When the lights switched off...
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
“During the dark night there is no choice but to surrender control, give in to unknowing, and stop and listen to whatever signals of wisdom might come along. It’s a time of enforced retreat and perhaps unwilling withdrawal. The dark night is more than a learning experience; it’s a profound initiation into a realm that nothing in the culture, so preoccupied with external concerns and material success, prepares you for.” ― Thomas Moore
I have been asked to share a very personal experience, and I realise that sharing this experience may benefit not only one person but a few. So I am courageously sharing one of the most vulnerable times of my life. This blog is, a very personal one about my experience with burnout and depression. It is about my story and my “dark night of the soul”, my “rumbling with vulnerability”.
I was freshly divorced from my first husband and not only new to being a mum but brand new to the concept of being a single mum to a lovely energetic toddler, I was new to the corporate world, trying to fit in and make a good impression. I was to put it simply in a whirlwind of changes that I had not all necessarily wanted or planned. The rug was slowly being removed from under my feet. I was doing my best to stay on the rug; I fell. I fell flat on my face. I did not fall in one go; I fell slowly, I fell while holding onto whatever I could hold onto with all the strength I had left. And I fell.
The little strength I had was used to hold on, to maintain a facade that I had everything under control, that everything was “Swell”, I was rocking it. I was taking on more tasks/more responsibilities at work, keeping myself as busy as I could. I could not stop; I was a bit like a mad spinning top. Doing more and more, sleeping less and less, eating sporadically and expanding energy like it was an endless resource. The more people around me told me to stop, slow down, the more I felt I was failing, and the more I had to prove myself and do more. It felt as if those caring people were all part of the conspiracy to out me as the fraud that I believed to be. The whole time my inner critic was screaming at me telling me that I was such a weak person, such a failure and cheering me on, ensuring that the mad spinning top would keep spinning no matter what. I literally could not stop until I stopped and fell and crashed.
I woke up one morning to my lovely son telling me he was hungry, and I just could not anymore, I could not even face getting out of bed to feed him. I was empty. It felt as if all the light, the energy had been sucked out of me. There was nothing left. I was empty. I was dark and cold. All the life force that had kept me going was gone. I could only roll over and close my eyes. Roll over and let the inner voice rock me to sleep, telling me what a weak and feeble person I was. I did not even have the strength to cry. All I could do was to roll over and try to sleep as deeply as possible as then I would no be aware of my weakness and fall and yet I rolled over got out of bed and somehow drove to my Dr. in my pyjamas with my hungry son. I was diagnosed with burnout or acute depression and put on SSRIs and advised to seek help.
The SSRIs took a while to kick in, once they did two things happened; on the one hand, I was able to distance myself from my life, take a step back; on the other, I became numb to the world around me. I stopped feeling and sensing; I lost a part of me. I was told to stay on the drugs for at least six months, which I did. I cannot remember all of what happened during those six months as emotions help to encode and recall memories. The one event I do recall is trying to go back to work, after five months off. I took three attempts. The first I drove to the border (I lived in France and worked in Switzerland) and drove home hyperventilating and shaking, the second I had a panic attack in the carpark at work, the third was a success. I managed it!
From then on, it was a slow road to getting back to coping with working, getting off the SSRIs and learning to live with the fear that I could go back there. Therapy helped.
Twelve years later, I know I could still go back, and I am grateful to have been there, light only exists in darkness. I now know my limits. I know the signs and signals. I have developed coping mechanisms and learned to look after myself. I have learnt that staying in bed all day is not lazy; it is self-care and restorative. I have learnt to say no and stop; it is not always easy, I do not always succeed, and I am getting better every day.
I was blessed during my dark night to have had the fantastic support of friends and family. My sister bought me running shoes and got me running - the best thing to clear the mind.
This experience was probably one of the events that lead to me discovering Yoga and embracing the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of Yoga to the point of now owning a Yoga studio and training as a Yoga therapist. This experience is also probably one of the reasons I became a coach - a coach would not have been able to support me during the acute phase of the dark night, but coaching has helped me implement life-changes that sustain integral well-being.
Burnout and depression are by no means signs of weakness; medical support does not lessen who you are as a person or the power you have as a human being.
“It is precisely because we resist the darkness in ourselves that we miss the depths of the loveliness, beauty, brilliance, creativity, and joy that lie at our core.” ― Thomas Moore
P.s. My son is fed regularly and never went (knowingly) without breakfast again after that day.