Greeting, everyone. Yes, I know the title of today’s post sounds like a “cringey” catchphrase from a t-shirt (hmm, note to self…) but it came to me a few hours ago when I was training at the brand spanking-new premises of the powerlifting club. I don’t think I’ve made it a secret in my past few posts that I’ve been going through a rough patch lately. It was only really dawned on me the last few weeks that much of my malaise stems from a full-blown case of professional burn-out. Like many of my generation, my attitude at work was just to get it done, no excuses and the phrase “I can’t” does not exist. As manager, of course, I have managed staff through burn- out soI know that acceptable levels are different for everyone and accumulated stress over time is insidious. However, to echo that old cliché “I just didn’t think it’d happen to me”.
Well, I didn’t think it’d happen to me because pride goeth before a fall. I thought I was too aware, too smart, too “woke” (very ironic given the context) to suffer a burn-out. Burn-out was caused, in my case, by accepting to do what evolved into 2 full-times jobs. It is, of course, impossible for 1 person to perform 2 full times jobs at a high level for the long-term so an eventual crash was inevitable. While I did escalate the situation repeatedly over the last few years and demanded resources – said resources were always right over the horizon. A number of factors, unrelated to work I was doing, made the work I was doing even harder as I was called in to “fight fires” repeatedly for situations not of my making. I gradually began to fall behind on my deliverables…and was forced to perform “triage”, prioritizing those which I would deliver on time and those for which I’d “take a hit”.
These missed deadlines and other looming missed deadlines played constantly in loop somewhere in my subconscious. Slowly, insidiously, it affected my professional confidence and engendered a feeling of anxiety and a barely perceptible sense of impending doom. I began to have problems sleeping as I’d awake at night and not be able to go back to sleep as my now conscious brain endlessly re-hashed work stress. My accumulated sleep loss began to visibly affect my ability to concentrate which put my work productivity into a death spiral. I worked longer and longer hours to complete formerly easy tasks.
At the same time, I became increasingly worried about lack of quality time I was spending with my kids. Even when I was spending time with them, I was haggard and preoccupied. My guilt over this wasn’t aiding my mental state. Finally, my powerlifting training took an obvious dive. I was still training when I could find time (at this point purely a desperate measure to preserve sanity and physical health) but my heart wasn’t in it. Then in late May of this year I could barely get out of bed and force myself to go to work. Had I not had 2 kids in private school who will soon go to university, I think I might have thrown in the towel. In 35 years of working, I never felt anything like I was feeling. I read a clinical description of burn-out and realized that exhibited every single symptom in flashing red lights. I wracked my brain to find a magic silver bullet that would fix everything.
I decided, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, that alcohol was the cause of all this mess. I was certainly drinking more than was healthy, but at the same time at this point of my life I wasn’t a case study in Barfly-esque excess, either. So I stopped drinking booze altogether save a very occasional glass of wine. And the situation improved somewhat, but not as dramatically as I’d hoped. I was able to sleep a little better and therefore improved my concentration briefly. It allowed me to continue limping along professionally for another few months until, about 2 weeks ago, the dominoes began to fall.
This is a painful situation, for sure, but it is nowhere near as bad as the loss of loved one or something of that nature. Still, I was surprised the emotional toll it took on me. The sliver-lining in the experience is that my mental fog receded somewhat so I was able to analyze how, little by little, I put myself in this situation. Also, it has become clear what I need to do to improve my mental health as well as my professional situation. Let me be clear, this is an ongoing situation, but I no longer have blinders on.
To whit, I’ve been making a marked effort to live in the moment, spend really quality time with my loved ones and friends. I have found refuge and a gained little bit more “gout de la vie” in reading and writing – my age-old friends that have helped my out of so many tight corners. Finally, today I forced myself to go to the powerlifting club to make up for a training I missed yesterday. I was supposed to work bench-press, overhead press and accessory exercises. I’m still down and struggling and felt the need for a boost. I love bench press, love it, and I’m pretty good at it, but it’s not it’s not the King of exercise. So I did squats, not heavy, mind you, but at about 70 percent for triples. I concentrated on relearning the technique. I was all alone, so I began to crank my music on the sound system. This song came on my play list:
For a brief, shining moment, all was right with the world. I wasn’t moving hero weight but I was squatting and making strides to get back to where I was before. I will prevail. I wish I knew why, but only squats can do this.