It is just over 10 years ago when I suffered from ‘burnout’. I was open about this with my work colleagues at the time but given that my network of contacts has grown further since then, and I’ve just passed a major milestone, I thought it was an appropriate time to share my experience with my broader contacts.
From feeling in control of my life, I felt broken inside, experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression. One minute I was juggling many balls at work (less so at home), the next minute I felt incapable of doing anything. It was an incredibly frightening time for me and my family. I never felt suicidal, but I understand now how people may feel that way.
Ten years on, I am in a much better position. My previous firm, where I had been for 20 years, was supportive, but I just found it too mentally draining to keep going. I made the decision to find a working environment where I could manage my emotional energy more effectively, and I now have the balance I’m looking for, and thoroughly enjoying working as a coach. My wife and family were and continue to be a great support, and I am lucky in having a GP who has a particular interest in mental health.
That said I wasn’t a particularly ‘good ‘patient at the start, initially resisting my GP’s recommendation of anti-depressants. But my GP challenged my thinking and I relented – I’m still on them and am fine with that. I tried CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), a standard therapy, and found it helped a bit. Having dismissed my emotions and bottled things up unconsciously for 40 years, just talking to someone about what was going on inside me was a relief.
After a while I joined a group of fellow sufferers, facilitated by a psychoanalyst. The chairs were grouped round a small table, with a box of tissues strategically placed in the centre. I was in the group for around 4 years. We met on a weekly basis and basically just talked. Over time I found it very helpful. Firstly, it gave me the space to start to make sense of what had happened; and from that reflection I realised I had followed a pattern of unhelpful thinking and behaviours stemming back to my youth. Turns out my burnout had been smouldering for some time, but I didn’t see the smoke! Secondly, I was not alone. Everybody else in the room could relate to many of my experiences and vice versa. Thirdly, the group would provide a range of perspectives on my situation and thoughts, prompting me sometimes to see things from a different, more constructive perspective.
So that was my main learning from the last 10 years. Opening up about how you feel is an important step on the path to recovery. Talk with those who won’t judge and will actively listen. I found fellow sufferers extremely helpful in connecting with – most are happy to try to help by listening and sharing their experiences. Critically talk to your GP and be open to their advice. The path to recovery will have its ups and downs, but if you prepared to take the fist step, open up and take the support that is offered, in time you will get to a better, more sustainable place.