next while focusing on what I need to do to become strong: My physical fitness and health, my mental health, my career, and my family and friends.

I strongly encourage everyone to volunteer, if you don’t already. Find what you believe in, and just do it. The world needs more contributors. I just can’t be one of them for a while.

As commitments evaporated, I experienced a crisis of being. If I wasn’t the person fundraising for animal rescue, advocating for veganism at every turn, and putting in 110% effort at work, who was I?  I felt – for the first time in my life – like maybe I couldn’t accomplish whatever I set my mind to.

Even simple day-to-day tasks felt like they required monumental effort.  I struggled to keep up with even those, while wondering how on earth I had managed to accomplish what I used to in the average week.  I felt like I was drowning.  (I continued to work full time during this period.)

For a while, I found myself struggling to fill the void left by the commitments and activities that I was no longer undertaking.  I was impatient with myself, and frustrated that it was taking me so long to pull it together, and resume my previous pace.  I felt as though time was slipping away as I floated over its passage, observing, unable to reach down, grab it and put it to productive use. Other times I would stop fighting and just yield to it. I sit almost motionless, letting my mind wander, feeling the warmth of my space heater wash over me, and think, “So this is what it’s like to do nothing.”

Around the end of February the fog was starting to lift.  I was becoming more productive, and could admit that I had desperately needed to slow down, take a break, and hit reset.  The personal work I was doing, with the help of a psychotherapist and the support of my friends, was taking hold.  I was still frustrated by how long it was taking, and that I couldn’t force the outcome that I wanted, but I could see light at the end of the tunnel.

With Kathy Smart and China Doll.
With Kathy Smart and China Doll.

And then I received what I thought would be the proverbial knock out punch – being laid off. But something amazing happened. It didn’t knock me out. Instead, it filled me with ambition and kicked me into survival mode.  I made a website about myself (that felt really strange on many levels).  And the outpouring of support I received from friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers lifted me during my period of fear and grief.  I am still amazed and flattered by how closely many people have followed my activities and career.

But it was still scary, and I wondered what on earth I would do.  It was the last day of March when someone very special reached down, grabbed my hand, and pulled me to safety.  It was someone who I’d known for several years and considered a friend. As it turns out, I had no idea how highly she thought of me and my abilities.  She put her money where her mouth is, and hired me.

While I had become very strong on my own, Kathy Smart has given me the inspiration and the opportunity to soar again, even higher than I could have imagined. It’s not just giving me a job.  It’s the way she believes in me, and adamantly encourages me to seek work-life balance. She is so thankful and giving with every interaction. We could all learn a few things from Kathy Smart about how to treat people.

At the wildly successful Live the Smart Way Expo with Kathy and friends.
At the wildly successful Live the Smart Way Expo with Kathy and friends.

So now I am working to help Kathy with building her Live the Smart Way business, mostly on the community development side, but at this point it seems the sky is the limit. Kathy is a star, and in my hour of need, she decided to bring me along with her.

I’m feeling pretty grounded these days. I’m working with Kathy, building PlantKind, working with a few clients on the side, and doing a lot of running, playing ultimate, and spending time with dogs.

Finally, I’m doing things MY way.

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