I overworked myself, and this is what happened

In 2015 I had what I call "my small but manageable nervous breakdown", which was in fact neither small nor manageable at the time. I was working as a senior geologist at an underground coal mine, and I had set this very high standard for myself to be the best at my job. I was always accessible to anyone because I wanted to help, even my manager's manager knew that if they called me on my cellphone I would drop everything and help. I knew that mine inside out.

I managed to be underground, in meetings, managing my department and being innovative, all at the same time. It got so intense that I carried a copy of the mine plan in my handbag just in case the manager needed to discuss something with me in the parking lot. Then one day I was called in by the HR manager and she told me that I have 101 leave days, I have to take at least 2 weeks leave.

Now, if you really sit down and think about it, this means that if I took all of those days at the same time, I wouldn't be at work for over 3 months. If you know anything about leave cycles you would also realize I had gone years without actually taking my leave. I wish that this was the point of the story. I firstly fought with the HR manager because How Dare She?! and then I put in 2 weeks leave because I had to. On Friday 15 May 2015, I greeted everyone at work and went on my leave.

On Saturday 16 May 2015, I woke up and I felt off. My husband drove me to the chemist and they said my blood pressure is probably low. I got back into the car and we decided to get some lunch... and then I passed out.

I passed out in the passenger seat of my own car.

My husband rushed me to the hospital and all I remember is the nurses telling me to wake up. I was later told they had to resuscitate me. When I actually woke up, I was in a hospital bed. And it was then that I knew my body had given in to the stress. I was in that bed for 5 days, every test they performed came back normal. Nobody could tell me what happened. It was a very scary time. My daughter was only 2 years old, and I promised myself that she deserved better than to see her mom like this. I couldn't walk properly because every time I stood up, everything would be spinning. It took 3 weeks and some special meds to get me semi-normal again. I went into counselling and then it became clear that I had had a nervous breakdown and I burnt out. These are umbrella terms for various mental disorders that can lead to physical symptoms. You probably get the drift.

This is something that I never actually spoke openly about but used the lessons I learnt to make some major changes in my life. So, what did I learn?

1. Anyone is replaceable: When I got back to work, there was no statue that was built for me. The mine kept on running even when I was not there.

2. The whole thing could have been avoided: If I had been kind to myself and taken my leave, my body would have gotten the break it needed.

3. Boundaries are important: Setting boundaries at work and in your personal life, can save you a whole hospital stay. Learning to say no, assertively, goes a long way.

4. I take responsibility for my own mental and physical wellbeing: I will make sure that I do everything I possibly can to take care of myself before I end up on burnout street again. Therapy, medication, self-care, and continuous education, are but a few tools I have used.

5. I still love mining: What can I say? I still love it.

Despite my "small but manageable nervous breakdown" I still had a great career, had many opportunities and it shaped me into the person I am today. I don't speak about this often enough, but I want others to see what happens when you overwork yourself. This is why I'm forever speaking about continuous improvement, emotional intelligence and leadership development, because I want my network to be equipped to avoid that burnout. If your career goals are in order that is already a very big step in the right direction.

I hope that you have taken something of value from this blogpost and I would really love to hear about your career and your goals. Please feel free to book a free 45min Career Clarification Session with me and we can talk.

Until next time, stay safe!

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