Mental Health Struggles: a view from the inside out - Part IV
upcoming & remarkable - a special series by talents on the rise
I had difficulties writing this week’s blog. Not because I am feeling ashamed or because of an unease, but because I have been struggling with my memory. When I think back to my period of almost burn-out, my memories are like a cloudy reel.
Read last’s week blog here to catch up.
During the time I admitted my brokenness to myself, I was wrapping up my minor Entrepreneurship as well as my internship. I had only one task left: writing my thesis and graduate over the summer. In a weird way, the feeling of being broken had the ‘perfect’ timing. After all I only had one task left on my graduation to-do list.
I knew my anxiety could stand in the way of writing my thesis. In the name of self-care I therefore planned a holiday before starting my final research. I would go road tripping through California, make a pit stop at Coachella, lay by the pool in Vegas, and find my eternal bliss in Joshua Tree. I thought I had this ‘brokenness’ thing all figured out.
I find it hard admitting this, but I found it really hard to enjoy my trip, although I was doing all these amazing things. The guilt and shame kicked back in with full force.
I was in a beautiful part of the world, I had the opportunity to travel before finalizing my graduation, and yet I wasn’t able to be in the moment. I was struggling with being in the present. I was anxious non-stop, and I didn’t know how to make it stop.
At a particular point I was sitting on top of the Grand Canyon, staring into the infinite infinity, and an unfamiliar feeling came over me. The feeling was something I hadn’t felt during the entire trip (or actually for a couple of months): peace of mind.
After my Grand Canyon experience I felt different. Strange even. I started to realize that although I’d admitted my brokenness, I did not stop to pick up the pieces. On the contrary, I kept running on spare parts. Only this time I knew if I kept going, I would collapse and perhaps would not be able to get up.
Before a burn-out, your struggle with stress and exhaustion become chronic, and have been ongoing for months. If you keep ignoring your psysical and mental warnings, eventually you will completely collapse. Your memory and focus have given up a long time ago, and your ability to organize yourself to reach your personal goals has also been affected.
A burn-out also influences our immune system. After a long-term overload of this system, it deregulates and we are more vulnerable to outside attacks (for example bacteria, viruses or even cancer cells).*
I did not graduate that summer. Once I returned from my trip I got the results back from my second pap smear. Apparently my situation was more severe than they thought, and being this close to cervical cancer, I had to start my treatments immediately.
In the hospital, the doctor asked me why I got tested. I didn’t have any symptoms, I’ve been in a steady relationship for years and I was well under 30, which meant I didn’t participate in the population screening yet. So why did I get a pap smear in the first place? I didn’t have a logical reason and I therefore answered him: “Because of a gut feeling.”
And that’s the thing. For a very long I didn’t listen to myself. To my intuition and accompanying gut feelings. Whether it was with regard to my perfectionism leading to procrastination, or dealing with anxiety and constantly wanting to prove myself. As I kept on listening to my fears, I found myself driven to the edge of a burn-out and I became physically ill.
As humans we have a tendency to make changes when bad things happen. During the good times, we rarely think about change. This doesn’t mean that during the good times change is unnecessary, it’s just that during the bad times, the need for change becomes urgent. We often have no other choice left but to change.
As I started to embrace my bad experience, I felt an enormous burden disappear from my shoulders. A burden I didn’t even know I was carrying. The following months I surrendered myself completely to the necessary wind of change in my life. I was surrendering to the exhaustion, to not graduating that summer, to the ‘bad times’ I was experiencing. I stopped going to work and I locked myself up in my house. All I did was sleep, because I was fucking tired, and I had been for way too long.
Strangely enough, I was at peace at the same time, because I knew I had to go through this. Because I knew I needed this. And as I finally surrendered to this need, the conflict within myself - my fight to keep going - ended. At last, I was ready to heal.
Photography: Shenelva Booij | Art Direction: Rachella Hooijman
*"Burnout, stress, depression, anxiety: what is the difference?” Dossier by Paul Koeck, MD