My burn-out came as a complete surprise to me. I felt really overwhelmed by the fact that I had to stop. I also hadn’t seen any signs that I was going too far.
This last one of course, was part of the problem. It wasn’t that my body wasn’t sending signals. I didn’t recognize them. According to my father, I had already passed the red traffic lights 5 times without noticing it.
I found out, in this hard way, that my energy had run out and that I had clearly gone too far. My body couldn’t do it anymore.
Recognizing the right signals (the traffic light) I had to learn and that was quite a task. I was mostly carrying on. So now listening to myself was new to me.
I still have trouble with that from time to time, but it’s going in the right direction. More and more often I listen to myself and to the signals that my body gives off.
Here I have described how that went.
In December I was told that I was burned out. But in fact, I have had a burn-out for much longer. In retrospect, there were at least 3 moments when my body clearly indicated that the energy had run out.
In the spring break of 2018 (10 months before the burn-out) I went skiing with my children. That was (in retrospect) the first warning. On the way to the Alps, I already got sick. I was in the car with severe abdominal pain, and I arrived on the gums. That continued throughout the whole holiday. The rest of the holiday I was sick in bed and the feeling didn’t go away until we got home.
In the same year we went to Berlin for a week. We had the same experience there as in the Alps. With a lot of abdominal pain and a lame feeling, I spent almost the entire holiday in the holiday home and saw little of Berlin.
The last and clearest signal, that was a week before the autumn holidays. Then we went to the Ardennes with school for a week. With a bus full of teenagers, we drove away from Nijmegen at 7.00 am and immediately I became nauseous, I got abdominal pain and I panicked. I got off in Maastricht and went back by train. I needed the entire autumn break to recover.
Thinking back, those were red traffic lights that I hadn’t seen/recognized.
So, I had to learn to listen better to my body. That was easier said than done.
Listening to my body, that was new to me and didn’t work at all in the beginning. The first few weeks I had a lot of trouble accepting the situation. I didn’t feel like a burn-out at all and was convinced that with a few weeks of rest I would be back.
Yet my body continued to protest violently at too much effort and too much stress. It wasn’t until I started landing that I started to feel my body.
Together with my family and especially the psychologist, I started working on this. Learning to recognize the signals. I first started to think about what I feel. In full width.
These signals were very intense in the beginning. That usually started when I got up. Immediately I had a stomachache when I woke up and I wanted to stay in bed. Still, I forced myself to go down and eat. Usually, the abdominal pain went away. This cycle repeated itself a few more times throughout the day.
I also had a ringing in my ears. Usually around 2 p.m. that started and didn’t stop until I went to sleep. My psychologist told me that this was because of the stress and would pass. In the end, that’s what happened. After a few weeks it became less. But I was shocked by that. A ringing in my ear all day. Terribly tiring.
What was also very annoying was that my thoughts flew in all directions. I could really think of anything and everything all day long. Worrying, worrying, thinking, etc.
We first started to name the signals. Only then could I figure out how to deal with this and what worked or didn’t work. The support of my environment was of great influence for this. I was a bit lost. Together we started working on this.
Because we didn’t know exactly how this worked, we took my signals as leading.
This meant, for example, that I:
I also started listening to quiet sounds. I have an app on my phone with rain sounds. At fixed times of the day, I put it on my ears, and I went to listen to the rain for 1/2 hour. As a result, I became calmer and, after a while, I got my thought storm to a halt.
In my case, I avoided painkillers as much as possible. I found it difficult to keep feeling my body because of the painkillers. So, if I had a headache or abdominal pain, I’d rather go to bed than take a paracetamol.
In summary: I had to stop thinking and start feeling.
This change is still ongoing.
Listening to my body and less to my thoughts, that’s growth. This growth took place in small steps.
Sometimes I was too optimistic. Then I thought I didn’t feel anything or had a little energy again. To then change back into the old behavior and be back to square one.
I can give countless examples that I did not listen well. Shopping, eating out, going to the birthday, exercising too much, continuing to answer apps, too many things in 1 day, you name it. All circumstances where my body pulled the brakes.
With a panic attack, abdominal pain, anger, anxiety and neck pain, my body could call me to order. In the following days I often got all kinds of complaints, physical: abdominal pain, headache, trembling muscles, or chest pain. But also, mental: worrying, crying quickly, fear, panic, etc.
At other times, I confused the signals. Then I got abdominal pain, but it turned out to be an empty stomach. Or then I thought I felt something and that was not the case. The result was that I was sometimes too careful and could not properly value my body.
My family helped me by thinking along with me, but also being critical whether the signals were correct.
Because I was not used to this and was sometimes wrong, it took a long time before I could trust my feelings.
The confidence came with small steps but could also quickly fall away again. Fortunately, over time, I got better and better at it. I especially learned that if I was doing well, I would inhibit my behavior as much as possible.
So that a buffer was created, and I could replenish my energy.
What is positive?
Because I started listening to my body, I recognized how my body reacted. In time I was able to make better choices.
I finally came closer to myself. I became more balanced and that feels very familiar and nice.
Don’t give up!
Why does a burn-out take so long? Because I was learning. Learning to listen to myself and act on it was quite difficult for me. I ventured into new territory!
Maybe it’s helpful to be a little more careful at first. So that you will also see and recognize the smallest signals.
Of course, you’ll miss out quite a few times. You’re afraid of that and think you’re back to square one. That’s not the case, get up and try it on new.
In the end, everyone learns to ride a bike, eventually you will learn to listen to yourself better and better.