getting through burnout
For many years I worked in a fast paced, intense, advertising / promotion based design job that I loved. I started as a single in house designer, which morphed into starting and running a small digital agency with a business partner. This big step into the agency world was hard but I got there, and things started to come together. However work life and parent life began to clash and I was starting each day running on empty.
I went back to work when my son was 6 months old. He wasn’t sleeping well at night still but I was determined to just make things work. At first, things were ok as I was enjoying being back at my desk, working on campaigns and having that world outside of “mum world”. But, as the months went by, my son still wasn’t sleeping and neither was I. As any mum knows, lack of sleep starts to really fuck with your head. If you aren’t getting enough sleep then you aren’t recharging. I would find myself being on the brink of tears a lot for seemingly no reason. My moods weren’t great, I gained weight, and felt like my creative brain just wasn’t working anymore. My son finally started sleeping better when he turned 1, but I never really managed to get back to where I had started. I felt as though I was always anxious, always trying to play catch up and getting up at 5am so I could get into work before everyone else, and get up to speed and ahead of things so my team could rely on me to keep workflow running. I’d then have to leave at 4pm to pick up my son from daycare, and once he was in bed at night, I’d be up working until 9:30/10 pm most nights to stay on top of things.
I was so focused on making it all work I was in total denial that I was completely burnt out. It wasn’t until a coworker who hadn’t been working with us for long decided to leave the job that I started to “wake up” from the haze I had slowly fallen into, and realise that things with me just weren’t ok. I realised that I was depressed but I had been so preoccupied with just getting things done I had just left it completely unacknowledged. I decided to return to my counsellor and start unpacking everything to figure out how I was going to get through this.
After a couple of months, I decided that it was time for me to leave my job, as I knew deep down I just couldn’t work in an agency environment anymore. Luckily my business partner and co workers were understanding of this, and I felt good leaving even though it also felt sad because it had been part of my life for so long. It was like my first baby had grown up and it was time to let them go into the big wide world on their own.
It’s been almost 11 months since I left and it’s been a big learning curve in terms of really working on my own. When you are in a team, you can work to create systems and processes and apply them by yourself, but you aren’t really by yourself. You have people to bounce ideas off and talk to about things, even if you are the one doing the actual work part. You can look at a brief and talk to your other designers about it and come at it from heaps of different angles. When you are a freelancer, you are actually by yourself.
It wasn’t until I had been home for a couple of months that I really started to realise how burnt out I had become. Slowly but surely, I started with self care 101 – I went for a walk each day, I started eating healthier food and being more mindful about what I ate, and started taking time to just sit and read a book when I felt like it. Over time I started to feel creative again. And my work began to make me happy again.
I think the key to surviving and getting through burnout is to be mindful, and actually see the signs of burnout before you actually hit it. It’s about knowing yourself and the signs that things may not be ok. I think it’s also good to talk to people, such as your partner or friend or family member about things so there is someone besides yourself who can watch your back, so to speak.
So yeah. I guess that this post is kind of a reminder to myself about where I’ve come from in the last year to where I am now. It’s been really hard in a lot of ways but has been great in a lot of other ways. Now that I have finally found my groove here, I’m feeling pretty good, and excited about work things and art things.