How To Make A Breakdown A Breakthrough

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I feel oddly nervous stepping back up onto this little stage. It’s a funny feeling  somewhat akin to seeing your best friend after a long time apart; its kinda awkward  at the same time as being oh, so familiar. You’ve got so much to tell them but you also don’t really know what to say.

I haven’t been here for three months now. I left with no explanation, no auto-reply on my email and little more than a mysterious Facebook status announcing that I wouldn’t be blogging for a while. It was all very Agatha Christie of me.

So what the hell happened?

Well – I refer to it as my body’s little breakdown. Cute huh? But what it really was, was complete adrenal exhaustion, my hormones went cray-cray (that’s the medical term I believe) and my digestive system stopped functioning properly. I was (am) verging on an autoimmune disease if in fact I don’t have one already.

It all started with a very busy week  – I had started working with some amazing new clients, I had opportunities coming out the wazoo and my daughter had a bit of a cold which always makes getting things done a little harder. So it didn’t surprise me when I started feeling a little congested. But as the week went on the cold got worse. On Thursday I was walking around in an impenetrable fog. By Friday morning opening my eyes seemed like the heaviest chore in the world. I could barely move. Walking to the kitchen would exhaust me and I would have to lie down. All I wanted to do was sleep (strange for this perma-nightowl).

I rang my mum in tears because I had no idea a) what the hell was going on and b) how I was going to cope with my Duracell baby when I couldn’t even get out of bed!

Luckily, my eagle-eyed mum had been on high-alert for my impending collapse and had been waiting in the wings for a month or two. What felt like buzz-killing (“Em I think you need to slow down a bit”) or settling (“maybe you just need to concentrate on being a mum for a bit?”) was actually motherly perception at it’s finest. But I wouldn’t have a word of it. I kept going until I proved her right.

So, she rescued me. I spent a week down at their farm literally just sleeping or flopping on the couch. I won’t lie… Kardashians were kept up with.

My dad (who is also my doctor) told me that I had “exhaustion”. Now I thought that ‘exhaustion’ was pretty much just a bold-type version of ‘tired’. A fancy term for “needs a few more lie ins”. I didn’t realise that it was an actual medically-defined symptom linked to all sorts of things like depression, chronic fatigue and (ding! ding! ding!) adrenal fatigue. In the land of entrepreneurship it is commonly referred to as burnout.

But whatever you want to call it, it is a very real thing.

The prescription? Nothing. Literally. I was under doctors orders to do nothing.

And so that’s what I did. I cancelled all appointments (begrudgingly), relinquished all clients (devastating) and pretty much disappeared both online and off. I turned into a hermit. I concentrated on my health, my family and on movies. Many, many movies. (The Intouchables and Ruby Sparks and were on high rotation).

And sloooowly a little bit of spark returned to my body.

Where am I at now?

As it stands I have definitely not yet recovered. Not even close. It has taken three months of nothingness just to get back to this substandard-but-at-least-coping energy level.

Healing is going to take a long time – probably around 6 months. Maybe longer. Plans for baby number 2 have been shelved. And I have been forced to completely makeover my lifestyle.

I am definitely going to explore burnout and adrenal fatigue a lot more on this blog in the coming months (it is much more common than you would believe) and let you know how my recovery is going. But right now I am spending some serious time exercising my ‘patience’ muscle. But the first steps of the journey have been taken and they are always the hardest.

So to celebrate my return I thought I would share a few of the lessons I have learnt  during this beautiful (if not somewhat painful) transformative time. Take a little walk down the road of my adrenal fatigue recovery shall we?…

The more you stuff into you life does not mean the more you have

Humour me for a moment as I employ the ugliest analogy ever.

I was hit with an epiphany while sitting on a public toilet the other day. I was trying desperately to get a sheet of paper out of the dispenser but all I could manage was some depressingly tiny tattered strands. Whoever had filled this dispenser had decided that fitting in as many rolls as possible was the smart way about things (good in theory) but they were so jam-packed that none of the rolls would… well… roll!

When you try to fit more into something that can possibly fit, it is inevitable that flow is disrupted. My life was the dispenser. I was the bright spark stuffing in more than could fit. My body was the poor schmuck freaking out in the toilet because it couldn’t get what it needed.

Life needs a bit of wiggle room and if you don’t heed that warning and keep stuffing things in, then eventually, you are going to lose a function. If you try to fit 30 hours into the day, something is going to drop off. If you think you are outsmarting your body by cheating sleep, it is going to smack you with a metaphorical Stillnox (hallucinations included).

