Burned out

I wasn’t quite sure how to write this post, if I was ready to write about what happened this week. But I think it can be both cathartic and helpful to get words down and explain what has been going on in my brain.

These past few weeks I haven’t been feeling so great mentally and emotionally. After I got back from Canada I felt incredibly tired and hardly like I had had a holiday at all. Work got very intense and I allowed myself to get stressed out by it. I tackle difficult coding problems every day, but I found that I couldn’t figure out the right solutions and was doubting my ability as a developer. I started a new French course the week after I returned, but quickly realised that I still can’t speak the language properly. On top of all that, my Summer of Speed training has been tough, with three speedwork sessions a week, and I’ve been trying to eat as healthily as possible to complement the hard physical effort I’ve been putting in. Oh, and it’s summer, ridiculously hot, and we didn’t have a fan/aircon so sleeping has been sticky and interrupted by mosquitoes.

Last week my bad patch came on Wednesday, where I felt totally exhausted, overwhelmed and on the verge of tears. Thankfully it coincided with a training rest day so I could chill a little and take a relaxing bath in the evening. I didn’t fix things though, as I had to force myself to go to work the next morning when I would have much rather had a mental-health day (unfortunately complicated in France). But then I got a boost from resolving a tricky code issue, and after work ran a sweaty, therapeutic speed session, so that by the time I got to Friday and the weekend, things didn’t seem so bad anymore.

Until this Tuesday, when it all hit all over again. The thought of doing the training session on my plan for the day gave me inexplicable anxiety. My brain was plotting ways to quit my job, give up running and even leave Paris to move back to London. I had to fake smile and look away when asked ‘ça va?’ because I really wasn’t ok. I took myself out to a hipster cafe lunch, looked up the symptoms of burnout, and cried harder. Yep, I had my diagnosis.

Symptoms of Burnout:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention
  • Physical symptoms
  • Increased illness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Pessimism
  • Isolation
  • Detachment
  • Feelings of apathy and hopelessness
  • Increased irritability
  • Lack of productivity and poor performance

I’ve always been someone who pushes really hard, who says ‘yes’ whenever possible until all of a sudden I realise that I’ve been doing too much and then crash and burn. This probably happens at least once every six months, so you’d think that by now I’d be able to recognise the symptoms and avoid piling on too much. But alas, it’s not that easy. Part of the reason I didn’t acknowledge what was happening was that I’d had some really happy and enjoyable weekends in between the dark times. But mostly it was because I didn’t think I had a right to feel overwhelmed by the things in my life, because there wasn’t actually that much going on. Everyone works, I’ve been training for years, and my French class was only 3 hours a week. What I failed to recognise was the increased levels of stress that each area was impacting on my life.

I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t tell you how to beat burnout if it’s something that you’re dealing with too. However, I think the main thing is to immediately reduce the stress as much as possible across everything you’re doing. I cancelled all my plans for that evening, including French class, and went home. There we ordered takeaway Thai, ate an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s, drank cider and watched a movie. The next day I worked from home – and finally bought a fan!

It’s been a few days now, and things are doing better. My training plan for the rest of the week has been cancelled in favour of easy running, which I feel really good about. On Sye’s suggestion I’ve also been doing a bit of yoga again and went for a relaxing swim – the mood boost I got from moving my body in a different way again was incredible. The yoga in particular has been quite powerful, taking time to focus on my breath and quiet my mind from all the thoughts swirling around it. Writing has also helped, but not just to process what happened and understand the underlying causes. In fact, it was my weekly training post which first made me realise that these problems had been going on for weeks.

There’s no real conclusion to this post other than to say that it’s OK to struggle sometimes and feel overwhelmed by everything that’s going on. I hope it’s not something you have to go through, but it does happen. Take a proper break, cancel your training, and give yourself permission to relax. You, and I, will get through it.


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