Burnout is on my mind this week thanks to a post I read on linked-in about an HR manager stating that she didn’t really believe in burnout. Well!! Steam came out of my ears as I read that and now I’m on a mission to educate people about burnout, its impact and most importantly how to prevent it.

My Burnout Journey

But first let me tell you my burnout story (short-version). I was in my mid-thirties, working extremely hard in a job I adored. Working as an international trainer for a pharmaceutical company, I travelled the world training our employees in many areas, including leadership, communication skills, sales skills and personal development. My boss was great, my colleagues were fun, and I was on a roll.

So why did my life eventually collapse into a severe burnout?  As I look back, now older and wiser, the signs were blatantly obvious, but at the time, I was oblivious and only kept pushing myself harder.  What I also find shocking is that no-one around me noticed what was happening. Not my colleagues, not my family and not my friends.

It was only many years later, after my accidental ADHD diagnosis, that the penny dropped. I was just a cliché! With my driven personality, plus my specific brain-writing, plus my age, burnout was a foregone conclusion.  Let me explain.

Burnout and ADHD Symptoms

With undiagnosed ADHD, I was too enthusiastic, got too involved in too many projects and said yes to every new shiny project that crossed my path. This lead to overwhelm, procrastination, and stress as I tried to juggle the impossible.

With undiagnosed ADHD, perfectionism made it impossible to finish anything because nothing was ever good enough to sign off on. This created stress, worry and conflict with other project stakeholders who were waiting on me to deliver.

With undiagnosed ADHD, time-blindness, distractibility, inability to prioritize and poor organization skills created chaos and confusion. This chaos fed the stress response and held me in a constant state of adrenaline and cortisol overload.

With undiagnosed ADHD, the constant pressure to mask my struggles, to figure things out by myself, to never ask for help only added to my overburdened shoulders. This pressure I put on myself left me in a state of daily exhaustion and anxiety.

Stress, insomnia and no off button

By now you can figure out what happened next. Insomnia took hold and decimated my sleep quality. Due to the constant stress, my mind and body hit overdrive and the ‘off’ button broke. I was constantly ‘on’, running on empty all the time, barely able to function because of sleep deprivation.

Eventually my body and mind couldn’t take it anymore and I was in full blow burnout. It took my HR manager to recognize this and ordered me to go home. And so began the long road to recovery!

What were the signs? What did I miss?

Looking back on that time, I keep wondering, what could have prevented this? Is there anything that my manager, colleagues or family could have noticed or done to grab me before I fell?

What signs should have raised a red flag for me and grabbed my attention so that I could have asked for help much earlier in this process?  And to what extent did undiagnosed ADHD play a role in my downfall. Was burnout inevitable? Was I just an ambitious, overly driven 30 something cliché? Or did I simply lack important knowledge?

I’m afraid burnout was inevitable in my case 

If I am really honest, I doubt that anyone could have stopped me once I was halfway to burnout. The reasons for why I went down this road are multifaceted and complex. For prevention, I needed to be a lot more self-aware than I was in my 30’s.

Furthermore, none of us work in a vacuum. We are part of a system, an organization, an environment. Things change, and sometimes you are lucky to have a great boss around you and a great team. There are other variables as well, such as what’s happening to you personally. I know that when I had my burnout, my personal life was great, but I was over-stretched at work. When both my boss and my colleague (who was my fun partner-in-crime) moved on to their next promotion at around the same time, I was left without any support systems and that’s when things started unravelling for me. I couldn’t keep up anymore.

My burnout journey was 20 years ago, and just writing about it now triggers lots of painful memories. I’ve never really explored the idea of what how I could have prevented burnout until now. It’s time to open this pandora’s box and see what I can learn about burnout, ADHD and what to do better. If you’d like to join me on this journey, do sign up to my newsletter.

Stay happy, and stay YOU!