Interestingly the “less” that I am now stuffing in, the more that stuff gets done. The more happiness I have. The more freedom. More on that below.

Go with the flow

After the break I decided to really let life flow. Instead of choosing my life’s tempo and hustling my ass to keep up, I tuned into my natural rhythm. What feels good? What doesn’t? What do I have seemingly boundless energy for? What makes my chest feel heavy as soon as I think of it? Who lights me up? Who dulls me down?

Instead of living life via a to do list, I flowed. I walked places. I read loads of beautiful books. I slept in. I played. I thoroughly enjoyed my daughter. I visited the beach. I took entire afternoons to lie outside on the grass. I meditated. I saw my best friends. I took road trips. I had day-long phone conversations. I napped.

After a month of letting myself do the good things something snuck up on me… all of a sudden life was dramatically different. Things that I hadn’t even addressed had magically resolved themselves. All of a sudden Lucy had started sleeping through the night (something that had been an 18-month struggle). The house was staying cleaner even though I was cleaning less. I wasn’t snappy at my husband and my dogs were more relaxed. This really made me wonder how my wired-but-tired energy was affecting the house! Ideas started flowing to the point that I would have to take notepads on my walks because I had so many lightbulbs going off. Problems that I had had with the business (in terms of direction or fiddly decisions) started resolving themselves fluidly. Life naturally started getting easier.

The easy path does not necessarily mean that you get less done. It can just make the ride more fun.

Surrender is one of the most powerful things you can do

For the first month of my time offline I felt like an absolute failure. I felt that I was bowing out of the process.I had disappeared from my blog – a place that gave me such a feeling of belonging – and become irrelevant. People would forget about me, laugh at me, bitch about me… you name it, I thought it.

But surrender turned out to actually be the bravest thing I could have ever done.

Choosing yourself over what others will think (or not think) is far more admirable than limping along with some sort of false public dignity.

And funnily enough, I started receiving emails from many readers or blog-colleagues thanking me for being so brave as to take some time off. They had been struggling with the same primal urge to just retreat and I had given them the nod to be able to do it. Strange that in an act that I thought was career suicide I was actually walking my talk with more swagger than ever. Badass.

Be happy for others

In the first month off I seriously thought some higher power was punking me. I had so many deserving friends kicking unbelievable goals. Goals that I had dreamed of. Killer eBook releases, thoughtful eCourses changing lives, physical transformations that I had been sweating towards for years. It seemed like all these phenomenal occurrences happened in that first month or two when I was most vulnerable to sneaky snipes from my ego.

Without getting too woo-woo I realised that if there was a higher power it wasn’t taunting me… it was teaching me. In those first weeks I felt my ego getting the better of me. I felt jealous, which is an emotion I prefer to keep shelved. And then like a light-bulb going off I realised that feeling worried about their success was limiting me. Seeing people I loved succeeding was time for celebration. So I changed my thoughts. Instead of worrying that it would never happen for me I started to visualize how amazing it will feel when it does. Suddenly, my happiness stepped up a notch. I started celebrating for them – and it felt good.

But this was one of my favorite lessons of all. No matter what your situation – be happy for those you love or admire that are rocking it. It shows that it is a possibility in your future and beyond to achieve your dreams. Plus, it just feels nicer.

Patience is necessary for healing

If I could sum up how I have felt about my body over the past few years (and especially these last months) in one word it would be frustration. I have been so frustrated by the lack of energy, the inability to lose weight, the constant bizarre rashes over my body.

When you are doing everything right and seeing no results, it can make you tear your hair out. And that makes you want to quit. But I took around a decade of abuse to dig this hole so why on earth did I think I would get out of it in a few months?

Unless you are Wolverine, healing doesn’t generally happen overnight. Be patient. Have the occasional tantrum then dust yourself off and get back on the horse (I wrote about that once, here).

Trust

Whether you believe in fate or not, you need to reassure yourself that everything is happening as it is meant to. Or at least, that it will all work out in the end. Because whether you like it or not – time is going to pass anyway! You can either get dragged into the future with fear or you can choose to trust that everything is happening as it is meant to.

When you think about it, trust is your only option.

What is important to me

My ego had been getting the better of me in other ways in the lead up to my break. I was constantly thinking about my biz. I would check my Facebook page multiple times a day. I would be sitting at a park with my daughter and logging in to instagram to see how many likes I had. I would be wondering if a blog post I had put up was being shared.

