What Burnout Really Feels Like

There’s a lot banded around about burnout. Self-care feels like the buzzword of the moment. However as someone who has been struggling with burnout for at least three years now, I will tell you this. You cannot and will not remedy burnout by country walks, hot baths or positive affirmations.

Burnout is not being tired or having a busy period in work. Burnout is a measurement of your immune system’s fucked up-ness. You do not heal fucked up-ness by reading a book or cuddling kittens. That is called looking after yourself. And it most certainly does not fix burnout.

If you are going through this, I empathise with you. If you can avoid this, do so at your earliest convenience for once you fall down the rabbit hole you can’t climb out of it that easily. All the therapy in the world will not fix the physical stuff (sorry, Sean – my therapist) and your only chance of escaping is waiting patiently for sand to fall into the hole until you can feel daylight on your face once again.

If you haven’t had burnout here is what it feels like to go through it.

  1. You will feel angry. Your constant exhaustion will be met with unhelpful advice from others such as, try getting enough sleep, or, maybe you’re sleeping too much. Trust me, in recovery there is no such thing as too much. You will wake up tired. Everyday. Forever.
  2. Your GP will likely fob you off for many years suggesting you really have a mental health issue but without running adequate tests for deficiencies or other things such as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
  3. You will ache. Everywhere. Usually around the joints, but there will be muscle stiffness too. Your gait will change and you will hobble like the Old Woman Who Lives in a Bloody Shoe.
  4. You will forget things. I recently forgot my boyfriend’s name. Fortunately he is a very good understanding boyfriend and this was not in the context of bed.
  5. You will pee all the time. Perhaps over 15-times a day. You will keep a fluid intake diary and wonder where the hell all the extra fluid comes from. You will get in bed at night and pee several times before you are allowed to fall asleep. You will pee in the night.
  6. You will be clumsy. You will knock into things. Tables, chairs, dogs. You will most definitely knock into things in the middle of the night whilst you go for a pee.
  7. You will have the concentration span of a gnat. If that gnat was pissed up on its work’s Christmas-do.
  8. You will have brain fog. Your brain will feel like the inside door of a tumble drier without the ability to de-fluff it.
  9. You will have no sex life. Sorry. Facts.
  10. You will forget what you wanted to write for number 10.
  11. You will be stressed, overwhelmed and miserable at times. Your GP will then remind you that you have depression, even though you are simply miserable from chronic pain and exhaustion.
  12. You will only be able to tolerate anything in incredibly short bursts before hitting THE WALL. The Wall can be observed in toddlers and baby animals. Mid conversation can suddenly come to a grinding…
  13. It may take years of rest, therapy, self-care, medical support and love from your friends and family to get though it. It may feel like you’ll never get through it but bit by bit some of your vim will return. Vim by vim.
  14. You will realise that you have to let go of certain traits. Tidiness, organisation and perfectionism will simply have to go. You will not give a rat’s arse about spelling mistakes and eventually give up on editing blogs because the words scramble aimlessly around the screen whenever you read them anyway.

#burnout #selfcare #mentalhealth

How many hangovers have you had?

This article was originally written in 2015. I am now teetotal yet still dance on tables at parties.

ONE THOUSAND AND FORTY. This is the number of hangovers I have had.

Of course this figure is merely an approximation based on a steady average of one-boozy-do a week for twenty years. However this figure does not take into account the debauchery of the Britpop era, Ibiza hedonism or the socialite years, let alone all the why-not-it’s-a-Wednesdays. Taking these new variables into consideration I have probably therefore been drunk around two thousand times.

I imagine huge vats of wine in an expansive vineyard – the town’s entire population gathered in glee to squash grapes with their tiny peasant feet, all working diligently towards the shared goal of filling nuclear bunkers with the finest Cote de Jones.

I then turn my attention to my liver. My tiny, irritated, worn out liver and imagine it as an integral part of the winery process. Imagine my poor knackered liver filtering all that hooch. All one thousand and five hundred litres of it.

Are these calculations worrying? I don’t consider myself to be a big drinker maybe cracking open a bottle at the weekend and perhaps once in the week if I’m in a particularly jovial mood. Saddle me a steer, Jeeves, I wish to get squiffy.

And it’s true that I can’t hold drink like I used to. Over the years my tolerance has stubbornly refused to increase which means I can only manage four glasses of wine before I fall asleep. I say fall asleep- I mean drunk-text any male with a pulse, eat the weekly shop and pass out with a piece of raw bacon attached to my face.

I know plenty of folk who have a few beers after work most nights with extra lashings at the weekend. And I know plenty of respectable mothers who after putting tiny Boris to bed will hastily reach for their 7pm Chardonnay and quite magnificently quaff the lot. Are these calculations worrying?

Alcohol is a relatively cheap, relaxing pastime which most of us indulge in. We get p****, f****, wasted, trollied, muntered, smashed, s***-faced, hammered, wrecked and blasted. We Brits LOVE IT! Up an down the land we gather together at ethanol watering holes and imbibe gallons of chemicals. We unwind after a tough day, whet the baby’s head, toast to good health, cheers to this occasion, or that wedding, or this birthday, or the fact we’re still breathing.

I live a reasonably healthy lifestyle- I eat well, I walk a lot, I’m not overweight and I don’t smoke. At my last medical my doctor laughed and told me I was boringly healthy RIGHT until she asked me how much I drink. “A bottle or two a week… maybe?” Cue ice-cold medical stare. “That’s too much. Do you have a problem? Do we need to make a referral? ARE YOU AN ALCOHOLIC??” Well I didn’t think I was until you said THAT.

After a nice cold glass of Rosé this evening I found myself jacket on, keys in hand, dashing off to the shop for fresh supplies before closing time. I had walked for about five minutes before I stopped dead on the pavement and asked myself out loud: what on earth am I doing? I couldn’t give myself a good enough answer.

So instead I came home and had a glass of MILK. Which was just so much FUN. I’m doing myself a favour and expect I shall thank myself for it in the long run. But for now I shall simply go to bed early and sulk slightly the way a teenager does when they’ve been grounded.

The vineyards will have to slow their production. I retract my teenage mantra of the liver is evil and must be punished.


Steph Jones is a freelance writer and a BACP Registered Counsellor and Psychotherapist. She lives with partner Mike and Ziggy the cat.