Going through a burn out is like having a concrete door slammed in your face by the incredible Hulk, crushing your beliefs, hopes and self-esteem on the way. However, if you pay close attention, you will notice that the draft eventually opens numerous other doors you had no idea were there.
It took me two and a half years to be able to tell my story without shaking or tearing up. Maybe therapy would have been cheaper after all. But this journey was much more fun. Today I am thankful they pushed me to leave. Because in the end, they pushed me to live.
After my two first years in Stockholm my contract ended and since I refused to leave this great city, I found myself on the job market. After three restless months, I found the perfect job in a French company. A small team that would be like a family, loving and supporting, a nice central office to which I could walk or cycle, flexible timetables, French & Swedish bank holidays, good benefits, interesting tasks and responsibilities, an office job but with exciting projects. I was over the moon. And like everything else in life I cared for, I gave 100% to it. I worked my ass off, not only because I wanted to prove myself, not only because I feared to disappoint them or to fail, but mainly because I enjoyed my job. How lucky was I? I never said no, I never disagreed, hell, I never even really shared my opinion now that I think about it. Not at the beginning at least, and then it was too late. They had gotten used to me being available, reliable and quiet. But they did not reward that, they used it. Until worn thin.
Only after many months I started to understand things were wrong. No, it’s not ok for your boss to come in every morning, have a good look at you and grade your outfit on a scale from 0 to 20. No, it’s not ok for your boss not to be able to inform you of your budget for the year. No, it’s not ok for him to only do business with people he can get favors from… and that was just the top of the iceberg. There are so many components to that story I do not want to bore people with. But basically, what had started as a great career opportunity slowly, but surely turned into a trap, a well I was falling into deeper and deeper with no way out. With my colleague, the only other sane human being in that office, we went from multi-tasking to survival mode.
This lasted for two very long years. And not only did it impact every cell of my being, it impacted my relationships with the outside world. I had lost so much: my energy, my positivity, my desire to improve, interest in what I was doing, my will to even try… and I didn’t leave that feeling at work, I took it home with me every night, burdening my partner with it, feeling helpless and misunderstood.
At that moment, when I sat at my desk and looked through the window down at the street four stories below as the only way out, I knew it had gone too far
It’s so hard to explain what went wrong. The primary definition of a burn out is to cease to function as a result of excessive heat or friction. That was it. I ceased to function as myself. When my colleague left to save her skin and sanity things took a turn for the worst. Of course, I was blaming myself. I have never ever been suicidal. Never. But at that moment, when I sat at my desk and looked through the window down at the street four stories below as the only way out, I knew it had gone too far, so I acted. Well, I spent a night on my sofa crying over the phone to my sister. The following weekend I heard the most beautiful words “you will never have to go back there again” coming out of a doctor’s mouth. It was over.
It was. Not completely though. I quickly realized I had lost more than a job. I had zero energy, no self-esteem, my confidence was completely shattered and even the early spring in beautiful Stockholm was not enough to make me stay. My partner and I had discussed going away for a while and this was the perfect timing to leave.
Since I had nothing left to give, I took a chance.
We ended up being away for more than two years. Two years during which I slowly relearned how to trust myself again, to trust others and to feel I was worth more than a 16 out of 20 for my outfit. I discovered my limits, mentally and physically and pushed them. I tried and did things I never thought I could do. Never thought I even wanted to do. I trekked to Everest Base Camp without a guide or a porter, I ran a (very long) half marathon in Bangkok, I waited tables, rediscovered to simply deal with people, and gain someone’s trust. I made friends again, I explored new interests, I learned to leave it all behind, I travelled until I got sick of it and then some more. I climbed Machu Picchu, I watched the sunrise over Taj Mahal in India and over Ankor’s temples in Cambodia, I discovered yoga on an island in Thailand, I took a cooking class in the Vietnamese countryside, witnessed political history in Myanmar, swam in gorgeous waterfalls in Laos, dived in Indonesia, lived off a van in New Zealand…
I did all this. But what is more important is what it did to me. I discovered a whole new world out there, and most importantly, within myself. I found answers to questions I did not even know I had.
To people who know me, I probably haven’t changed much. But to myself, I have. I have learnt what they do not teach you in school: there is not one path, one straight line. There is not one answer, but there is only one life. Try out, play hard, discover. You can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do. Work hard, learn to say no, be kind, and be respectful, to yourself and others. Learn from everyone and everything. Look at what you have accomplished and realize how great you are. Leave behind the people who do not see that. And the most important rule of all: do not wear a watch waiting for the perfect timing; wear a compass, because you never know where the wind will take you.
By: Morgane Oleron / Photo: Private