Burnout destroyed my life, but now it’s better than ever

This is the most vulnerable story I’ve ever shared publicly and probably the most important. My hope is that it creates hope for those who have lost it. This story is dedicated to the weary and overstretched hard workers of the world. I love you. You’re not alone.

Exactly three years ago today, I boarded a one-way flight to Europe. I had no idea when I’d return, because I didn’t know how long it would take me to recover. I had paused my entire life and taken an unpaid medical leave from my corporate job.

I was so severely burned out and depressed – because of my job – that I could no longer do my job. As a lifelong hard worker who takes great pride in my work and delivering outstanding results, I was devastated and ashamed. The thing I most wanted to do – work – I was no longer capable of doing.

It’s hard to put into words how upsetting and dark this time was, and how awful and lonely I felt. I was a shell of my former self. I was like a device that won’t hold a charge anymore. Even though I got decent sleep most of the time, I was constantly exhausted. I started waking up, in a state of alarm, at 4am. I was barely eating and had lost much weight. I had heart palpitations. I felt hopeless. I had severe apathy that was terrifying to me because I was used to caring deeply about everything. It took me a day to do what I’d normally do in an hour.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I was commuting and working from 6am to 8pm most days. I’d just come off four intense years of working on a startup project that pushed me beyond my limits. But I thought I was superwoman. I thought I was beyond limits.

A few weeks before that one-way flight, I went to my doctor, very concerned. I thought I had cancer or a thyroid disorder. When my tests came back normal, I was shocked to hear her diagnosis: severe burnout and depression. She told me to take leave immediately. I didn’t know burnout was a medical diagnosis. I didn’t know it was something that can destroy you psychologically and physically. I didn’t know it could be that serious and all-consuming.

In classic overachiever fashion, I believed burnout was for people who are really pushing it – you know, 80 or 100 hours a week, in far higher-pressure roles than mine.

So here I was, forced to take leave to heal from severe work stress. And to top it all off, my marriage was starting to crumble. My house was not a calm place to recover. So under the guidance of my doctor and therapist, I did the only thing that made sense: I bought a one-way ticket to Europe – a place I considered a home away from home – and set about nursing myself back to health there, alone.

I spent over two months doing as little as possible. I rested. I felt guilty as hell about it most of the time. And I did it anyhow. I slept 8 hours a night. I walked 5-10 miles a day. I did yoga and meditated. I cooked simple, healthy meals. I journaled. I did weekly therapy. I spent a lot of time outside. I cried a lot. And I got really, really clear about what mattered most to me – mainly, ME. I mattered.

It took 10 weeks before I started to feel myself again and honestly, over a year before I fully recovered.

At the end of 10 weeks, re-energized enough to make wise decisions, I flew back to Seattle, gave notice at my job, separated from my husband, and left Seattle to begin searching for a new place to live. In some ways, it got worse before it got better, but mostly it just got better. WAY better.

Now, 3 years later, my life is beautiful. I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. I live at the beach. I’m doing fulfilling work that’s engaging and my life is balanced between rest, work and fun. I’m in the romantic partnership of my dreams. My life is far from perfect and still has its challenges, but it’s MINE and it’s HEALTHY.

If you are reading this and are burned out, I’m so sorry. Please know this: it is not your fault, you can absolutely do something about it, and there is SO MUCH LIFE BEYOND BURNOUT. You can come out the other side better than before.

I dedicate my life to helping others come back from burnout and keeping them from getting there in the first place. (You’re going to hear a lot more from me about that in the coming weeks and months.)

I’m not big on holidays, but I do believe in real celebration of moments that matter. So every year, on September 9th, I’ll celebrate my flight to freedom.

Today, I raise a glass to my 34-year old self who was brave enough to stop everything and say “This isn’t working. I deserve better. I am worthy of a life of well-being.”

You’ve come a long way, baby.

XOXO,

Kaitlyn

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