Then my health was taken away from me. And just like that my ability to be there for my family diminished. My happiness was stifled by frustration. And here’s the kicker – my ability to create honest, energetic content disappeared too.

It made me realise then and there that all the little thumbs-up emoticons in the world have nothing on real world connections.

So while my biz and this blog remain a very large sense of joy for me I will never again allow the balance to be tipped where I forget what I am ultimately working for; family, health, freedom and happiness. They are my non-negotiables.

Remind yourself daily ‘why you are doing what you do’.

That being said…

I also discovered that I truly f@*&ing LOVE writing. I love this blog. I love my biz. I love you guys. And I have renewed passion for it and a clear direction (which I will share this week). I can’t wait to jump back in.

My heart is open, my cup is full, and my body is healing.

Now giddyup!

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Would love to hear from you – have you ever learnt an awesome life lesson from a tough time? Share in the comments bloe

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  • I feel like I am moments away from the position you’re in now so your post hit home. I hope that you feel better soon but while you wait I hope that by taking the time out the ideas continue to flow and you’ll be in an even better position than you were before this.

    xx
    Brooke recently posted…My Year in Review: 2013My Profile

  • Oh beautiful woman. Amazing, amazing, hilarious article. You know how to wrangle words and joy and honesty into this lovely little sojourn from the inbox for me today. I also have never known a writer in history who has been able to form such a glorious analogy from a public toilet experience. I hope they had hand wash.
    XXXXXXX
    Alice Nicholls recently posted…sweetforceMy Profile

    • Hehe I need to put that on my resume – “beautiful writer of toilet philosophy”. 🙂

      Thank you so much, amazing woman, for your lovely comment xxx

    • Thank you so much gorgeous lady – that’s such a beautiful comment!

      Amen to surrender. Us mama bears are superheroes but even superheroes gotta rest! 🙂

  • Such a beautiful, funny, and inspiring post Emily! It can be so easy to get sucked into online overwhelm and this is the perfect reminder to prioritize those things that are truly important, just what I need to hear! Looking forward to hearing about what’s next for you lovely xx

    • Isn’t it funny – the online world seems to sucker punch everyone’s ego’s occasionally!

      Been loving all your delicious creations too – Bali must be doing you lotsa good! xxx

  • I absolutely love this article and it came just at the right time. Just last night I had decided to take 3 months off and focus on my recovery from chronic fatigue and hypothallamic ammonorhea which I’ve been pushing through as we do. I have been hesitant how did you manage taking so much time off money and work wise? If love some tips?

    • Hows that for serendipitous? I am so glad it found you at the right time.

      Look, I have been very lucky in terms of finances (due to my husband working) though we did have to cut back. We scaled back the entertainment, lived very simply for a while. Is there a way you could just cut back the work hours? Or do you have any holidays available?

      Exciting to know that you are at the start of your healing journey, gorgeous! Upwards…

  • I’m so proud you dropped everything and let things be. I swear you and I are joined at the hip with the same occurrences. I’ve suffered adrenal fatique and severe anxiety over the last few months. I tried to ignore it because I didn’t understand what it was firstly and once I did I felt I had no reason to be in such a mess!! After getting over myself the first thing I felt mad desire to do was cull a lot of my own ‘ overly healthy traits’ to actually give myself a break. Somehow the right eating and looking after myself had turned from a health/stength state to an obsessive and a no longer necessary state which I kept hanging on to and beating myself up about thinking nonstop of what ‘healthy’ plan im doing today (which I never would). I’m enjoying missing yoga every so often when I really don’t feel like it ( yes people who have souls can still have a day where they want to flip the bird to yoga :p ) and ordering the biggest creamy pasta on the menu when I really want it because that gives me more joy and is more truthful of me than what I want to be. I’ve learnt don’t try to be anything, just be! All the best Em. Now you know whats happening with you I bet you feel such a relief. Fantastic post as always. xx

    • Thank you gorgeous lady – that’s so lovely. And bizarre that we are that in tune. Must hook up a tea date soon!

      And you are so right! Life is to be lived and your body is to be listened too. If you are stressing yourself out to keep up with some ideal checklist of yoga, kale and meditation it completely defeats the purpose.

      Hope you are on the first steps to getting better too!!! Big love xxx

    • Wolverine has got it good. Us poor schmucks have to wait. Thank you for your gorgeous comment xxx

      P.s. LOVE your website/company. You guys have been on my vision board for months! (your sales page rocks).

