In a four-part series, Georgie Bradley chronicles her experience of burnout, from depression to disordered eating to taking a sabbatical. Read the first part, here.
I don’t know if you know what it feels like to be trapped in your own body – like you’re in a full-length iron clamp, gasping for an atom of air and your mind is trying to sync with your mouth but all operations have ground to a halt. Like you’re having a stroke.
I looked like a screensaver: the lights were on but nobody was home.
Sat across my friend in a café in The Dubai Mall one afternoon, I looked like a screensaver: the lights were on but nobody was home. Then, when we got up, my motor facilities somehow put one foot in front of the other for me, but I had evaporated with only a small quantum of my being left.
What I am describing are symptoms of depression as a by-product of burnout – an issue that has splintered me and many others. It took years, but eventually these symptoms depleted my once-amazing reserves of energy.
I’ve been in the media industry for seven years. Not a lifetime, sure, but more than enough time to flatten out a person with an unruly rolling pin. What started off with youthful zeal in my early twenties – being the rapid-fire “yes” girl, steadfastly blurring weekdays and weekends, bearing the lack of desk and bed separation with cheery commitment – turned into a sinister spiral of bottomless output at the behest of merciless management. Working all the time and always being “on”, especially in digital, became a fully-formed habit.
I was drinking work from a firehose and wearing exhaustion as a badge of honor.
There is an inverse correlation between productivity and meaningfulness. When one goes up, the other goes down: the more you’re forced to pummel out quantity, the less value your work holds – especially in the face of implacable deadlines.
I was drinking work from a firehose and wearing exhaustion as a badge of honor. And yet, at the same time, despite a litany of to-do tasks, I became stupefied to brain-dead boredom, because I couldn’t connect with the work anymore.
It eventually turned me inside out. As with any office-based job, it’s not physical work, but that mental pain becomes physical. My muscles ached like they had gone through a shattering session of F45 Training.
I’m the kind of person who likes to speak in expansive, generous paragraphs, but burnout forced my cognitive functions to default on me. When my mum flew in to help – in whichever way she could – she asked me one day, “How was work, today?” I started to describe something that had happened but was truncated mid-sentence by a vocabulary as arid as Antarctica. For a person whose livelihood rests on the ability to draw from a vast word bank, this was a death sentence for me.
When I began to tell people I was suffering from situational depression – a strand of depression couched in circumstantial factors rather than innate tendencies as confirmed by my therapist – they’d make florid gestures of helplessness with their hands. “OMG! I would have never known,” they’d say. Depression isn’t presented in the way people think. It’s not the head clutch. It’s not always the silent treatment. Mine played out in a fast-paced environment. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t qualify to have it along with other debilitating symptoms.
Follow Georgie’s journey on Instagram, here.