Tag Archives: burnout

Moments of redemption

21 Aug

This evening I experienced redemption. A moment of grace. Unseen scars, the sort that can reside for years within the heart, seemed to dissipate. And I am deeply grateful.

Four years ago, life became unrecognizable for me. Dreams shattered, hope destroyed. I had a vision, a dream, to work with street children and see their lives transformed. I wanted to create family for those without, a safe place for those always on the run. And somehow, in a few short months, it all fell apart. Somehow, despite many, many months of planning, praying and preparing, it went horribly wrong. And I was left bewildered, bemused, confused.

Somehow, by the grace of God, I find myself in a very different place four years later. The daily relentless struggle I used to experience – the conviction that I was a failure, the longing to hide away – did not remain forever (although, at times, it seemed like it might). Healing has been gradual, not immediate. A combination of faithful and faith-filled family and friends, an amazing husband, a made-to-talk-to-Becca counsellor, the wisdom of others, and many, many hours of processing on my own.  This journey has been shaped by occasionally progress and then seeming regression. The scars, once so bright, had – over time – faded. But they had not disappeared.

Today, right now, I feel pleased that I have these faded scars – the reminders that failure can be survived, that hope does emerge from the most hopeless places. I am at peace with these reminders, because tonight a few words were spoken that brought a deeper healing to the faded wounds. I am pleased because I have remembered that there is a plan and purpose bigger than myself. And, it would seem, I still have a part to play.

This time, however, it feels healthy and good and right. I have nothing to prove. I can risk again. I can give – not because I need to be liked or needed or a “success”, but simply because there is an opportunity to do so. I can dare to go to a place where I might meet “failure”, because I know such things can be survived.

And so, this evening, I feel grateful. Not only for this new opportunity, but also for the jagged, pain-to-hope story that has got me to this moment. I am grateful for my failure, for it has made me who I am today. It has brought me to a beautiful moment of deep redemption. And now, after all the struggles and doubts, I feel amazing. I feel free.

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Who am I? Where am I?

8 Jun

It’s been a long time since I put fingers to keys here. I am not sure why. I have been busy – yes. I have been away on a work trip – yes. I have been seeking, but not really finding, inspiration – yes. But these things have happened before and it hasn’t kept me away from the blog. This time it has.

And yet now, as I sit here, there is so much that I want to write and I don’t know where to begin. There is too much I’d like to say and yet I don’t know how to say it. The words were, for a while, inaccesssible; now they are competing for my attention. I don’t know which ones to choose first.

Maybe I will begin at the end and work backwards.

I am in the US at the moment on a work trip. I have been here for two weeks and I love it! I have met some incredible people – people who have chosen a different path and live on the periphery. People who keep me awake at night as I try to absorb the conversations we have had. People who are very “ordinary” and, in so being, somehow become extraordinary.

Last night, I was chatting with two of these people, two new friends. Both are academics – one a professor in post-modern philosophy, the other completing her masters in reconciliation, trauma and gender. I found that, as I talked about my days in academia – from 2003 until 2008, whilst I studied for my Ph D – a dormant part of me was resurrected again. A part of me that is usually shelved. part of Becca that tends to stay in a cupboard, in darkness, away from the light. Yet as we spoke – and we had much in common – this neglected part came into focus once again.

My Ph D was – at the time – the most important thing in my life. I saw it as a springboard to great things. Not academia but action. I spent five years thinking about street children in South Africa and the daily abuses of their human rights and, by the end, I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty. So I went to the frontline, to the streets of South Africa, and dirtied my clean, library-sanitised hands, mind and body. I put the Ph D on a shelf and left the library for good.

When I came back from South Africa a few months later – deflated, exhausted and broken – I wondered why I had bothered. With the Ph D. With the move to SA. With the hours, weeks, years of thinking, planning and dreaming. It had all gone terribly wrong. I had failed. Completely and utterly.

My attempts, a few months later, to find a publisher for my Ph D were similarly impotent. They weren’t interested. I thought I had something to say, something to contribute, but these “experts” did not agree. And so I gave up.

Gave up being an academic. Gave up trying to work on the frontline.

Coping strategies

17 Jan

“Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are not a sign of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long.”

