My psychologist said to me the other day that I was burnt out.

I have done some contract work for a Government Department for nearly 20 years.  It’s difficult work. The parties are usually very stressed, the decisions I make have a direct impact on people’s lives and I have had to be a bearer of bad news over and over again for 20 years. It’s reasonable to assume that it would take its toll.

I was so relieved for my psychologist to say that I was burnt out. I was glad to hear from a professional that there was a reason for why I was feeling so awful, so tired, so stressed.

I told my family and some other close friends and they all said – we have been saying this to you for ages. They said, “this is not a surprise to us.”

So why couldn’t I hear the same information from other people? Why did it take a psychologist to confirm what was as obvious as the nose on my face?

  1. I wasn’t ready to hear the information.
  2. I needed someone with authority to make the diagnosis.
  3. I was scared that I wasn’t as resilient as I have always thought.

I have probably been burnt out for the last couple of years. I have probably been pushing through the stress and feelings of overwhelm. I am a very hard worker. I have always worked hard – no matter what’s going on – I work hard.  This was just me pushing through – again.

But the signs that things were not right when I really started struggling to sleep again. My brain would light up like a pinball machine just as I wanted to go to sleep or two hours after falling asleep. I started my night time movement from bed to couch to bed. Trying to find somewhere different, where my thoughts would change, where I could listen to music to distract me, to try and find some relief from my noisy brain.

So it is real for me now. I am dealing with burnout – again (I’ve been here before in 2014).

How to deal with this – look after me. Do what I want to do.

Go well.

 

This might surprise you, but I do not have any memories of Christmas day from my childhood. I have memories of a few events that occurred on those supposedly special days but not much of the day itself.

I know what we used to do and where we used to go but I don’t actually even remember getting up on Christmas morning. I don’t remember opening Christmas presents. I remember being excited before Christmas and full of so much expectation but sadly the days themselves were so stressful that they didn’t stick in my brain.

From what I do remember, I know that Christmas was a day of arguments, vicious ugly arguments.  They were black days which usually ended a lot better than they started because on Christmas night we spent time with Mum’s family. Mum’s extended family were funny and generous.  Even Dad enjoyed himself at these events and we caught up with our cousins and it was fun.

But the start of the day was usually bad.  We grew up in poverty. My parents always struggled financially and emotionally.  Every Christmas Mum would spend a fortune on a lot of “crap” presents; overcompensating for our difficult lives. Lots of money spent on lots of items of little or no value. Mum wanted so bad for Christmas to be special but sadly it never was.

Every year Dad would have a melt down at some stage of the day when he realised how much money had been spent on gifts; or because lunch was served at 3 pm because Mum forgot to defrost the turkey or because Mum was still wrapping a huge number of gifts for the cousins at 6 pm that night. It was always painful.

To this day, my siblings and I struggle with Christmas. We can happily celebrate Christmas any other day of the year – just not on the 25th of December.  We all cringe a little when we see a lot of gifts under the Christmas tree even though we go to great lengths to buy our kids thoughtful and valuable gifts. We have created our own Christmas days now but our history still lurks in the shadows.

Christmas can be a very stressful day for a lot of people. Past history of painful Christmas experiences, loneliness, loss of a loved one, being separated from our kids, pressure to catch up with all family members on one day, pressure of spending time with family members we don’t particularly like.

We’re not our best selves when we are stressed. We may say and do things that we regret later.

So one, we should do whatever we can to reduce our stress levels at Christmas and two, we should not judge other people because of their behaviour on that day.

We need to be generous to ourselves and each other in this holiday period.

I grew up in a very stressful world. My parents were at each other’s throats most of the time.

Mum was an erudite self-medicating victim of life. Dad was a poor stressed out intellectual with an earnest sense of humour.

They loved each other madly, except when they didn’t, which was a lot of the time.

They used lots of words. Loud, painful words. Dad sometimes threw things, like punches at cupboard doors. Mum used nasty cutting insults that nearly always hit the mark.

Usually, they focused their energy on attacking each other. But sometimes they were so stressed that they forgot that they loved us, their kids, and we would become a target too. A verbal punching bag.

So I grew up in a high state of stress. I spent my childhood checking out the lie of the land. Was it safe? Was I a possible target? What did I need to do to calm this situation down; to make it safe?

I learnt to be good. To tidy up, to do the dishes, to hide Mum’s drink, without anybody asking.

I learnt to read people.  I could tell if someone was angry or upset from 20 paces. I could modify my play, reduce my noise, play small in response to a single glance or a tone of voice.

I learned how to keep myself safe.

I usually liked my friends because I liked their parents. I liked that I was often invited to stay the night at a friend’s house on the basis that I was so helpful, so charming. My friends’ parents loved me.

I was pleasing, ingratiating and nice. Oh so nice.

I was in survival mode.

To this very day when pushed, when stressed, I can default back into pleasing and nice. I don’t think about it. It just happens. It’s my safe place. It’s my MO. And yet it is a feeling I dread. I don’t want to be that person anymore.

