In this series of authentic conversations around burnout, clients and people from my network share their transformative journey openly with the world. The intention with this series is to create awareness and understanding around burnout and chronic stress. My hope is that these stories will inspire others to be brave, challenge their beliefs and speak up on their needs, to avoid burnout and other stress related outcomes.
Below you can read the story from Ariane. I met Ariane at an event where we talked about resilience when facing a disease. Ariane shares her recovery story of post traumatic stress disorder: PTSD. Trauma is something that’s very related to burnout, and sometimes the root cause of it.
Imagine coming home with a headache almost every single day after work, for weeks on end. Some days I was lucky and I was spared the pain, and I found ways to manage it. The turning point, however, was one morning while reading emails, I noticed I was seeing words but not able to make sense of them. My cognitive function was starting to fail me and it scared the s*** out of me. That was the point I sought help.
Hi, my name is Ariane and I succumbed to burnout in early 2013. At that time, I was the only Filipino staff member in a recently restructured department of a fast-paced internet travel company. I moved from Singapore in 2012 to the headquarters of the organization I worked for. I was very proud to have been able to make such a move, as I was the first Asian colleague to have made the transition from being a regional employee to working in the HQ. Personally, and professionally, I take a lot of pride in my academic and professional accomplishments. I come from a strong culture of meritocracy, where titles and achievements are highly esteemed and seen as a part of one’s identity.
How it all started
When I transitioned to my role as a Senior Team Leader, I was not really given a job description. I was told that I was doing so well in my role in Singapore as a regional team leader, that they wanted me to continue the same good work I’d been doing, now in Amsterdam. I had full confidence that I would excel, and in the back of my mind, I was mapping how I could grow into an Operations Manager role in the department.
In my first week at HQ however, I experienced a massive culture shock. It was too quiet in the office. My colleagues were very serious and it felt “cold”. I was missing the warmth of the Singapore office where colleagues are also like family. Everybody greeted each other with a smile. People were barely greeting each other in the Amsterdam office, and if they did, they did it with a straight face. This, and the food, the weather, the “tribe” I used to be part of, were all missing. I felt lonely and alone, as there were no other Asian people in the department. I wasn’t sure if I would be understood.
The critical tipping point in my burnout story was when I sat with my manager, a month after my move, and she told me that she felt I could not contribute to the department; a 180-degree change of perspective and feedback on my performance as a leader. She pointed out that I didn’t speak up, and therefore she could not see how I could contribute. She also said that I could add value in other departments, but not in my current one.
I took this personally. I come from a culture where the work superior’s words are taken very seriously and it is important to “keep face”. I lost face that afternoon and felt extremely disillusioned. I called in sick for a week after that chat. I completely clammed up. In my week’s absence, and much to my surprise, they expected that I would still do my job, even if I was at home sick. I came back to work the week after to yet more negative feedback about my performance. It was very demotivating.
I continued to push through
I however soldiered on and did my best to be heard, and to be more participative, in the weeks following. That was when my headaches started. That was when my cognitive function started failing me. I was stretching myself way too thin, and without the support and familiarity of the people around me, and the environment I was in. My body started telling me that this was all too much.
Months into pushing myself to reintegrate after I was declared “sick”, my contract was not extended and I was heartbroken. I poured my heart and soul into my job, and I didn’t get the support and help I needed in further transitioning into my role. I felt utterly rejected and disenfranchised in the organisation I felt I belonged to.
Losing my job also meant losing a part of myself. My identity as someone who achieves and accomplishes was crushed. I felt like I was suddenly nothing. I felt there was no purpose to living. Who was I without my work, without my title, without an achievement I could take pride in? It wasn’t surprising that I succumbed to depression with these thoughts and subconscious beliefs.
I had never been in this situation before. I was always able to get what I wanted, and achieve my goals. I was lost. For the first time, I couldn’t psychoanalyse my way out of the situation. It seemed that these feelings stemmed from a deeper scar; a childhood trauma from growing up with an abusive narcissistic father.
What helped me to recover?
What helped me to recover eventually was going through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Furthermore, the moment my brain bandwidth could afford it, I started asking myself what I really wanted to do. And I asked my heart, first thing when I woke up, what gave me joy when I went to work. Instinctively, this was my way of recovering from the disillusionment I felt about my previous job. After noting my answers for about one to three months, I saw a pattern, and I slowly pursued the new direction I found.
Alongside this new pursuit, I also gave myself permission to rest and go back to my love for learning. I sat and read in my free time, and I learned how to paint. I discovered I was really good at the latter. I also invested time and energy into new friendships, to finding a new tribe. Slowly, I felt like myself again.
Ultimately, my recovery from burnout led me to be in touch with myself again, responding to what I needed, and allowing myself to do what gave me energy. That’s how I found my spark again.
And despite thinking that there would be no life after my previous job, I am now a thriving Lecturer at a well reputed Applied Sciences school in Amsterdam. I also give in-company trainings in the Netherlands. I am now fulfilling my deepest motivation to help others to grow and succeed.
I want to thank Ariane for her bravery in sharing her recovery story. I hope you will take her learning to heart, and listen to the wisdom she has gained through this experience.
Together we can change the narrative around burnout by being open about how we deal with the challenges in our lives. As being open in our vulnerability is the real strength. Women owning their stories, aligned with their bodies and souls, are the real power women, and the new leaders we need in our (business) world and society.
My wish is that this story inspires you to become real about your own life. To be brave, to start to reflect on your beliefs and lifestyle. My desire is that you take your body and soul seriously, and that you can see that you are more than just a walking head. A head that constantly pushes us to do more, and better.
The first step is to take a moment to pause and reflect. To start to connect with your body and soul. This practice of pausing and reconnecting with your body will help you to transform your life, so you align with who you truly are. Living from an aligned mind, body and soul gives burnout no chance to take hold.
Hi, I am Eva, and I support women who are working hard to climb the career ladder, or grow their thriving small business.
I facilitate them to create a life and career with purpose and wellbeing, so that they can create a balanced and conscious life. I do this by helping them to reconnect with their body and soul. This alignment creates authentic leadership and contributes positively to our current changing world.
In case you have any questions about burnout, or you feel you are ready to ask for support to create purpose or wellbeing in your life, feel welcome to contact me. Find out the different services I offer for women like you.
I would also love to hear from you if you have had a burnout, are now recovered, and wish to share your story on my blog to inspire other women. If so, you can contact me here.