I have been working on my mental health so long I’d begun to feel like I’d gotten complete control of it. Like the trouble was over, and I’d only have to maintain. That’s possible, don’t get me wrong, but I was so sure that I missed the signs. I’d believed I’d put my past mental health struggles in the rearview and I was coasting towards some new land where I’d be free from some of my daily frustrations.
Like many people who function in a supportive community role, I’d lost sight of my own need for community and isolated myself from the people I needed the most.
If that’s you too, I want to be really vulnerable here and tell you the truth: I don’t have all the answers, and I never did.
I didn’t want to admit I was struggling
That feels scary to say as a leader sometimes. People expect answers. But at this moment, where I was sitting quietly looking at the beautiful landscape and wishing I could take a walk in it, I realized it was time to sit BGLK down for a while and think about René. What does she need in this moment?
It had been way too long since I considered myself and taken care of my needs. In spite of everyone constantly quoting my own words back to me, it wasn’t a guard your yes issue. I’d already said no to everything but the bare minimum on my plate.
I thought the answers would be simple
I thought lightening my load through doing less would be the answer. Clearly, I was wrong. See, guarding your yes can be a form of self-care or it can become another way to isolate.
It has been two years since my brother passed away. Since my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and since my grandmother had a series of strokes. There I was caretaking away and saying no to many of the things that brought me pleasure.
Living through this loss and stress was harder on me than I believed, but it was time to heal. Call it burnout, I suppose. I was more tired than I had ever been in my life, but I couldn’t rest because people needed me. My audience needed me. My parents needed me, my girlfriend needed me.
I was in denial about how stressed out I was
So I continually pushed that tired feeling down and like most stuffed feelings it came exploding out of me. The blast took me back to a place I thought I’d never be again: a mental health facility, grappling with being at peace with being admitted, and what it meant for me.
Here’s where I went wrong
I stopped admitting when I was too tired – with appointments to attend for my mother and grandmother and myself along with grieving my brother, my life quickly became centered on duty and responsibility. Life isn’t fun all the time, but it is important to make some time for some things you would enjoy because you HAVE to enjoy yourself sometimes.
I kept trying to fix problems myself that required community support – when you are caught up in the middle of a LOT of work, you might want to be better at reaching out for support than I was. Problems become a little easier to solve when it is shared among many people, not just one.
I isolated from my support system – believing that nobody would understand, I moved further and further away from telling people what was really happening in my life. Then as more things happened, I stopped entirely. I assumed incorrectly that nobody would want me to dump all of my sadness on them. Turns out, people just wanted to know what was happening in my life.
The results? Not so pretty – I was exhausted, and in that exhaustion I worked way too much, and that working turned into working all day long, waking up in the middle of the night and working. Then it was creating new projects to keep me preoccupied and not thinking about the problems in my life.
Since 2021 I have been living under this pressure, and kept it pretty well together at first. After a while it became a case of going through the motions with little reprieve. We aren’t meant to be islands unto ourselves. As I went through this period it made me wonder how many people are going through the motions like this, all of us drifting boats moving further away from the shore with no paddles.
So now I’m working my way through this burnout. The days are slowly coming back together for me, and one of the things I’m relearning is the power of community to support you through these periods of burnout. We’ll talk about that soon!
Until next time,