Meet Gitta, a dynamic woman who enlightens the room when she comes in. She went through a burn-out a couple of years ago and it “changed”her life for the good. On April 1st she will leave the Netherlands to go on tour with a camper and discover the world. Where will she go, she does not know exactly, she will follow her vibe and her guts.
How extra-ordinary is it to follow your instinct, to fully live your life and don’t be lived and consumed by your routine. How admirable and inspiring to see people who dare to do that, people who are so free in their mind that they trust the future. Thank you Gitta for being such a good reminder that we only live once! We wish you a wonderful journey!
–Who are you?
I am Gitta Bartling, 43 years young and living in Haarlem. I was an independent (online) communications consultant, primarily working for corporates and bigger companies. I drove a new MINI cooper convertible, an average of two non-profit roles for Foundations and causes per year in my ‘free time’, a busy social life, two holidays per year, a mixed breed dog Saartje and (still) have a loving partner for 21 years now and a mortgage ;-). My working life has changed since the burn out (I’ve made some choices), so I would not consider myself an online comms consultant anymore, but I advise, organize, structure, support, create and communicate for people who want to make this world a better place. It’s about the connection and the energy I get from a job, the client and the dreams of the company, not about the (level or type of) work I do.
-When did you understand you had a burn-out?
I started to visit a personal coach in the summer of 2014, when my recurring unsatisfying feelings about my work did not go away.
I was tired of my projects and clients, and was dreaming about a career switch (like opening my own coffee bar). At the same time I convinced myself that I would be tired of that new job pretty soon as well and that would not be the answer to my restless feelings. I didn’t know what I wanted, needed or liked and felt frustrated about that.
A friend recommended a senior coach that would meet my standards and was firm enough to ‘handle’ me. After the first meeting we had, she carefully whispered the feared word for the first time: ‘you have all the symptoms of a burn out.’ But I kept denying that untill some meetings after that, it was just a matter of not knowing what I wanted, so I said it to her.
It was only after my last project, which I wisely decided to end and not accept a new one for some time ‘to take some space and time off’, that I noticed I was even more flammable than before and emotionally unstable. I felt tired, grumpy, sad, dismal and not happy, where I normally am a pretty positive and cheerful person. I felt ‘not my usual self’.
In a meeting with my coach in November, she asked the question again: ‘are you sure you don’t have a burn out? What are you afraid of if you DO have one?’.
My answer came right away again: ‘I have a stigma about a burn-out: when you do have one, you are sitting on the couch, crying all the time, not being able to move or do anything. I am not like that. I am physically able to move and want to as well, I do yoga, I can be happy – sometimes. But not as often as I used to be.’ But this time it was different. Immediately after saying this I started crying out loud and mumbled ‘I am just so tired and sad and I don’t want to feel that way.’ My coach leaned back, handed me a tissue and said nothing in response.
A few days later I rang my insurance company to call in sick with a burn out. I realized I was fighting against my own (pre)judice – I did not allow myself to feel what I felt and draw the conclusion I might have a burn out. I was denying myself.
-How did you explain to your entourage what you were going through?
That was hard. When you have a broken leg, an operation or something else physically noticeable, it makes it easier to explain that you are ill. But how do you explain what’s going on in your brain that makes you a slightly different person from the one they know? Or the one you have been showing to them?
I just simply said out loud: I have a burn-out. One of my characteristics is that I am open, direct and honest – telling it to people (pro-actively) was my way of protecting myself and trying to create a setting where friends and family were aware of what’s going on with me and with that, make room for myself to step down a bit, saying no without feeling the need to give a reason and withdraw myself from big crowds or other incentives that were too much for me at times. I made an e-mail for New Years wishes, which I sent to friends explaining what I went through. The responses were overwhelming lovingly and understanding, and from unexpected angles and people, which made me cry but felt so supportive at the same time.
I learned before that showing your vulnerability is not weakness, but great strength – and this was the first try-out for that, and it turned out pretty well for me.
My husband was very supportive from the beginning and all the way through the end. But he did not really understand it. He tried, really; supported me by not expecting anything of me or pushing me, financially covering for me and trying to be as much understanding and patient as I was asking for. But I could feel that he let me do my own thing, deciding it was MY process and he could not help me with that in any other way then being supportive. Which, I now understand, was actually all he could do. Because when you don’t have the experience of feeling a burn out, you cannot even imagine what it feels like. And even if you do, it’s different for everyone. I was physically capable of doing everything although I felt tired; a friend who had a burn out as well was not even capable of getting herself out of bed.
I sometimes felt misunderstood, not heard – I must have been not-so-nice company or even a pain in the ass sometimes.
-What helped you to recover?
Taking time for me, myself and I. Do what I wanted to do – or not doing what I didn’t want to do. Clearing out my calendar and with every appointment I made anyway, say that if I wouldn’t feel OK, I would cancel it and with that giving myself permission to do so. I read some self-help books, went to my coach every 3-4 weeks, did yoga, walked the dog, wrote in my diary. Learning to FEEL what I need, instead if THINK what I want or need. Did mostly nothing. I can’t even recall what I did – it’s mostly what I started NOT doing. I was very busy with myself and my process. Doing nothing and allowing myself not to.
