16 Feb Chapter 1
A week before my 38th birthday, I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a bus. The only thing that got me out of bed was having to run to the loo to throw up. My thoughts were “get up, you’ll be fine. People need you today. The kids need breakfast, and they need to get to school. You’ve got meetings with clients and deliverables due. Push through, you’ll be fine.” But I wasn’t.
Looking back now, it had been coming for a while. The kids had been sick on rotation, one or two at a time, for weeks. We were one month into a three-month home renovation, and already behind schedule. Our team was completely stretched at work, grateful for the new wins but completely overwhelmed by how we were going to deliver. The busyness of our days meant that connection with my husband was far below average. It had got me to a point where my anxiety had made me physically sick and for the first time in a very long time, I couldn’t just push through. My resilience tank had run dry, and I was forced to stop.
The problem though, was that when I was advised by our GP to take time off work to rest, I literally laughed out loud and decided for myself that the stop was going to be a bit shorter than what she had recommended. A few days in, I pealed myself off the bed because my clients and my family needed me (in that order. It makes me cringe now to think of it). On we marched, tissues and nose spray in hand, until just a week later, I was pushed back down again. Worse this time, and while we were on holiday with my extended family, celebrating my dad’s milestone birthday. I felt totally defeated and ashamed. Ashamed for feeling that I couldn’t carry on ‘doing it all’. I felt guilty for not being able to help prepare and be present in meetings at work and for not being around to coach and teach the juniors in the team. I felt guilty for being sick again. I felt lazy for relying on my family and friends for support. I felt guilty for missing school events that I had been part of planning. It sounds like a tangled mess of guilt and failure and shame, and it was.
Turns out, I had burn out. The actual thing. The burning the candle on both ends until there’s nothing left to burn type. Until then, burn out was just a buzz word for me. It wasn’t something real that could actually happen to me. It happened to other people who couldn’t keep up with life. It was very real and it was very raw. I stopped sleeping and I’m not a very nice person to be around when I’ve not had eight hours. Without proper sleep, my nutrition went out the window. I was very quiet a lot of the time, mostly when it counted the most, like around the dinner table at Sunday family lunchtime. I cried. A lot. But only by myself. The things that I would usually get excited about made me anxious and I tried to avoid them so I could hide from the world that I was not ok. Gathering with friends became a chore. I stopped going to church. I avoided bumping into parents at drop off and pick up.
I know you’ve probably heard many pieces of a similar story from women in your world, but this is my version and I truly believe that by sharing with you what I’ve learnt since that week before my birthday will help someone, or maybe even more than just one, who feels guilty or lazy or who tries to push through because they feel they should. You see, each one of us has a story. What we don’t always have is the courage to be vulnerable with each other, so we can support one another through our circumstances and through our healing. Our default is to hide our true emotions, the real, raw wounds of hurt and pain, because we fear being judged. We are afraid that others might think we are weak, or selfish, or a failure.
The other reason we hide what’s really going on is because we feel ashamed. We’re ashamed that behind the outward mask of the blow dry and on trend outfit, we don’t have it all together. We’re ashamed that we can’t do it all. We’re ashamed that we feel overwhelmed by our own circumstances when so many other people in our lives are going through things far worse – cancer, sickness, divorce, loss, death, all the awful things we don’t wish on anyone. We diminish our own emotions because we think others have it far worse. This could be true for you, but each one of us has a separate capacity for what’s happening in our lives. Diminishing what is our truth, our story is not helpful to anyone, least of all ourselves and the ones we love.
It’s always easier to look at seasons in life when we’ve already gone through them. The view from the other side is usually clearer, where we can reflect and consider without the raw emotion of the moment. Reflection on experiences is such an important part of our learning and growth process. What happens though, is that life gets so full and so busy, that we don’t actually pause to look back to be able to take forward what we need to and leave behind what we no longer need. We keep going and going until our mental and emotional baggage is so heavy and our bodies are so burnt out, that no view is visible through the haze of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’.
Sometimes, though, we’re given a rare gift of forced pause, even when we didn’t want it, just like that time before by birthday. I now call this my Shift Moment because it has fundamentally shifted my perspective of how I’ve navigated my road from then. It’s also made me realise that what I have experienced might be what you’re going through and what I have learnt may be helpful to you. It may be a light at the end of someone’s very dark tunnel.
My Shift Moment was a physical and mental shut down, which got me reflecting on how I got there. Where had I gone wrong? What things have I learnt that I hadn’t put into practice in my life? Who was I? What were my priorities and how was my life so far out of line from what I valued? How was I going to get back up? Slowly. Differently. Fully acknowledging what mattered most to me. Placing full focus on my true priorities and creating a life around those things.
When we are brave enough to own our stories and share them with each other, we realise that we are not alone in how we feel and experience things in our lives. When we share our stories vulnerably, without shame, we create connections to others who might need to hear what we have to share and who could teach us through their experiences.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a nagging in my heart to create something that can support and inspire other women. For as long as I can remember, I’ve ignored this nagging. I used to tell myself that other things always seemed to get in the way but honestly, I felt that what I had to share wouldn’t really matter to others in any meaningful way. The thing about ignoring these thoughts that keep tugging at our hearts is that they don’t go away until we do something about them. They’ll keep coming back to continue pulling us closer to what we’re supposed to do with them. We are all here in this world to fulfil a particular purpose, in a particular space, in a particular season and, no matter how long or how hard we try to ignore the call, if it is part of why we are here on this earth, we’ll eventually reach a point where we feel brave enough to honour that call. Sometimes it takes a moment in time that tips the scale to finally action what we’ve been thinking about for years. Sometimes it takes this time because our book of experiences and learnings need to reach a point that they then fit together to be something that can be a guide for someone else. For me, it was a combination of events that lead up to my Shift Moment.
I’ve felt all these things. I know shame. I know failure, and the fear of it, all too well. I know what it feels like to try to hide behind the mask so many of us wear. These are all part of my story. When we own our stories, we get to write our own next chapter, rather than being caught up in the next chapter of someone else’s book. So here it goes. Here is my story. Here is my story about how I fell, over and over again, and how I got back up. Here is my story about the things I have learnt and the things that have helped me. Here is my story of how I’ve moved through and forward – slowly and differently.
I hope it helps you.