Burnout | Recovery vs Healing

wellbeing Oct 15, 2021
Earlier this week I had a bit of a wobble and found myself in a place of doubt and fear. I’ve got some big plans for the next 12 months and over the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting everything planned, sharing everything with my team and ensuring that everything will happen when it needs to happen. And honestly, these plans are pushing me outside of my comfort zone. But as I’ve always believed, it’s on the other side of our comfort zone where the real growth occurs.
 
After weeks of planning and creating and delegating and feeling the excitement build, earlier this week I read a blog that sent me spiralling into fear and doubt.
 
The blog was by someone in my network and it listed a long list of things that they were hoping to achieve, before their coach told them not to do it as it was all too much, all for the wrong reasons and would likely take them off track and into burnout again and away from their real purpose. And as I read it, I started to panic.
 
This list had on it everything that I want to achieve, for them it was on a smaller scale. But if they’d been told not to do it, perhaps I should aim lower too. Perhaps if I did push to achieve all of these things then I’d end up back in severe burnout as I did in 2013. Perhaps I should scale back. Perhaps I should stop thinking big completely. Perhaps I’m out of my depth. Perhaps I need to slow down. Who was I to want to create all of this change anyway?
 
I feared being ill again.
 
I feared what a burnout relapse would do to me, to my family, to my clients, to my income, to my entire life.
 
Maybe I should stay just as I am.
 
For those that know me, you’ll know that I’m driven and ambitious. You’ll also know that I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the last 8 years, and you’ll know the incredible outcomes that my clients achieve. I felt torn upon reading this blog, and felt like I was having to choose between my health and success. And I will from now on in, always put my health first.
 
The fear became so much, I had to get out of the house. I went for a walk with the dog, but rather than my usual calming walk, this was a walk filled with doubt and fear and in my head I was listing all of the things that I needed to stop doing, the ways in which in which I could reduce and minimise my plans and what I ‘should’ be changing about my work. When I got home I logged onto my website dashboard with the intention of changing everything, and then stopped, took a breath, and reflected on where this fear had come from.
 
The fear had come from a place of good intentions. You see, integrity is one of my driving values. It’s my ‘doing the right thing even when nobody is looking’ core driver. And between integrity and curiosity, I spend a lot of time looking for answers, internally and externally. And in that moment, the working and striving and growing that I know I need to do to create big change for others and that ‘might’ result in burnout, would call into question my integrity, because surely I can’t talk about boundaries, and self-care, balance and success if I end up back in a place of burnout.
 
I’d be a hypocrite.
 
I was questioning my work, my beliefs, my values and everything I stand for, and it felt scary.
 
In my own coaching session on Wednesday, we talked about my wobble and after some discussion and a way forward, my coach shared with me three perspectives that she herself sometimes has when I talk about my goals.
 
1. Kelly has big goals and I know she’ll achieve them
2. Kelly has big goals and perhaps I should be pushing harder and aiming in a different direction (and then I realise that what you want isn’t for me)
3. Kelly has big goals and I know she’ll achieve them, and I hope she looks after herself in the process
 
We’re human. Doubt can creep in at times, and especially when we start comparing ourselves to others, the trick is catching ourselves before we turn our world upside down and throw everything out of the window trying to be too much like anyone else and away from who we are at the core.
 
My curiosity kept me reflecting upon my start of the week wobble, I wanted to know where it had come from, why it was so overwhelming and why the fear of another burnout was so strong. And the thought I had led me to questioning the difference between recovery and healing.
 
If I had truly recovered from burnout, why was the fear of getting back to that point so strong? I know that fear shows up when there is still something to learn, so what was missing and what did I still need to deal with? In my recovery, was I properly healed? And if there was still more to learn about my burnout from eight years ago, why had it taken me so long to get to this point?
 
Here’s where I got to in my thinking.
 
Recovery and healing, whilst we seemingly use the words interchangeably, are not the same thing.
When used as nouns, heal means a spell or ability that restores hit points or removes a status ailment, whereas recover means recovery.
When used as verbs, heal means to make better from a disease, wound, etc, whereas recover means to get back, regain (a physical thing lost etc.).
 
When you hurt yourself physically, you know that you need to give yourself the time and space to recover.
 
You know that the goal is to allow your body to regenerate, to return to what it was before — maybe a little weaker, maybe a bit more sensitive, but ultimately the same.
You assume your mind is the same way.
 