I didn’t used to realise that mental health issues can happen to anyone. Until it happened to me. I went through burnout in 2008. It was a terrible and terrifying time – the end of life as I knew it, the end of a dream, the beginning of something new. A new compassion. A new understanding. A new perspective on life.

I had being trying to cope with a lot of stress, to stay strong, to keep going. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was under a lot of pressure – much of it self-inflicted. I think that burnout was my body’s way of keeping me alive – letting me stop, slow down, recover and resurrect. At the time, I felt devastated, utterly devastated. Now I look back in gratitude, not only that I was forced to change the way I lived – slowing down, becoming more honest about my weaknesses, learning to be kind to myself – but also that I now “know”  burnout and depression (or anxiety or a panic attack). I know now that these are simply attempts at coping with stress and pain – the body’s way of telling us something is out of kilter, the heart’s way of letting us know that our coping strategies aren’t working. I now know not to judge others, not to make assumptions, not to categorise people as “them” and “us”. 1 in 3 of us will struggle with mental health issues during our lives – it can happen to anyone. Money, “success”, fame, adoration do not insulate someone from depression or anxiety. Nor do loving relationships, solid friendships or a supportive family. It can happen to any of us, at any time.

There is no shame in depression/burnout/prozac/counselling. There is no shame because these are not signs of weakness. Being able to talk about them is a sign of strength. Listening to others talk about them is a sign of love and empathy. Let’s learn to talk, and to listen, more.

Keeping going

11 Jan

It’s January – dark mornings, cold days, dark a lot of the time, and most of us have the post-Christmas bank balance problem. I don’t know about you but I don’t like January. The Christmas break is over. Summer feels a long way away. And New Years resolutions tend to get broken, leaving us feeling weak and ill-disciplined on top of everything else!

Sometimes it’s hard to keep going, to keep on getting up in the mornings, to stay full of the joys of life. I have found January particularly difficult so far in 2012. I’ve longed to hibernate. Either that or relocate to a land of sunshine, beaches and cocktails! The January blues have hit me hard. And I know I am not the only one. But what is it like to struggle with depression and hopelessness in a more sustained and serious way? Mental health issues continue to be mostly taboo in our culture – a culture that doesn’t like to talk about the minefield of unseen health problems.

I think we need to talk about it. I have struggled with depression. I have been through burnout. I tend to feel particularly low at a certain point in the month (sorry boys!) and sometimes this hits me so hard that getting out of bed feels as hard as getting to the top of Everest. I feel listless, lethargic, bleak. I feel as though I am walking around under a cloud – a black cloud that will not leave me alone. I have mostly learnt to get through these times – to listen to my body. And so sometimes I give in and stay in bed; others I get up and fight it. Sometimes I just sit and cry; others I sit and write. Sometimes it defeats me; others I feel like I might be winning.

It is definitely not “in my control”, and probably never will be. But I am learning to navigate the uncertainties more confidently than I used to. I am learning to be able to talk about it too. At first I hid it from all (except my husband). Now I want to be able to talk about it more openly – although I still find that difficult. I am naturally quite a private person – but I feel strongly that keeping this in the dark only makes it feel more overwhelming.

This morning, the cricketer Freddie Flintoff was on Radio 4’s Today programme talking about a programme on BBC1 tonight about depression within sport. You can read about it here

I think this will definitely be worth watching – breaking taboos about depression within the sporting field is long overdue. Maybe it will help others, whether into sport or not, to talk about their struggles too. Depression is not glamorous. It is horrible. And I think it is still widely misunderstood too – sufferers cannot simply “snap out of it”. They have not “brought it on themselves”. As Freddie says – anyone can suffer from depression (and other mental health problems). Depression does not discriminate – you can be rich, famous, successful, happily married and with beautiful children, yet still get sideswiped by this condition. I know, I have been there.

Right now, I am just going to keep going. I am going to be kind to myself. I am going to try to do things that help – like exercise and eating well. I am also going to make sure I talk about it more too. I think depression is like a spectrum and I find myself at different points of the spectrum at different times. Don’t we all?

Maybe one of my resolutions for this year should be to  talk about this more. For the taboos will only be broken if we play our part in breaking them.

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