I talked to many people about my process and made it almost my mission to open up the discussion about burn outs, which seemed to be a bit of a taboo. Maybe because people don’t know how to handle people with a burn out, but also having all kind of prejudices on people who have or had one. I was the big example myself, by having a stigma about burnout and did not give into it for a long time before ‘admitting’ it. I think discussing openly about burn outs is necessary to create more awareness and prevent it, and even the path for people coming back from a burn out.
-How do you feel now?
More balanced, or relaxed, and wiser. I am still the same person, but less ‘on the edge’. I could be overwhelming, present, enthusiastic and energetic – and I still can be. But now I am aware of it and can judge when I am TOO overwhelming and make a better decision if I want to calm myself down a bit or not. Now it’s more a choice, than something that just happens to me. I am able to recognize patterns and laughing about myself, instead of being strict. I allow myself.
When people ask me ‘wow that must have been tough’, I often respond: I would recommend a burn out to every one. Yes it’s hard, but oh what you learn about yourself in this period in your life. It’s so precious, and maybe even life-changing. It makes you stronger to deal with your life.
I make choices now from a broader perspective. Not only my mind is talking, or better: my brain, but my gut and emotions are also a big discussion partner. My choices now are made by mind and by heart.
The book ‘Ik ken mijn ikken’ was a very helpful and easy accessible book for me about Voice Dialogue; all the voices in your head, their functions and how to treat them. It helped me accepting and using my internal dialogues in the right way.
I am however still a bit unsure and uncertain about my capabilities. After being out of my old job and full-time (plus) working process for three years, my self-esteem about my old ‘talents’ and knowledge is limited. I don’t fully trust myself yet, in ways of energy-, stress- and time-management and actual knowledge and experience. I get excited or stressed easier than I used to and notice that it’s harder for me to learn things. Also keeping focus is still a challenge.
I read somewhere that a burn out really fucks up your brain. It’s damaged, for good, and cannot be healed completely. It was quite a shock for me actually, but gradually I am accepting this. I guess my age comes in handy here as well: after a certain age you become more mellow, slow and weighed anyway ;-). The burn out just quickened this I suppose.
-What did you learn from yourself thanks to your burn-out?
You can still be your shining fast self, but with anticipation and better brakes it’s relaxter to drive. People even maybe want to sit in your car more often because they feel more comfortable.
Dare to ask. Oh my. I never asked for anything, my motto was ‘wanna do it myself’ or ‘have to do it myself, because I look smarter/don’t have to wait for someone/don’t have to spend time explaining someone/I feel ashamed/have to know everything’. But life gets so much easier -and deepens connections- when you ask for help or advise. People are very eager to help where they can, give them the opportunity to do so by asking for it. At the same time it gives you a feeling that you are not alone, struggling maybe. Help is around the corner if only you dare to ask. Reading tip: The Art of Asking, from Amanda Palmer. Here’s a TED talk if you’re more into audiovisual https://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking. Watch it through to the very end.
Also: listen to yourself. Not only your body (because sometimes that’s too late) but also to your feelings and deeper emotions. Take a breath before answering and feel if it gives you what you need at that moment, or if you have enough energy to do it (or are willing to spend it on).
Protect your boundaries like a hawk. Nobody else is doing it for you.
Speak out, and manage expectations. Don’t be rude, just stick to your own feelings and thoughts. When answering or responding. keep things personal by saying ‘I don’t have the energy right now for this’ or ‘I have to protect myself by saying no. It’s too much/not the right vibe I need or can handle now/I’m feeling …’ People can never say something about you taking care of yourself. They might THINK or have an opinion about you being over-sensitive, but hey, everyone is different and had different needs and boundaries. And everyone understands that the only one that takes best care of you, is you.
I already was a pro-seize-the-day-person, but now I am so much more living in the here and now. Or at least I try to be more. I am aware that what matters most today, most of the time really DOES matter today. And tomorrow is a different day.
I was afraid of feeling negative, depressed, not so happy, not cheerful. I wanted everyday to be a nice day. Now I know that this is not possible. Every day is different, you feel different, you need different things. It’s also very useful to have an off-day. It’s fine to feel like if you want to cry all day. If that’s how you feel, you most likely need it desperately. Accept it, and as far as you can, allow it and surrender to it. You’ll surprisingly quickly feel better after you did surrender. It has its use to have those feelings, you always learn something from it and when you totally accept it, it doesn’t stick for too long. The sun always comes out bright(er) afterwards, and often sooner than you think!
-Do you have tips for people who are dealing with it now?
See above. And:
- People love you for who you are, not for what you do. Some people may leave your (inner) circle when you are not the party animal or hard-working colleague you used to be, but hey: that was the wrong reason why they befriended you in the first place after all. Real friends see the real you, before and after and they liked all that about you and will stay. A burn out can be clearing out your circle of friends, but after you’ll find that the real ones stay (and some new, deep friendships might even be added!).