Today’s guest post comes from a good friend who isn’t a blogger but wanted to share her story:

This guest post has been a long time in the making and I want to thank Theresa for being ever so patient with me. I met Theresa when I was a foreign exchance student attending her high school for one school year. First, we became friends and then sisters when I suddenly found myself in need of a new host family and she persuaded her family to give hosting a foreign teenager a try. That must not have been an easy decision and I am forever grateful that they welcomed me into their home. Over the years, we have kept in touch and have had opportunities to visit each other as well. Our friendship is very important to me, even though we are miles and time zones apart.

I want to share my story about burnout with you because it is something that has changed my everyday life quite a bit, even though it happened many years ago. I had been working as a Psychologist for a couple of years when our clinic got a new Head Physician. His managing skills were not the most advanced and, while things seldom are that simple, it was pretty much because of him that our whole staff soon became a mess. Everyone was stressed, each trying to understand what was going on and why. There were smaller cliques forming, many got defensive because their whole careers, ways of working and professional expertise were suddenly being questioned. I never did find out if that was the intention of the new chief but that’s what he made it feel like. Many suffered from various physical symptoms as well as growing more and more stressed each month.

Prior to all this, I was already tired like many are at the beginning of their careers having a lot of work to do and many things to learn. And, as an idealistic, enthusiastic newbie that I was, I strongly believed that the mess we ended up being tangled in, could and would be solved. So I did my damnest to do my share: I listened and consoled my co-workers and mainly tried to understand what was going on, why things were the way they were and what could be done to make it better. I am a Psychologist, after all 🙂 The thing is, though, you shouldn’t try to treat professionally something you’re emotionally too much involved with while trying to manage your everyday tasks, too. Again, not to make things too simple, my husband was between jobs at that time. The whole situation was what eventually caused me to burn out.

The problem was, that while I felt and knew that I wasn’t at my best health anymore, the changes had occurred so gradually that I didn’t realize the extent of the situation until I found myself on a sick-leave, looking like a skeleton with all the weight I’d lost, unable to sleep or relax and pretty much unable to eat anything because of the constant nausea and IBS symptoms. It was, in fact, my husband who told me to go to the doctor who instantly put me on sick-leave. I ended up staying home for six weeks, underwent some medical tests, e.g. EGD which is not the most pleasant of procedures, and just tried to manage eating something and getting my sleep back. All the tests came back negative which meant there was nothing wrong with me physically. I was diagnosed with depression even though I didn’t have the clinical symptoms of depression. Burnout is not accepted as a valid reason for sick-leave but since I was nowhere near healthy enough to be at work, my doctor and I agreed depression was a close enough diagnosis to give me the rest I desperately needed. After returning back to work, I applied for a professional mentor and met with her once a month for about a year. Otherwise, I was left on my own devices. I did see a fellow Psychologist who is also a trained Hypnotherapist, for a few sessions, to try to find ways and skills for relaxation.

