It was a normal Wednesday for me: a 6.30am start to make sure I was in a cab doing the first call of the day by 7am followed by back-to-back meetings until well into the evening. And I am by no means one of these amazingly inspirational, successful and accomplished women. I'm not a CEO. I'm not the founder of some amazing start-up. I'm literally an average thirty something management consultant that is doing well for herself but is really nothing special. I am no one and everyone at the same time - just another exhausted female Londoner.
I was busy but I wasn't feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed - I was just living in this permanent state of adrenaline fuelled busy mad euphoria running around airports and meeting rooms whilst spinning a thousand plates and just about keeping my shit together. Until that day, November 2nd 2016...
It was mid-afternoon and I was alone in a meeting room in our central London office when I felt a dizzying, tingling, numbing sensation running down my face. I carried on with the conference call keeping half of my brain on the conversation while the other half was Googling what this weird feeling could be. I was thinking to myself: "whatever this is, I hope I can still fly to Canada next week - I won't keep my BA gold status otherwise. Oh and shit I'm meant to go to that HIIT class tonight. And what will happen to the wedding planner meeting next week? I'll have to reschedule". The tingle soon evolved into a facial 'droop' down the right side of my face and when I walked out of the meeting room my colleagues' expressions immediately alerted me to the fact that this was no joke and I needed to head to hospital.
I was triaged straight in with a suspected stroke but thankfully there was no hemorrhage or clotting in my brain. I went home and returned to work the following day determined to put the little episode behind me and oblivious to what was really happening inside my brain. As these weird attacks returned in the following days I was properly diagnosed with persistent hemiplegic migraines - likely brought on by the huge amounts of cortisol I had running through my system. It's just over five months to the day and I'm now having attacks daily with the facial paralysis now extended to weakness and loss of sensation down the entire right side of my body as well as sporadic memory and recall issues.
I singlehandedly poisoned my body and burnt my brain by doing too much both in and outside of work. And worst of all, deep down I think I loved it. I loved the buzz of being so busy, the high of saying yes to everything, the feeling of self-importance and the cherished pats on the head I would get in person or through my carefully curated social media presence.
And the sad truth is, like me, loads of you will be living cortisol-fuelled lives and edging closer and closer to burnout. We run too fast, too hard and we even forget what the hell we were running towards in the first place. But we just carry on running. And women tend to be even worse at this running nonsense. I was, unashamedly, one of these women. Constantly on a mission. When at work, which tended to be most of the time, always striving to do more, faster and better for clients, colleagues and bosses. Outside of work always desperately trying not to neglect loved ones and friends whilst keeping some modicum of a social life. And the gym, let's not forget the gym, because the pressure we feel to look good weighs heavy on our shoulders...
And then one day, just like that, your body (or like in my case your brain) packs up and you realise, that in this mad hamster wheel you constantly run around in, you took one tiny little thing for granted: your health. I did and the last few months (my face in particular!) haven't been pretty...
Back in January I embarked on a journey of de-cluttering the mind, reassessing priorities, eating clean, exercising for lean muscle building, meditating and taking a long hard look at myself to make sure this doesn't happen again as I attempt to resume 'normal life' later this year. I am still very much at the beginning of the journey and would love to share with you (here and on Instagram) what I have learned so far and where I am headed, in the hope that this is helpful for other women with superwoman syndrome out there.
Much love and cortisol,
Paula (Instagram: @_burnoutgirl)
Views are own