Chances are that you too will have a default behaviour you go to when you are feeling very uncomfortable, down or out of your depth. We have to protect ourselves when we are very stressed. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you catch yourself behaving in a way that you thought you had grown out of. We are always developing and growing; it takes time and courage to let go of our learned behaviours that have served us so well.

If this has triggered you and you want to talk about it further; then contact me, a counsellor or your psychologist to get support.  

My dad said once, “The threat of violence is usually worse than actual violence”.

Living in fear that there might be violence is terrifying, even if there is no personal violence towards you.

My dad told me this as he apologised for all the threats of violence we had experienced throughout our childhood. My dad never hit me, my siblings or my mother but there were many threats of violence.  Dad could blow up very quickly and we would all hide in our rooms. We all believed that being hit was a possibility.

Dad was a three career type of guy.  He was a cattle farmer who had an epiphany and became an Anglican priest, who had an epiphany and became a psychotherapist.

It was in this final iteration that he realised the pain and distress he had accidentally caused us throughout our childhood. He was deeply and genuinely sorry and we were grateful that he recognised how hard it had been. His apology was part of the healing process.

In response to the threats of violence, I spent my a lot of my childhood being good.  Tidying up, keeping my siblings quiet, cooking dinner, doing dishes – whatever was needed to avoid another threat of violence.  We walked on egg shells for much of our formative years.

 

Dad worked from home for most of my childhood. Priests only go to the “office” on Sundays and for other meetings and special occasions.  For a lot of the time he was great; our go to parent. In fact, he was our main parent. He would make us beef and tomato rolls for lunch during school holidays, he would be the one to take us to and from school or sports events.  He fixed punctures in bike tyres and he was the one we hoped would answer the phone when we needed to be picked up or if we needed an adult to help us out. We needed Dad and most of the time he was there for us.

But he was also the one who lost it big time when he came home from a meeting at night and would find mum out of it again; he was the one who sometimes threw furniture, smashed things or punched holes in cupboard doors.

There were many reasons why we never allowed our friends to visit us at home.  The bruised and battered house that we lived in was one of those reasons.

What I know now is that Dad spent most of my childhood being extremely stressed.  Stressed due to the ill health of my mother; stressed because he didn’t have enough income to pay the household bills, stressed because he had four children living in a shoebox.  Stressed because he had a job that required him to be “on” all the time when he was with parishioners; because he was involved in everyone’s lives and had to deal with all of their pain and their problems. He had a huge amount of responsibility to his tribe. It was a really tough time.

I know that a lot of leaders get very stressed at work. They can keep it together at work but sometimes they joke about going home “and kicking the cat” or drinking a bottle or two of red. The people we love the most often see the worst of us, because that is our safe place. We can let it all hang out at home. We put our relationships at risk and we don’t necessarily present the best role model for our children.

If you are really stressed and finding it hard to keep it together at home or at work; then get some help. Find ways to better manage your stress; reduce the workload. Get out for a short walk every day, eat well, exercise and look for ways to better manage your stress.

And if this blog has touched a nerve; please find someone to talk to. It could be your GP, a counsellor or a psychologist. Don’t destroy your personal relationships because of work. It’s not worth it.

I work too much. My family will happily tell you that I work too much.  I preach that people need to look after themselves but I still work way too much. (We teach the lessons we need to learn).

So I probably don’t have a leg to stand on when I am telling managers and business owners that they have a responsibility to ensure that they or their staff don’t work too much.

I have many friends out there who also work too much.  I come across many leaders and managers who tell me that either they have to do all of the work because no-one else can do it (well not as well as them) or that their staff won’t let anyone else do the work.

Oh the need to be needed; the need to fill in every moment of every day. Our self worth being met by the work that we do; rather than the people we are.

So us over-workers hold on to all of the work for dear life. We have an excuse, a reason for needing to do it all.

It is sometimes the end of the world if someone tries to take the work away from us.  Who are we if we don’t to all the work?  What is our identity if people don’t know us as that wonderful hardworking (long suffering) person who does it all?

It is incredibly hard to feel the feels of letting go of work and finding your self worth in something else.

I so get it. I am writing this blog on a Saturday afternoon whilst I distract myself from other work I need to do.

The problem with holding on to all the work and not letting other people help you is a bit like letting your child eat takeaway every day.  We know it is not good for us or for our staff but we do it anyway.  It’s addictive. And the long term damage is not immediately obvious; but slowly, very slowly the signs of stress and lack of self care show up.

So my question to you (and myself) is, would you let your child eat takeaway every day? If the answer is no, then you need to make a change.

Are you being picked on?

Are people being mean to you?

Do you feel you are under attack?

Is everything going wrong? Have you misplaced your keys, forgotten to collect your children from childcare or been rained on when walking the dogs? You feel like you everything that is going wrong is because of you. No matter what you do, it’s all wrong.  The world is against you.

Chances are you are feeling extremely stressed. Recent events have taken their toll on you.

Chances are you are in the world of one. The world of me. The world where you are the centre of the universe and it’s all about you.

When we’re in the world of one we don’t care about other people. We don’t care how they feel. We don’t have empathy; no-one is suffering like we are suffering.