You imagine that a hot bath and a mental health day will solve your problems. You think that if you got seriously damaged by an experience in life, the solution is to try to go back to what you were before.
 
If you’re trying to restore yourself to the person you were before you got hurt, you’re trying to recover. If you’re ready to shed your old self and become someone entirely new, you’re ready to heal.
 
Recovering means you’re trying to go back to who you were before — the person who did not know better, and got you into that situation to begin with. Recovering means you’re still idolizing and romanticising life before the traumatic event, you’re still grasping onto the familiar past.
 
Recovering means that you’re still trying to be someone you used to be, while healing means that you’re stepping into someone entirely new.
 
You might think that recovering is what’s going to solve your problems, because really, recovering is a lot more comfortable. At the onset, it makes you feel better.
 
Recovering is a day off and some retail therapy. Recovering is cutting off contact with people who annoy you. Recovering is indulging in something delicious because you deserve it. Recovering is remembering your worth and your power. Recovering is stepping back into what you built before. Recovering is a return.
 
Healing is admitting that your job is slowly killing you. Healing is enforcing a strict budget because you have long-term financial aspirations. Healing is restoring relationships instead of just walking away from them. Healing is choosing what nourishes you, not what comforts you. Healing is finding unprecedented worth and power. Healing is stepping into what you’ve never done before. Healing is a rebirth.
 
And when we talk about recovery relating to addiction for example, the focus for the most part is on the recovery for the addiction when what we need to deal with is the healing of the initial reason for the cause of the addiction.
 
And this is where I’ve been stuck.
 
In my head. I’ve been doing too much thinking about things and not enough feeling. And although 8 years have passed, I’ve wanted to still feel like pre-burnout me. I’ve wanted to be of 8 years ago, but she’s gone, and in her place, is the me today. Even though when I speak to my clients about being a different person now to the person they were then, for whatever reason, I hadn’t joined the dots for myself. I’d been too busy being curious, learning, researching, wanting to help my clients, wanting to make a difference, too busy doing, and I missed a key part of my own healing in the process.
 
I missed the self-acceptance. I missed the forgiveness of the situation, the environment and myself that had moved me to be burning out. I’d missed the feeling. And I’d missed the being in the here and now, just as I am.
 
Why has it taken me so long to get to this realisation?
 
Ever played any of the Mario Bros. games? I’ve been playing as a child in the 80’s. My sons were then big fans, my Mum used to play on my brother’s old Gameboy, we’ve played a variety of versions on the Wii and on many different devices over the decades. In my early childhood the games were pretty basic, but the basis remained the same; complete a level and unlock another. You might find some shortcuts along the way, find some detours that offer mystery tunnels, additional coins and some extra lives and certain things provide you with some additional energy or some extra power. You can’t complete the game though without facing the ‘boss’.
 
And one boss isn’t always the same as the next, they have some different weaknesses and require some different tactics to get to the next level.
 
As the game has evolved and different versions have become available, whilst you have the basic skills covered, you’re faced with new levels, new worlds, and different difficulty levels. You might think that the hardest level of Super Mario Kart is easy because you’ve got the skill nailed, but without a few wins under your belt and learning where the added bonuses are, you miss some of the basics, some of the extras, some of the fun and some of the learning.
 
And this is what I’d done.
 
I’d skipped to the hardest level, missing some shortcuts along the way, fought the biggest boss of all and thought that in doing so I’d completed the game. I hadn’t. I missed out on one of the most important steps, the healing.
 
Now I have this realisation, I can feel that something has shifted. I feel lighter. The fear has gone.
 
Do I still have big goals? Yes
 
Might I get tired along the way? Yes
 
Have I learned enough about myself over the last years to know that I won’t ever go back to burnout? Yes
 
Are my values in question? No
 
If a fear keeps coming up for you, what might be hiding behind it? It’s possible you’ve missed a level and tried to complete the game a level too soon.
 
Kelly
 
In 2013, Kelly had a successful leadership career, yet she was burned out, exhausted, and missing out on life with her family.
 
Determined to enjoy the success that she had earned, she's learned to create a life of balance and boundaries that is also highly successful.
 
Today, Kelly is founder of The Chrysalis Crew and Executive Coach at Kelly Swingler Ltd. She's helped women leaders all over the world to prevent and recover from burnout by becoming their own VIPs without giving up their careers or jeopardising their wellbeing.
 
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