On August 1, 2021, at approximately 11:10 am I clung to the left side of my chest as I could feel my heart palpitating uncontrollably. A feeling that scrambled my awareness. My mouth weathered as a tightening feeling along my throat narrowed with each breath. My arms and legs started tingling as a shooting pain raced through my left arm and down my left leg. My mind was on high alert. I thought I was having a heart attack at the age of thirty-six.
Of the terrifying thoughts and emotions consuming my mind, only one was clear: I did not want to be on the floor for my ten- and eleven-year-old to bear witness. I did not want that for them, and as I dialled 911 hysterically pleading for an ambulance, the rush of the moment eventually overcame my ability to stand.
My husband had left only five minutes earlier to run an errand and it had been no different a Sunday morning from the many before. Little had I realized, it was all about to get very unpredictable.
Listening to the 911 operator talk through my symptoms, I could feel my racing heartbeat beginning to subside and though very winded and traumatized from what I was experiencing, the voice on the other end of the line continued in a calm and attentive tone, ‘mam’, is it possible you are having a panic attack and not a heart attack?’’ In those moments, I felt even more confused and bewildered. Was this an anxiety attack? A panic attack? How could I be sure? Should I now cancel the ambulance? I didn’t know what to do and felt utterly scared and unhinged. As our call ended with my back braced against the wall from the inner corner of the main doorway, I could hear the distant sirens of first responders getting louder and louder, closer and closer. Soon enough, the sound of heavy boots could be heard coming down the stairway to find me where I lay.
Ten days later of my body sounding the alarm that something was very wrong, I endured more medical testing than I had at any point in my life. Twenty vials of blood samples, multiple X-Rays, CT scans, Ultrasounds, and Stress tests with my Cardiologist. The wait was as unsettling and agonizing as the unnerving pain I felt throughout my body. In the mass of the medical system we live in, I bore witness to the ease of prescription writing to numb the pain but NOT the cause. I could make no sense of what was happening to me and for me, the only thing I would accept is logic not a prescription— there had to be a reason for my body’s reaction. My tests were all normal yet my body continued to shut down. During these ten days, I found myself within a deep state of reflection on what had led me on the path I was now enduring.
For the most part, I’d always thought of myself to be healthy and anyone who met me could attest to that. I’d exercise and eat well. I enjoyed the occasional wine or scotch after a long day and cooked almost everything I ate. To me, my habits were not much more different from anyone else leading an active life who enjoyed it to the fullest with deadlines. Yet, I couldn’t help peer into the blindspots of my habits which made it quite clear, this was no accident. It wasn’t an allergic reaction, I was burnout and how I consumed my life was the root of it all.
I knew this much to be true. I was actively participating in the depletion of my own health through the choices I made. Good or bad, well-intentioned or not.
Getting honest is NOT an option but a requirement.
My great fear at this point was, would it be too late to make the changes I knew deep within the depts of my soul that I could make and was ready to embrace.
Sixty days later as I reflect on all that transpired rebuilding my health and embracing a deep journey of wellness into a place of wholesomeness and intention, I am not without immense gratitude to all the people who became my ‘village’ of recovery and above all, awareness of just how instantaneously our lives can change. I’ve grown to realise that burnout is highly misguided not only in its perception but greatly in treatment. I’ve grown to appreciate the science of my own well-being through five main pillars of Nutrition, Breathing, Meditation, Movement and Rest.
Thinking over the last twenty months, we’ve lived through a pandemic, a global shut down, upheavals to our working lives, waves of ubiquitous regulation and watched whatever joys we frequented succumb to the scrutiny of masks, restrictions, and test tubes within a new world order. For many, the former marked the end. It has been a lot and, as suspected over the early months of the World Health Organization (WHO) sounding the alarm to a global pandemic –the world was also on edge of a global burnout.
In my line of work, I help companies and organizations around the world develop initiatives to improve the lives of the people who come to work for them. My cardinal question to every CHRO, CEO and Director: ‘’How might we create an environment where our people are better off in their lifespan because they came to work for us.’’ Shifting how we think, learn, and listen to the underlying cultures we build.
Yet for all the work I had done and medical experts whose work also supplemented mine, I realised more than anything it is quite easy for good intentions and action to overwhelm and deplete our health if we are giving more than we are allowing ourselves to recharge. Burnout doesn’t have a type.
This is also why it is important that wellness initiatives that aim to end the epidemic of burnout be realistic to the idea that burnout isn’t something that happens unintentionally but is a gradual build-up of patterns and habits that deplete the body’s ability to continue. A state of ‘being’ where we are ‘lacking’ in life. Deficient in essential nutrients, consciousness, space and movement to reboot. Computers aren’t the only things that need rebooting and updating — humans do too, to operate without overheating and infection.
The body does not exist in parallel to all that we need it to do. It is the centre and taproot from which all else is extended.
I’ve spent a good part of the last few months rallying better workplace mental health; bridging gaps in the systems and processes that were left fractured as lives globally shifted into a new phase of need. Though, well-intended, this became my first lesson lived and why we must attempt to securely attach our own oxygen masks before giving assistance to others.
What I know beyond a doubt is this; the taproot from which all our knowledge, skills, good intentions, dreams, and aspirations grow, is not much use if we are not mindful of how we consume our lives on a daily basis. This has also paved the way for what I call nine truths to consume a better life etched into a new perspective.
It is my hope that these truths will resonate in deeper layers of how we think and do in consuming a better life in business, society and our daily lives.
9 Truths to Consume a Better Life
Finally, I feel grateful to share this experience today and hope that my journey reminds us that burnout doesn’t have a type. It doesn’t care if you are wealthy. It cares not who you love or are responsible to. It bears no attention to your goals and aspirations. It is, however, the stark alert built from a culture of habits we accept and continue to pollinate. It is in how we consume, the little things we ignore and the things we tell ourselves to forego on the balance of rest, nutrition, focus and movement needed to reclaim our mindfulness.
If you do not take care of your body, where are you going to live?
Stay tuned, as I will be releasing my first manifesto on ‘Rising Above Burnout.’ A journey that goes deep into the five pillars Nutrition, Breathing, Meditation, Movement and Rest.