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The Invitation of Burnout Pt. 1
Learning to listen to intuition & other lessons from my younger self
My intuition saved me.
The simple 9-letters feels so hard-fought for from being so disconnected from myself that to be able to soften now is such a gift. It’s like the feeling of crawling into a cozy bed after a long day - the reprieve is a cocoon. The story of how I developed my intuition requires a rewind in time to my university self, in my undergraduate degree, living in an enclosed dining room of reformed army barracks.
By the time I got home from my 4 classes, worked at one of my 3 jobs and volunteered at one of 2 organizations, I would collapse on the couch. I wasn’t able to move. I was stuck and no amount of will would move my limbs from where they had found their rest. Limping hunchbacked from the couch, I could make it to my bedroom by grasping along the edges of the wall only to collapse again - this time on the futon I salvaged from an alley. Since the bathroom was upstairs, I would avoid drinking water because I couldn’t make it up the stairs. I was ravaged with digestive issues so despite my best efforts, I would have make my way by crawling up the stairs. I was 19 years old.
This was normal though, wasn’t it? Wasn’t everyone this tired? Wasn’t it *this hard for most people?
I went to my doctor to get tested for a viral infection - it was the only thing that could explain the digestive issues and my joints seizing. Bless universal health care. My doctor did all the tests and delivered the news - it was my cortisol levels that were through the roof. My symptoms were from stress. I had to stop doing so much. I was dumbfounded - “I couldn’t” kept rattling through my mind. I couldn’t slow down, I couldn’t do less. I was in university, trying to build up my resume and living independently meant I had to work my 3 jobs to pay the rent. Wasn’t everyone this stressed?
The problem wasn’t only that I was a workaholic (though I was) - the problem was that my body was footing the bill. My workaholism was fuelled by people-pleasing, echoed in my upbringing in the church (selfless service, you know?) so just the idea of slowing down spiraled me into a shame vortex. My body was paying the cost of pleasing everyone but myself and it was a big bill.
Burnout was my invitation into healing and in many ways, I didn’t have a choice. My body didn’t give me a choice. I had been ignoring my body’s whispers for so long that my body had to get my attention. My body got my attention through pain, digestive issues, insomnia. I had to relent. It didn’t feel like an invitation at the time, but it was - my body was asking for love in the only way she knew how.
What I love about life, and my body as a microcosm of life itself, is how generous those invitations are. At 19 years old, this wasn’t the first invitation from my body I had received. At 16, I was slumped against the wall at work. After making everyone else smile, I was empty. At 18, I was driving through a panic attack in the middle of the night because I didn’t know what else to do. I would keep receiving these invitations to show up for myself until I said YES. I learned through this experience that my body respects my boundaries more than I did.