Life After Burnout/Depression

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

It’s been a while since I wrote here, at least since I’ve physically written a post and published it rather than composed pieces in my mind that never made it onto the screen. A few days ago, I walked through the small nature reserve that I spent a lot of time in when I was in the depths of my depression last year.

The reason I went back was that I’ve noticed some signals in my mind and in my life that reminded me of that dark time. And I felt the need and desire to go back to a place which I new would be nourishing to me.

As I was walking between the fields, breathing in the morning air, listening to the Spring song of the birds, I noticed the differences between then and now. I noticed how much I’ve learned from being depressed and anxious, how much I’m still learning every day, and how different my life looks now. Some of these differences are quite big, such as my professional activities, and some of these changes are so small they are only noticeable in certain moments.

At one of the lowest points in my depression, I asked my therapist, desperately, if people ever really got out of these things. I couldn’t imagine there being a way out, so I wanted to hear that it was at least possible. She told me ‘yes, they do, but usually not without making changes to their lives’.

And I’ve made many, many changes, so many changes. Here, I want to give short overview of what has made a difference for me, and what I continue to fall back on when I feel the darkness creeping out of its corners again.

Practical changes

As a teacher, I had a job that gave me a lot: I worked with wonderful people, got a lot of variety in my days, was appreciated, was able to put many of my skills to good use, contributed to society and, last but definitely not least: I had a steady, reliable income. What I didn’t have, however, was peace of mind. My life was incredibly stressful, trying to get things done on time (with undiagnosed ADHD playing a pretty big role) and juggling family life mostly on my own with a high-needs child. I survived, for as long as I could, stretching myself thinner and thinner with each passing year.

Deciding to quit my teaching job for a while, was one of the things that offered me instant relief. I owe a debt of gratitude to my doctor, psychiatrist and psychologist who prescribed this healing time, and to my partner who gave me a different perspective on the future that was about living instead of surviving.

Nowadays, I work less than I did back then, but most importantly, the work I do gives me very little stress. I still work with people, still feel I’m contributing to their well-being and I am good at what I do. My work allows me to provide and take care of my family, and of myself. There are still challenges, sure, but I can tackle them from a healthier position, and I can try and gauge how much I’m able to work without it affecting my health negatively.

Another practical change I’ve made is that I pay more attention to my environment, because the connection between the state of my living space and my mental health became so crystal clear. I need my space to be calm and peaceful so my mind can become calm and peaceful. This leads me to the following big change I notice…

Paying attention to the signals and knowing what to do…

Being depressed made me inredibly self-centered. When nothing in your life gives you any joy, or sparks any interest, all you’re really left with is your own observations, thoughts and feelings. There is only one way to escape those, and luckily that’s something I could never do to my children.

Being so involved with myself also gave me plenty of time to observe the dynamics of my own mind. It became very clear which thoughts, behaviours and states of being were signs of my mental health deteriorating. I’ve listed the most telling ones here:

  • anger, irritation and resentment
  • being unable to laugh or smile
  • chaos creeping into my house
  • escapism, into series, movies, books, my own imagination
  • being unable to ask for help
  • feeling exhausted, even after 10 hours of sleep
  • unhealthy eating habits
  • dropping self-care practices, i.e. exercising
  • feeling like I’m pretending to be happy when I’m around people
  • becoming more solitary, getting locked into my own mind
  • I stop praying/connecting to spirit

When I see a few of these pop up, I know it’s time to take action. There are a few things that have helped in the past, that I can fall back on: connecting to nature, painting/writing, resting as much as possible, cutting myself lots of slack in pretty much every area of my life, trying to look for joy and beauty in small moments, talking to someone about how I’m feeling.

How my believes have changed

The biggest impact healing from depression had on me is in the way I view myself, other people, life in general. Some of my believes got turned upside-down, others shifted less dramatically. Here are some examples:

  • I used to think not being able to control your feelings was a sign of weakness. I now see the emotions moving through me as a sign of being open and alive, rather than closed and cramped up.
  • I used to think asking for help meant I was being a burden to someone. I now know that it is my responsibility to ask for help if there’s something I can’t handle on my own, and that it’s perfectly fine not to be able to handle things on my own.
  • Being unable to maintain healthy equilibrium used to feel like being broken. Now, dealing with these issues on a regular basis shows me my own strength, and makes me better at what I do. Being in the mud allows me to join others in their mud.
  • Instead of making me tougher and harder, suffering has made me softer, gentler and with so much more empathy and understanding for others who are suffering. No one chooses to suffer, ever. Full stop.
  • That being said, I do choose to suffer at times, during therapy or other forms of processing, because I know that the only way past is through. It’s this pain now, to reduce pain in the future. This is not self-indulgent but incredibly brave. When clients come to my practice to face hard truths, and are willing to feel the (painful) feels that come with it, I have nothing but intense admiration for their courage.
  • My sensitivity is what makes me susceptible to mood swings and vulnerable to depression and other mental health issues. Yet, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s also the reason I still get moved by Harry Potter scenes I’ve heard 10 times, or why the smell of a flower is so intensely fulfilling. And it is essential to the work I do. It’s part of who I am.
  • I owe no one an explanation for what I feel, who I am or what I want out of life. I used to feel the need to justify all the aspects of myself I considered weird or unusual. I don’t anymore. I honestly don’t care if someone thinks I’m weird, at this point. What I worry about are my own values: am I being truthful? Am I being kind? Am I taking responsibility for my own feelings, actions and judgements?

I don’t presume to have done all the healing I need to do. But all the healing that has happened has made me more resilient. The paths are clearer, I know the way, and where I don’t, I have tools for how to find it. For myself, and for my clients.

Part of that way leads through beautiful places like the one in the pictures below:

Thank you for reading till the end if you got here, and I hope some of it has been somewhat useful to some of you.


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