We talk about ourselves all the time. We talk about others in derogatory terms. Everything is hard. It’s onerous. We complain …. a lot.

We tell everyone that we are exhausted.

Truth is – we are exhausted. Tired from the continued stress of unresolved issues. Tired from feeling bad about ourselves. All of our negative self talk.

Want to turn that around?

Stop. Breath. Take time out. Take a day off. Take a week off. Go for a walk. Go for a run. Ride your bike. Sing along to your favourite album. Have a massage. Read your book.

Do something for you. Look after you.

And then write a list of everything and everybody you are grateful for.

Then repeat that on a regular basis. Do something for you every day.

Then deal with the unresolved stuff.

Stop suffering. Live. Love.

I get my nails painted about every four weeks. This phenomenon started about three years ago when one of our children got married and I decided that my outfit would be enhanced with painted nails. I had so much fun getting them painted at the time and chatting to my new best friend Lucy, that I decided that this was now a thing for me. A bit of fun and some time out from my busy schedule.

To be honest I am as rough as guts and I tend to chip my freshly painted nails pretty quickly.  Lucy gets a good laugh out of how bad my nails can look at the end of four weeks.

And sometimes I break a nail, which is annoying but not the end of the world. But sometimes it is. Sometimes my reaction to my broken nail is completely over the top.

You see, I have a number of balls in the air all the time and I tend to work a lot. So I put myself under quite a lot of pressure. (Do what I say don’t do what I do). And when I get really tired and run down, I can become quite stressed. And when I am a bit more stressed than usual I can start to catastrophise and overreact (trying not to exaggerate here) about small stuff, like a broken nail. In these instances I might suddenly becoming that yelling person who finds fault in everything, I thump at my computer and I might cry about things that I would not normally get upset about; I also tend to suffer – a lot.

Fortunately, my family understand that when I am dramatically carrying on and on about a piffling thing like a broken nail, the internet going slow or someone buying the “wrong” brand of toilet paper – that I am just very stressed and they don’t take my behaviour personally.

And it is fascinating, because as soon as I start blaming everyone around me for everything going wrong, yelling at the Universe to be kind to me, finding fault with everything/everyone other bad things tend to occur.  I often lose my keys, get parking fines, lock myself out of the house, stop sleeping well.  That is usually a very clear indication that I may not be in a good spot right now.

I usually know that when I have got to this point that I need to stop, breathe, go for a work, take a day off – do something for me.

Many of us live very fast lives. Our days are full. If we are self employed, we often work all day in the business and all night on the business. It is hugely stressful.

So my challenge to you is to find ways to take care of yourself and to practice them.  But more than anything – be alert. If you suddenly find yourself catastrophising over a broken finger nail – chances are it’s time for some proper time out.

I am run a micro business and I do nearly everything in my business. I am slowly but surely getting some help with the business; in the last twelve months I have outsourced my bookkeeping, taken on a virtual assistant and get help with my social media. But I still struggle with delegating tasks, so I wear most of the hats in my business and it’s full on.

I often think that sole traders and micro business owners are like super heroes. They do everything. They are amazing at working in the business; and then they put in these super human hours and work on the business. I have so much respect and admiration for small business owners.

But we are not invincible. And I learnt that the hard way this year when I agreed to help manage a great and successful project that was not part of my core business.

I agreed to take on this project in February and the project got properly underway in June and was at its most frenetic in September.  I am pleased to say that the project was hugely successful and it brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. So it wasn’t a bad thing, it’s just that it took me time away from my main game from June to October. And I was completely exhausted by the end of the project.

It was one of those times when I got distracted by shiny objects and flattering comments. I thought I was super human, that I could manage to take on even more work and responsibility. I thought I could do everything.

But I know that I didn’t manage this project as well as I could have because I was constantly juggling my other responsibilities – such as running my own business and spending time with my family.

By once again saying yes and agreeing to undertake work that was a distraction to my main game, I put at risk my goals and aspirations.

But what was even worse is that it affected my sense of well being and it impacted on my health. I have spent the last three years practicing self care.  I now have a number of non-negotiables in my life such as running/walking every day, making sure I take a day off each week, going to bed early and eating nutritious and healthy foods.

By taking on this non-essential project, I put all of that risk and by the end of September was starting to feel terrible. I became tired and stressed out again.  In the last six weeks of the project I barely ran or walked at all. My diet suffered because I have so little time to prepare food. My stress levels were up and despite being exhausted I couldn’t sleep. Suddenly my non-negotiables became negotiable again.

But at the end of the day I have no-one to blame but myself. I should never have said yes.

I love to work. There is no doubt that l am a workaholic. But even workaholics have their limits and I just reached mine.

The good news is – I’ve learnt my lesson. I won’t do that again. My non-negotiables are firmly back in place and I am able to sleep again.

None of us our super human. We have to look after ourselves. No-one can do it for us. We have to set our own boundaries, our non-negotiables for good health. We have to protect ourselves from ourselves. And we know that all superheroes have their kryptonite.