  • OH HONEY. THIS POST IS PERFECTION — HONEST AND BEAUTIFUL AS ALWAYS, WITH ABOUT 155 (THOUSAND) IMPORTANT LIFE MESSAGES. WOVEN IN. GOSH, YOU SHINE. WELCOME BACK, SWEETHEART. X

  • Emily, I absolutely loved reading this post. You’re such a gorgeous writer and I can relate to every word you say.

    Going with the flow when we’re exhausted is such an important lesson and it’s been a great lesson for me personally after recovering from Chronic Fatigue.

    Look after yourself my darling- I can’t wait to read more of your blog! xx
    Katie – Conquering Fear Spiritually recently posted…How to Cope with a Relapse of CFS/ME and FibromyagliaMy Profile

  • Emily what a truly inspiring and informative post and it’s totally been worth the wait! I love your honesty and ability to always find the lessons from your experiences. I can totally relate to what you have been going through the last few months. I’ve been struggling with chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, anxiety and depression for the better part of 3 years and I know how frustrating and difficult it can be to deal with.. For me it’s been financially draining and at times difficult to stay positive as I continue on my journey to health. Like you said we can’t expect ourselves to bounce back to full health after years of self sabotage and that is a big lesson learned for me. I know patience, persistence and perseverance is what is needed for me to regain my health and I know this experience is one that I have to go through in order to educate and help others. Love your work beautiful! xx
    Jasmin Schult recently posted…Illness And What I Learned About Self CareMy Profile

    • Jasmin you gorgeous thing! The 3 P’s… I’m totally borrowing that, because it’s true.

      And I think it’s cool to allow yourself to get a little frustrated too! Shake it all out and get rid of the anger and then build a bridge and get over it! hehe

      We’ll get there. xxx
      Emily recently posted…How To Make A Breakdown A BreakthroughMy Profile

  • Thank you for writing what I needed to hear today! Currently taking time off for myself and was feeling like I need to feel all better by the time I’m back at work next week. I need that reminder to give myself time. I admire your ability to step back. Thanks again xx

  • Hey Em!
    Thank you for this post, I loved reading it and I had a little ‘oh my gosh’ moment when you mentioned in your email about trying to go through life with our little ones….I read a lot about what others are doing and the jealousy sneaks in, but I have to get real and remember I am a mother of 3…it will happen when I am ready.

    I look forward to more of your posts regarding adrenal fatigue, I know at one point a few years back I had it, without understanding too much about it. Rest up lovely!

    Sharon xx

    • Oh my gosh – the more I have spoken about it the more awesome women who have agreed. Phewph… we aren’t the only ones!

      It’s all about your own journey isn’t it? xxx

  • I’m so glad you’re back! I was just thinking of you the other day…. I’m in the process of transitioning away from the career I trained 6 years full time for toward a social enterprise that I think will help me live more authentically – which, at least in part, was inspired by you! Love your writing and you always seem to deliver the wisdom I need with impeccable timing. I’ve been pushing myself through and holding it together a very long time but seeing many of the symptoms you talk about I think I’ll be booking my family a holiday very VERY soon. xxx

    • That’s so beautiful Amanda – thank you! Really made my day.

      And that is AH-MAZING that you are taking steps to living a life on your terms. That’s awesome!

      And book that holiday lady! x

  • Thankyou so much. This is perfect timing because I am 6-8 weeks into a ‘breakdown’ after leaving a job of 10+ years that I was very unhappy in. My mind is filled with shoulds and have-to’s and musts. I feel I am wasting time, letting myself and others down, and being selfish and lazy. This is a new way I can think of things and maybe with some more time and kindness to myself, I too can heal and pursue my ideas, be creative and start the business I have dreamed of for years. Thanks and best of luck. 🙂

    • That’s amazing Abby! Well done. It’s the hardest part when you first sort of sink into it. And sometimes it feels like it gets a little worse before it gets better, but that’s just proof that things are changing.

      I don’t think anything bad can come from following your passions and living with your heart! xxx

  • Thank you for your wonderful words especially – “When you think about it, trust is your only option.” I love that! It means a lot to me – thanks again, Em. Keep up the great work!

  • Emily,

    I just came across your website tonight. I love everything I’ve read so far. Quick question. Do you offer any coaching via email or Skype on life/wellness issues?

    Angie