“Something filled up my heart with nothing.” – Arcade Fire
Burnout and depression often go hand-in-hand; certainly for me. Looking back, my life was littered with hints of what would eventually become a two-and-a-half year battle in and out of the dark slum.
2015 was a fast year for me. I had quit my full-time job, started my own digital marketing business, had started dealing with what would eventually turn into my first real break-up, and had made the decision to travel alone through Europe for 5 weeks.
It was the best year this blog has seen; I had so many amazing opportunities coming at me from every direction. People were paying me to write! The CEO of Buffer even shared one of my articles, and as a self-taught social media marketer that was my, “well, I’ve made it,” moment.
By the time I was halfway through my travels in Europe, I began to feel like I was slipping. Slipping into what? I didn’t know at the time, but I felt something dark beginning to creep into every part of me.
There were so many signs that I was burning out, but they were not obvious to me because I felt happy and was busy doing LOTS of stuff – fun stuff! I also wasn’t sleeping much, but I was writing and creating all the time. I was saying yes to every activity, was hanging out with every person who invited me to an event, said yes to every work opportunity, and was drinking pretty often. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know I was sober for 16 months from 2013-2014 and since then have been on and off with alcohol. I’m currently sober again and rediscovering how necessary it is for me.
When I returned from Europe, in September I was displaced for a couple of weeks, sleeping on friends’ couches, with most of my stuff in storage. When I finally signed a new lease, it was in Dallas, TX with a friend I’ve known for years. I had moved back to Texas for my boyfriend, my digital marketing business was booming – I even hired two people to help with my increased workload. Surely settling into a new home and having a bustling business would prove positive, right?
I think I really started to dive deep when I started working until 3 am just to occupy my mind. Busy work is not good work. I also had some incredibly demanding clients I continued saying, “yes,” to even though contracts were being breached because there was money on the table. My energy was being given away to anyone who asked for it – and for what? Money? Really, Tiffiny?
Because I was unhappy with how work was making me feel, I started searching for a way to relieve the pressure. I started blaming Texas. It only took a few months after moving back for me to realize that I didn’t want to be there anymore. I needed Colorado back in my life. Or New York. Or California.
Anywhere but Texas.
I started trying to figure out how to get out of my newly signed lease without screwing my roommate over and started to try and convince my boyfriend to move back to Colorado with me.
Nothing was working out, so I accepted that I had to stay for a few more months. I started taking multiple naps during the day to avoid my massive to-do lists that kept growing. (Naps are one of my favorite ways to avoid life).
I began sinking deeper. I found peace in trail-running and would hit the trails for a couple hours per day. It was my escape, as nature often is.
But it wasn’t enough. I truly believe that because I was not practicing self-care, I left myself incredibly vulnerable.
With sorrow fraught
My notes are driven:
They strike the ear of night,
Make weep the eyes of day
The moment you become free is the moment you realize you were stuck. One thing I have learned about burnout is that you don’t see it coming and you don’t realize you’re burnt out until you aren’t anymore. Or, at least that’s how it works for me.
I truly became ‘un-stuck’ last month (May 2017). Things have been up and down for two-and-a-half years, and that’s just how things are in my life. However, I truly feel free again. The light is coming back.
To what or whom do I owe for getting myself out of the slump? I’m not entirely sure at this point. Honestly, I think it was many things: carefully being aware of the people I surround myself with, deciding to try harder than I have been, rediscovering the passions I used to have, reading journals from three years ago – when I was happier, freer, and wiser…
“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”
― Elizabeth Wurtzel,
When you are burnt out, the hardest thing you can do is…well, everything because you’re probably also depressed.
Looking back, here is what I wish I had done:
- Talked more: talking to others who have been in your situation are in your situation is one of the most powerful feelings, because it affirms that you are not alone. I think one reason my burnout turned into such a nasty depression is that I felt alone, and did not understand why I was experiencing burnout when I had such a killer life.
- Drank less: alcohol just makes things worse.
- Said no to others: figure out who is sucking your energy and start telling them, “no.” If they choose to take it personally or can’t understand, that’s on them. Not you.
- Taken more “mental health,” days: take a day off and do nothing. Read in your bed. Leave your phone at home and go for a run. Go camping. Go on a day trip in your car. Do what you need to do to feel better.
The most important thing about I learned about burnout is how crucial it is to be aware of my personal energy and how I’m using it. Getting organized, being mindful of my plans, and filling my life with things that inspire and energize me are my top priorities now.
In a funny way, I’m actually thankful for being burnt out because it taught me so much about myself. My confidence and self-worth are stronger now, and I find myself not bothering with people or activities that dry up my energy.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE.
For me, burnout taught me to put myself first and how to keep an eye on the people, time, and places I’m spending my energy. If I spend it on people who constantly drain me, I will constantly be drained.
Surrounding yourself with people who energize you and inspire you has been proven to positively impact your personal energy. However, negative energy is often the most powerful.
I don’t think burnout means you have failed. I don’t think it means you’re devoid of meaning. I think it means you needed to learn about the power of how you spend your personal energy.
If you’re experiencing burnout coupled with depression, I hope you not you are not alone. <3