Last Friday, I woke up crying. A heavy, thick fog filled my brain; my body felt weighed down by a 50-pound bag of potatoes. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t hurt. I was burnt out. Every task I needed to do in life, the things that usually give me such joy and purpose, felt like needy, petulant obligations. I felt isolated + self-conscious + scared to reach out. I felt smothered in the heavy, oppressive muck of burnout.
This is the story of how I am transforming that muck, and how you can transform your muck, too.
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Illuminate: The burn out, part I
Even now, writing this, I can feel the warning bells from this experience still ringing in my body: I feel vulnerable + not too far from the slippery edges of anxiety. I felt so hopeless and alone, and it is hard work for me to put my hands back in the muck of vulnerability and disconnection. I was in the thick of the muck, and there was no easy ladder out.
I am still, actively, working through the muck. I am transforming it.
The process of healing from a burn out is a lot like the process of composting old vegetables into fertile soil.
Composting transforms dead, decaying, unused remnants of living things into vibrant, thriving, and beautiful flowers (or tomatoes or lemon trees). Healing from my burn out is transforming the remnants of my disconnection into connection. This is how:
In these tender days post-burn out, I’ve reached out. I’ve reached out far more than I normally would. I shared my experience. Amazingly, people started sharing their vulnerable experiences of burnout with me, too. I don’t feel alone anymore, and, amazingly, my original feelings of disconnection from Friday are composting + transforming into more connection.
I can now say, “thank you, burnout. I’m going to try really hard to not see you often in life, but I’m grateful for the lessons you’ve taught me this week.” It’s taught me the lesson of the importance of connection. What will your lesson be?
Though I am sure you’ve experienced burn out in your life, your “muck” you want to transform right now need not be burn out. Perhaps your muck is a difficult conversation, a loss, or a worrisome issue with your family. What situation in your life right now could use some healing, perspective-shifting influence?
Healing is about transforming the decayed into the growing. Research on emotional trauma + its subsequent healing is rich with words like meaning-making, gratitude and story-telling. It seems there is one trick to transforming difficult experiences into transformative ones:
Make meaning out of the muck. Here’s how:
1. Put your feet in the muck:
My experience on Friday was ripe with one word: Disconnected.
What word would you choose for your experience?
Naming our emotions help us create a bridge between emotion + cognition. Even though it’s hard, I invite you to really engage with the feelings your experience brings up. Your feeling is here for a reason– don’t rush away from it.
2. Name a destination
My destination is the opposite of disconnected: Connected.
What is the opposite of the word you just chose?
This steps creates a vision. If I WERE able to climb out of the muck, even if it feels impossible, where would I want to go?
3. Imagine a bridge.
Looking at my two words, I see what happens when I isolate myself. The bridge, for me, is reaching out to others.
What lesson do you think your experience is trying to teach you? In other words, one day, why could you be saying “thank you” to your muck?
4. Build the bridge.
What big action could you take to get closer to your second word?
What small action could you take today to help you on your path to your big action?
You may find it helpful to write down your two words, your lesson, and your action steps. You can use them as motivation during your transformation.
What emotions were brought up for you when you considered your first word? Often, when we feel uncomfortable, we want to fix it so quickly. Taking the time to really understand the uncomfortable emotion gives us the acceptance + data we need to move forward.
What emotions would help fuel you over the bridge? What do you need to cultivate?
In hindsight, I could have seen this burn out coming: My increased reliance on social media dopamine-hits, the tiredness, the needing everything to be rigidly perfect. The warning signs presented themselves clearly. That’s why next week’s topic is burnout prevention. We will focus on how to practice the lessons we’ve learned, recognizing your personal warning signs, + avoiding future mucky burn outs. Don’t forget your little action step for today…
Illuminate is a weekly e-mail series that provides practical tips + galvanizing inspirations for practicing an emotionally intelligent life. In our time together, we’ll operate from the assumption that you have all the wisdom you need inside of yourself + that you have a purpose the world needs to see. We will explore the tools + techniques to illuminate your own inner wisdom and purpose. If you’d like to receive this free gift of goodness in your inbox every week, subscribe here.