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Physical symptoms of burnout and depression
I didn’t know this at the time (when my body was saying no) but our bodies are full of wisdom. They know what is right for us, they know what our true soul’s desires are and they will guide us to live out our true desires, if we listen to them. Unfortunately they are pretty subtle about it. And if we don’t know what they are trying to tell us, it gets very difficult to navigate.
My body full of lead
For the past five or so years, I have often had feelings of „fall-y down-y“-ness. I find it difficult to describe it any other way. I either suddenly feel it during the course of the day or in the morning when I wake up, it is like my body has turned to lead. I could be cycling and I feel like I have the brakes on or the tyres are flat (bike is in perfect condition though, unlike me). In the times before I burned out completely, it sometimes took ALL my effort to cycle the 15 minutes to work and I felt physically exhausted afterwards. No amount of tea, coffee or food could perk me up. I did my best to function as much as possible, but I had to go home as soon as I could, to break down and sleep for an hour or so.
My brain full of treacle
Also, my brain was sticky, I couldn’t process a thought in my head, it would get stuck somewhere. Normal things like numbers, sums and excel tables (my daily bread) suddenly didn’t make any sense. My eyes would be heavy and want to close, my head wanted to be rested on the desk in front of me. I thought it was brain fog, peri-menopause or something hormone-related.
My pounding heart
My heart would often pound really loudly. Not necessarily fast, but so strongly I could feel my pulse in my head, chest and belly and hear it in my ears, sometimes I could feel it in my arms and legs. It was spooky. My doctor gave me an ECG-monitor for a day and everything was on a normal level, all possible physical causes were ruled out. So no doctor could do anything to help me with it.
My morning sickness
I so often felt sick in the mornings. It kind of felt like the same sickness I get when I am awake too long, desperate to watch a film to the end or read to the end of the chapter of a book. It became such a recurring phenomenon that I started to call it morning sickness, convinced it was caused by similar hormones as during pregnancy.
Searching for the solution
It was my gynaecologist who suggested I see a psychiatrist because of the brain fog, etc. I did speak to one, but he didn’t go through the mental illness questionnaire and I guess I talked around the true problems. I did talk about the physical symptoms, but there was no talk of any kind of diagnosis of depression or burnout. That didn’t happen until about three years later.
However I also had headaches. Headaches which were unbearable and made me feel physically ill and quite nauseous (more nausea!). The psychiatrist suggested they were migraines and sent me to a neurologist. Well, I have been getting migraines since puberty, so it was easy to accept that suggestion.
I now have a good neurologist who treats me regularly to prevent migraines and after her diagnosis, I had the vocabulary to explain ALL the above symptoms when they turned up. I could always say I was getting or having a migraine attack. The symptoms of migraine are so varied that I could categorise anything as migraine-related and I finally had some language I could use to convey how awful I felt to people at work.
I wasn’t listening
Did you notice? My body was sending me NO END of messages telling me I was doing something really wrong and I really should stop. However I didn’t. I thought these symptoms were things to be managed, treated. I did all the things that were suggested for stress and migraine: muscle relaxation exercises; meditation; regular physical exercise; etc. etc. But as I know now from some VERY smart women (Ruth Bleakley-Thiessen, Pilar Gerasimo and Martha Beck) when we go against our own true nature OUR BODY HATES IT. In fact we hate it, too. But normally we have been so well trained by our culture to carry on regardless, that we don’t notice. Or maybe we don’t feel like we have a choice. I certainly didn’t feel like I had a choice. A woman’s gotta work, right?
My body pulled the plug
I developed a very unhealthy pattern of suffering (lead body, treacle brain, pounding heart, nausea, migraine, feeling awful), then recovering just enough to get going and function a little while until the suffering started all over again. It was a cycle I was stuck in for FAR TOO LONG. My body finally had enough of me going against what it really wanted (STOP DOING THIS!) and, as I like to say „pulled the plug“ on me. I was cut off from all power supply. My body was done with me abusing it (forcing it to function) and it was going to make me sit up and take note! LISTEN to the truth of my soul.
My body is wiser than I am. However, it was difficult to know what it was saying and even once I knew what it was saying, I didn’t really know what to do about it. I couldn’t actually take the necessary action to stop and remove myself from the situation until the pain and the suffering were so great that I had no other choice but to stop. Then all I could do was rest, rest, rest.
Reconnecting with my body
It was in this depleted state that I was able to find the right help to tune into my body wisdom. This was no easy task as I had been denying this connection for such a long time, trying to treat the symptoms without knowing or even looking for the underlying cause. I needed a lot of help from my friend and coach Ruth Bleakley-Thiessen, as well as the Professional Training Programme from the Center of Mind-Body Medicine (a story for another time, see blog: Finding my authenticity), some videos and advice from Lara Riggio and Pilar Gerasimo (her book Healthy Deviant), Martha Beck’s book „The Way of Integrity,“ and Glennon Doyle’s book „Untamed.“
Connecting with my inner wisdom
The most effective experience I had, connecting my mind with my body was a meditation to meet my inner wise woman, also known as inner wise guide, spirit guide, intuition, higher self, higher power, the Knowing, etc. etc. During the meditation I was guided to a beautiful place, taking it in with all of my senses, then taking a beautiful path to meet with my inner guide. We had time to discuss any difficulties, problems or dilemmas I was having at the time. This was so profound and brought me instant results!
Not only did I now have some answers to some difficult questions, I was aware of who I carried within me, a part of me who would root for me, encourage me, comfort me, show me a different side of a situation, show me the way forward. It was mind-blowing. As I developed this skill, it has become the most effective tool for my life and for my healing from burnout and breakdowns. It is incredible how much I knew once all the sound and chatter from my brain (like worry and negativity) was tuned out and I concentrated on my body and the wisdom of this inner person. The wise me on the inside.