health

The moment Charlotta Backlund realised she was completely burnt out.

I honestly never thought this would happen to me but mid last year, a few months shy of my 30th birthday, I hit a wall. A burn out wall, to be precise.

I have always prided myself on being a “hard worker” and with the way the world works these days, we tend to see that as a good thing. Or at least we think if we don’t look busy and work 12 to 14 hours per day, we’ll be replaced by someone else.

(FYI, this is not true and if that is the feeling you get at the company you work for, it is probably time to look around for another job somewhere that values their employees’ wellbeing more.)

Anyway, this is what happened when I experienced my burn out, and I’m sharing because I hope that it helps you (or someone you know) to spot the warning signs before it is too late.

Phase one: Physically exhausted.

After returning from a particularly hectic work trip with barely any sleep, jet-lagged and stressed, my body started feeling very tired and sore. Every day I would walk to and from work and one day my body could literally not make it up the hill to my apartment.

I couldn’t work out what was going on as this is a walk I had made five days per week for nearly three years. I figured it must have been my extra classes of Pilates and kept pushing on with my busy schedule, working 12 hours per day, hitting the gym and going out for some sort of social engagement every night before hitting the sack, too exhausted to even wash my face sometimes.

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Backlund constantly felt physically exhausted. Image: Supplied

Phase two: Feeling tingly.

Over the next couple of weeks the soreness of my body kept getting more intense and I was struggling to get up the stairs in my apartment. I also started to feel tingling in my fingers and feet.

I thought I might have picked up some virus during my recent work trip and went to see my GP for some tests. He found three minor viruses in my body, but nothing that could explain the way my body was shutting down.

He stared me straight in the eye and said I was on the cusp of burning out and that I needed two (TWO!) weeks off work, just resting in bed. I explained to him that is not possible with my kind of job, but that I was about to go on holidays in two weeks' time so I figured I could keep pushing myself up until I went away. (Post continues after gallery.)

Phase three: Physically weak.

By now I had constant tingling in my hands and feet and all my strength was gone. I couldn't even open a jar, bottle or can without help. But I still managed to make it across the ocean with my new man and I was certain 10 days of holidaying would have me back to normal in no time.

Unfortunately that was not the case, and he had to help me with my suitcase, push me up stairs and flag down tuk-tuks everywhere because walking even a few blocks was not an option. About halfway through the trip my legs gave way at a bar on a cliff side and I sprained my foot badly.

There was literally something the size of a golf ball developing on my foot and all I could think was, "Holy shit, I am going to have to get airlifted out of here. Will my insurance cover that?" while trying to play it cool in front of my new man who was trying to stay calm, but was panicking on the inside.

Somehow, the swelling miraculously went down and I was able to hobble out of the bar a couple of hours later.

Paper Tiger demonstrate the best way to meditate. (Post continues after video.)

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Phase four: Collapse.

You would think after that ordeal and with nearly full body tingling anyone with half a brain would tell their employer the moment they got back that they need some time off to recoup and recover, but not me as I was now behind on my deadlines and had to catch up.

Sometimes it is necessary to take time off. Image: iStock.

Three days later, walking back from an appointment, my legs gave way in the middle of the city and I was unable to pick myself up off the sidewalk. Suffering bloody knees (and severe humiliation after some kind strangers had to help me up), I finally took a couple of days off to rest.

I kept thinking burnout just wasn't possible, so my GP suggested I go see a neurologist. He told me to get an MRI and that I may have MS. After asking my friend Google about the symptoms of MS I was fairly certain that's what it was, and I could see my life as I knew it was over.

Phase five: Acceptance.

I still thank my lucky stars every single day that the scan came back clear. I now had to accept that I was simply burnt out and I needed to change the way I lived my life. No more late nights at work and to think more about me, myself and I. Because if I don't, then who will?

What being burnout has taught me.

It is okay to say no to things. You don't have to go to every single invite you get, whether it is for work or your private life. It sounds cliched, but without your health you have got nothing at all. The world moves faster now than it ever has thanks to technology, but that also means it's harder than ever to switch off.

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It's ok to say no to invitations. Image: iStock.

One small change that has helped me, is turning off all the notifications on my phone. Gmail, Whatsapp, Viber, Outlook, Facebook, Instagram... the list goes on. No wonder our mental health is suffering when there is a constant shouting of things that need to be done, replied to or actioned in some way at the tip of our fingers.

I also LOVE leaving my phone at home as much as I can on the weekend, which drives my boyfriend (and others) nuts, but nothing helps me relax more than disconnecting from the world.

What now?

Since I have experienced burnout, I have to be more aware of my physical and mental health. I get stressed out and overwhelmed easily, and I have to take timeouts and remind myself that I am not saving lives. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much one person can do.

Image: iStock.

Do you relate to this? What changes have you made to your life?

This article was originally published on Poppy Renegade, a website dedicated to empowering and supporting women of all walks of life. You can see more on their site and Facebook page.