August 26th, 2020

HOW I REBUILT MY LIFE AFTER BURNOUT

Gagan Singh opens up about his experiences with depression and healing.
Men's Health | Mental Health | In the Barber Chair
4 MIN READ
 

Did you know that we are all born with innate superhero powers? No, I am not talking about x-ray vision or having the ability to read minds. I’m talking about a 126-pound child being able to lift a car off their mother that weights 25x more than their body weight. Under high stress situations, we sapiens can trigger a hyper complex reaction of hormones and oxygen intake to give us the ability to fight in the face of danger or run like your life is depending on it. The fight-or-flight response.
 
In this over-achieving, no excuse, get shit done or you are canned corporate world, we can face a similar insurmountable amount of stress which can trigger this acute response. It’s a nice back up plan to have when we need it in trying times. However, many of us continue to live in these stressful environments. Constantly putting out fires, working 13+ hour days, weeks on end, and depriving ourselves of any decent sleep or diet. Pushing ourselves to and beyond our mental, physiological and biochemical limits.
 
I got greedy. For 13 months, I pushed myself until I burnt out. Then, here’s the kicker - I tried to push myself even harder to get through the burnout. I accomplished some legendary things but it came at a high cost. Unfortunately, I have spent the last 4 years trying to heal and recover from the abuse that I put upon myself.
 
I wasn’t me anymore. It’s a terrifying state to be in. Brain fog, massive dumps of energy where I would have to lie down, and constant headaches are all symptoms of burnout (AKA adrenal fatigue). Everything that you could do easily before, like carry a conversation, becomes an uphill and painful battle. You know what you’re capable of, but you can’t do any of it anymore. You end up inside yourself, living in a shell, and watching your mangled self trying to pathetically interface with the world.
 
I had to go to hell and back on a weekly basis. It has now been several years and I’ve come out the other side a more mature, self-aware and balanced person. The following are tips and learnings from my own personal experience with depression for anyone who is in a similar situation.
 
REST

  • Slow down. If you’re high functioning individual, you want to go, go and go. That caused me severe mental pain and pushed me towards depression.
  • Get professional help . Get familiar with depression. Understand that it’s ok to not be ok.
  • Be transparent with loved ones. Trying to keep face will burn through your already limited energy reserves. We all have an image of how we want to be seen in society, but this isn’t the time for it. Reach out to your close friends and family and share with them what you’re going through and reset their expectations.

 
RECOVER

  • Eat well. It’s a given. Our body doesn’t trust us at this point. Give it good fuel and energy to build that trust.
  • Sleep well. Repairing truly happens at night. Focus on going to bed the same time every day (including weekends) and don’t neglect your sleep hygiene.
  • Get Physically Active. Life has slowed down but that doesn’t mean to sit at home and binge watch Star Trek and Stranger Things simultaneously. You need to stay busy in other ways as there’s a lot of research that demonstrates the benefits of exercise for depression. Find a hobby that requires you to be active. I found relief in listening to podcasts, going on long walks where  I purposely get lost and disc golf (it’s a thing and it’s amazing).

 
REBUILD

  • Don’t add too much. When we start feeling better, we like to think that we are cured and then try to go back to our normal life – taking on more projects, setting up social events, etc. Be wary of this. Our health is cyclical. There will be ups  and downs. Understand that if you put added responsibilities on yourself, and then you start feeling worse, that extra added weight will keep you down. Don’t take on the world when you feel a little better. Your time will come.

 
It can be a long road so be prepared. The one saving grace that helped me in the darkest and toughest times was being religious. No, I’m not referring to God. I’m talking about having faith in yourself and your ability. If you lose hope, search deep inside yourself and find that belief that everything will be ok in the future.

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