On Balance and Burnout

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This is the face of someone who has spent two solid months burning the candle at both ends.

“You look destroyed,” my old flatmate observed the morning of my last day in Singapore. I certainly felt it — physically, mentally, emotionally.

“I’m not okay,” I admitted, and the bear hug that followed was greatly appreciated.

In any other situation, I’d agree: I took on a lot. Over five weeks in Rio, followed immediately by 18 days filming around Southeast Asia: if a friend had emailed me that travel schedule, I would have told her to slow her roll and calm the itinerary down.

But I wasn’t doing it for funsies — these were two dream jobs that just happened to be back-to-back. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

However, now that I have the clarity of a few hours of sleep and a few thousand miles of distance, I can see where I overreached.

For one, I never had my Olympics Crash. The day after London, I slept for 18 hours. The day after Rio, I spent 48 hours in transit and dove headfirst into another job. Lesson learned: I shouldn’t have relied on my ability to bounce back so quickly and scheduled a day in between to catch up on sleep.

Secondly — and this was the huge invisible weight on my shoulder — behind-the-scenes I was dealing with some heavy personal matters. I refused to let it distract me from doing my job, but ironically, the act of Ignoring Stress also became stressful.

Just like being hangry or tired amplifies negative emotions, by repressing feelings and not allowing myself to be upset, I only exacerbated it so that by the last day, I felt broken. It wasn’t healthy.

The greatest mistake I made, though, was not finding the occasional moment to be myself.

For sixty days I threw myself into work, thinking that doing what I loved would be enough to keep unhappiness at bay. After all, how can you be sad when you’re at your dream job, right?

But work isn’t enough (and it shouldn’t be enough). Being surrounded by only colleagues meant I was constantly trying to present the best version of myself, to be clever and charming; occasionally biting my tongue for the sake of being diplomatic or for fear of appearing ‘too quirky’.

For two months I didn’t drop the poker face. Sure, some of those colleagues became friends, but there was no one with whom I could grab a quick coffee and spend an hour getting back to baseline. The kind of friends who knew me, my backstory, and to whom I didn’t have to say much for them to understand all. I had a couple of Skype dates, but they were temporary salves to a deeper burn.

I’m still not sure how I could have solved this one logistically, but I’m glad to recognize it for the future.

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Last day, leaving Singapore (yes, that’s everything I own, and yes it is very heavy)

In our final days of filming, I felt conflicted. I was looking forward to the luxury of sleeping in again, sure, but also: these jobs had consumed my identity and focus for weeks. They were welcome distractions from personal matters; plus I’d been preparing for months (in the case of Rio, years) and now it was — over. What would I do when it was just me, myself, and I?

Since leaving Asia two days ago, I’m happy to say that time and distance has helped immensely, as it always does. I slept more on the flights to Europe than I had in days (only 32 hours in transit this time), and layovers in Venice and London airports provided little jolts of happiness (is that weird? I just love those cities so much).

Being welcomed upon arrival in Vienna by Becki and a bottle of prosecco to make Hugos was the final touch. I had worried that spending the next two weeks flitting around Venice, London, Dublin, Belfast, and Paris would be too much, but it’s quite the opposite. It’s exactly what I needed: I feel in control and relaxed again, and can’t wait to see all of my friends in those cities.

They are home, and I’m back in safe harbor.

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Comments

  1. I just we could give you a giant hug! But you’ve accompanied so much these past few months and Alex and I have loved following your journey. Slow down a bit in November so we can see you 😉. Nothing but love and support for you!

    Miss you lots!

    Xoxoxo

    Ashley and Alex

  2. “occasionally biting my tongue for the sake of being diplomatic or for fear of appearing ‘too quirky’.”
    I can so relate to this a loooot of the time – being around “my people” again is such a relief… can’t imagine doing it consecutively for so long, though. Glad you made it through unscathed and are hopefully taking some time to just relax! Central Europe is happy to have the rare Edna sighting ;) Isn’t Vienna just lovely?

  3. I plan on chilling in Paris in two weeks and can’t wait to see you! Granted, I’ve never had jobs like you’ve had, but I’ve had jobs that once they were over, I remembered was it was like to fall asleep without a million things on my mind and have a full night’s sleep. I wish you weeks of awesomeness and recovery. See you soon!

  4. I feel exhausted just reading through that! I hope you get some well-needed R&R.

  5. Thanks for always keeping it real. Many might think you live this glamourous life but you work so very hard and maintaining that poker face is part of it – so exhausting. Enjoy your down time xo (PS: I have loved following along your adventures! Keep em coming!)

  6. I was shocked you didn’t take a break after the Olympics! I’m glad you are feeling better now though. Sleep and eat to your heart’s content!

  7. Hope everything is okay! I know it feels to burnout and just crash, basically my whole college experience. Since moving to Korea I’ve almost scheduled myself crash weekends. At least once every one to two months I need a full weekend of solid alone time. From the minute I leave work at 4:30 on Friday to the minute I get on the bus for work Monday morning at 7:50 is dedicated to doing absolutely, gloriously nothing. It’s done wonders for my mental health and overall energy.

    Enjoy being with your friends!

  8. Aw Edna, I am so sorry you feel this way – I know how conflicted feelings feel (“how can I be sad when you’re at your dream job, right?”) — and on top of that, the feeling of feeling bad for feeling bad.

    Also, the pressure for need to appear to be happy when you’re not… the stress and loneliness to be constantly surrounded by people you aren’t close to.

    I’m glad to hear you’ve found yourself back “home” though with people you care about! Take some time off to recharge!

  9. Sending love and calm your way!

  10. It was lovely to have you, and I’m glad Vienna provided a fun crash pad for you to mend and rest. See you again one day soon. x

  11. If I had to solely concern myself with work for that long, I would definitely end that ride poorly… Glad that you get to recharge now!!

  12. A work life that intense would leave anybody feeling this way. Be kind to yourself and take care of yourself babe. Hopefully see you soon for that gin! xo

  13. I got exhausted just from following you around the globe on Snapchat! I can totally understand that you couldn’t say no to either one of these great opportunities. I hope you’ll be able to recharge your batteries while you’re in Europe and that you’re able to resolve the personal matters you’re dealing with. And get some rest!! :) x

  14. Sometimes you just have to take some time out for yourself and start again! xo Loren // http://www.thinkelysian.com

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