Life After Burnout

PhotonQ-When the Phoenix Rises
Credit: Flickr / PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE

I’m currently in what I would describe as a post-burnout-phase. The memory of being burnt out is vivid, and I fear going back there, but I’m doing OK and even cautiously optimistic about the future. Sometimes I resent the cost, and sometimes I just feel so grateful to be in this better place.. and usually, something in between, a bittersweet mix of the two. Shared by my friend, who tells me she misses me like crazy, but she’s so glad I’m doing better.

Burning Out

When I look back at where I was, I wonder how I thought that was bearable. Dreading having to start the day, every morning, although some more than others. Walking home in tears, more often than not. Desperate to escape, but feeling trapped by work permits and my identity being so tied up in things that I did, rather than who I was (am). Getting smaller and smaller in what I dared to do because everything seemed to be somehow wrong and then nothing I’m doing is meaningful, or appreciated, and what am I doing here anyway, again?

The thing about being at my lowest, is that I had lost the ability to fake it, to believe in myself just enough to try. I just got so flat, accepted that nothing good would come, and where do you go from there? Nowhere.

Until I hit this place of “I cannot do this anymore” is that it forced me to come up with something that I would want to do, instead. And a plan, to work towards it.

Getting Away

I looked at the data about what helps women succeed in this industry, and then found that. Specifically – I looked for someone who would look out for me, and be a sponsor. I arranged it, and then I ran away.

I wasn’t sure if I would come back.

So I set myself some goals of things to build, and to write. Which I missed, by a long way. And I arranged some places to visit. Maybe over-scheduled myself, somewhat, too much so to be creative.

But – I recharged. Started to feel joyful again. Exploring gave me reasons to want to get up every morning, again. I started to connect to who I am rather than things that I did, and to contemplate living without them. Got used to being alone, again. Because my life in Sydney was the hardest thing to leave. A casualty of the flames.

To not be an expat anymore, to return to a country that is technically “home”, but doesn’t feel like it.

The Present

I remember the feeling the morning when I realised that I wasn’t dreading the day ahead. I’ve yet to come home in tears. After a rough week I had a moment when I contemplated giving it all up, and knew that if I did, I would be OK.

Sometimes something reminds me of the things that drove me to that point, and I want to panic. But I try and remain outwardly calm at least, and remind myself that I already met the minimum goal I set for myself. That this experience is not that one. I convince myself that it will be OK, and so far, it has been.

Of course, one day it might not be. But the clock that was going double time has slowed. This less frantic drum beat, makes me less frantic to have good things right now, yesterday. I can work with OK. An extra few beats does not herald an explosion, it was just a bad day, and tomorrow will be another one.

Try again.

It’s weird, going past the milestones. The first time I felt appreciated – gave me a warm glow for days, still does, even. The first time I did a women in tech event – terrified because I had to be “on”, worried because I have nothing good to say about the experience of women in this industry, still… and I had a great time. Talking to school kids, panicking because I’m an appalling liar and being positive felt like it would feel like lying… and then realising that it didn’t, that it wasn’t. Putting something I’d done out there, afraid that I was behind, worse than everyone else… and realising that wasn’t the case at all.

I think though, the same way that you never fall in love again like the first time, because the first time you give yourself fully and optimistically in a way that it’s never possible to do again… Now, I keep something back. Make an effort to maintain my “side” interests, and projects so that they’ll be there when I need them. Keep in mind the plan, which is not a lifetime of casual misogyny, but a life that I define, and things I want to create.

Not being on a work-permit helps the way I thought it would. I feel less trapped. It’s easier to be happier in a place where you don’t feel like you have to be.

Of course, it’s also easier to be happier in a better place. I’m lucky to have found one.

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