A couple of years had passed, including a marriage crisis and buying our first own house after the said crisis, when I was spending the weekend home alone. I was on the computer when I randomly stumbled on Youtube and a long-forgotten TV series that had been my utmost favorite when I was a teenager: Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman starring Jane Seymore. It is hard to describe what happened at that moment but as I was watching clips of that old favorite of mine, it felt like my world which had been black and white suddenly got lit with colors. It took a long time to realize it but at that moment, I got my emotions back. Sure, I had been living my life and been back to work, and I even tried to revive my old hobby with playing music which didn’t last long. I had been on a robotic, survival mode without, once again, realizing the situation. I had been performing the necessary tasks of the everyday life but everything else had been cut off to save energy, which I still didn’t have enough. I never thought I’d be telling people that an old TV-show saved me but that’s exactly what happened. I started to crave the feeling of feeling something again which gave me the much needed boost to slowly start looking for the things that used give me energy. I gradually found books again. For many years, I had been in too bad a shape to have any energy to be able to follow a narrative story. I went back to the TV-shows, movies and music that had touched me as a teenager. I found new movies and music that made me feel. The internet has it’s risks for sure but to me, it gave my world back. With colors.
Two years ago I had a setback when my IBS syndromes got worse and I lost my sleep again. After finding myself, again, on sick-leave, I finally got too angry with it and started to actively work on the why’s and how’s of myself. My doctor referred me to a nutritional therapist / a Dietician who introduced me to the FODMAP diet. I am now eating gluten-free and mostly dairy-free food with lots of limitations to different sugars including fructose which is why I am also skipping many fruits. I eat simple, home cooked meals with different meats, cheese, rice or potatoes, green salad, tomatoes, berries, some fruits etc. It is not as limited as I just made it sound like. Thanks to this diet, my stomach is in better condition than it had been for years and I’ve gotten back the weight I had lost and hadn’t been able to gain back because of the IBS problems. I am thrilled to be able to live the everyday life again without having to stay at home and close to the bathroom all the time. Of course, I have good days and not so good days with my tummy and it most likely will never be what it was before I got ill, back when I could eat pretty much anything I wanted, but I am glad with what it is today, too. The biggest discovery is that I now know for a fact that my stomach is wiser than my mind: it is what makes me stop and listen to myself when I have been ignoring other warning signals that have tried to tell me to rest more. My stomach is my most trusted advisor, although I am still learning to take the time to listen to it with my full attention.
Two years ago, my doctor didn’t see it necessary to refer me to a Psychiatrist but I went to see one on my own and after a full assessment I got a referral to psychotherapy. I was also diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Interestingly enough, the medications he started me with are Lyrica / pregabalin (yes, you read it correctly) for the anxiety and sleeping problems and nortriptyline, an old drug for depression, for my IBS symptoms. Both with a mild dosage. Nortriptyline can cause some gastrointestinal side effects e.g. constipation for the people with normally functioning stomachs, which is exactly why I am now on it: to make use of that side effect! Sometimes it is very much needed to think outside the box, which is exactly what my Psychiatrist did. I am now on my second year of psychotherapy, going to sessions twice a week. It is a slow process but this second year seems to be quite a lot more productive than the first. On my own, I have also made the discovery that I belong to a group of people who are so-called Highly Sensitive Persons, a concept by Elaine Aron, PhD. I don’t like labels but the description of a HSP does explain many things about the way I live my life and react to things, e.g. why I am more prone to exhaustion than some other people. I am also ‘a good girl’, trying to do what’s right and expected, which is another reason why I am vulnerable to stress.I have made the decision to cut back my working hours by 20%. Some have called me courageous for it. To me, it’s not being courageous, it’s what I needed to do in order to take care of myself. Some are envious that I have more time off than themselves. That time is spent on recovering from the week’s work load, to give my stomach a break and to rest and sleep if I haven’t been able to sleep as much as I needed. I don’t meet my friends as often than some other people do, because socializing on my free-time after spending my day taking care of others at work has proven to be too taxing. Sometimes I have to decline invitations to social gatherings during the weekend as much as I would enjoy attending them because rest is what my body and mind need more at the time. I need a lot of peace and quiet in my free time in order to be able to take good care of others as my profession.
I have spent quite a lot of time trying to come up with a good way to wrap this guest post up with. Since I seem to be unable to, I have decided to respect that and interpret it as a sign that says I am still on the road to recovery and thus, a nice wrap-up is not yet possible. Who knows, maybe in a couple of years, Theresa might do another round of Guest Posts and I might well be able to write a more conclusive ending to my post then 🙂
I am a rather private person, by my personality and because of my profession. There are not that many people even among my close friends that I have shared my full story with. Reading this, you have helped me come to terms with what I have been through these past few years. I thank you for that. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. As you all go about your own lives, please take the time to take good care of yourselves because it truly is the best gift you can give both to yourselves and the people you love and care about.
Wishing you all blessings, smiles and good health,
yours, M.
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