In late February of this year, I had a breakdown of sorts – my body and mind were not okay, and they let me know it. I was forced to make some changes and they’ve had such a positive impact that people are now asking me to share what worked. So here’s the story of how my breakdown became my breakthrough.
It started with the realization that my daily crying spells were not just because of my marital separation, or losing my animal friends to illness, or pandemic burnout. I was crying because my brain got so used to sending the message that I was in pain that it started sending that message on its own, out of habit (here’s a link
to a brief article about depression as a habit, and there are lots more on that subject).
Then, the nerves in my neck and shoulders flared up so much that I actually lost function in my arms, including the ability to type or lift even moderately heavy things with my hands. I was in rough shape, and I was scared that it was only going to get worse (and as many of you know, I’ve been through worse
and I don’t want to go back there).
For a while, I stayed in that fear, unable to come up with any ideas. I couldn’t afford to take time off work, and I wondered what good that would do anyway as the world continued its run towards chaos. I had to come up with a longer term plan to sustain myself.
Cue practice #6 from the creative process I describe in my guide, “Listen, Sense, Grow: 7 Practices to Create the Work You Desire”. Practice #6 is about being curious in conversation – listening for new ideas from others, and hearing your own words when someone asks you how you’re doing.
As I began to open up about my depressive state, other people did too – friends, neighbours, clients. A lot of us suffered in silence as the pandemic continued. Some brave souls shared about speaking to their doctors and getting better with the help of antidepressants. That gave me the motivation I needed to stop trying to “push through” and get the help I truly needed. The medication took the edge off the worst parts of my depression and I’m grateful for that outcome.
Then I heard myself telling someone that it feels “criminal” to take a break during the day, to not be productive in every moment. Criminal! I equated essential downtime, required for sound body and mind, to a punishable act. I hadn’t even been aware of this underlying belief that kept me constantly busy, burning myself out regardless of how exhausted I felt or how poor my memory became.
This insight led to more awareness, and soon I set about on the following:
- Ruthlessly paring down my schedule (cancelling things that truly weren’t a priority, postponing conversations by letting people know that I was temporarily overwhelmed)
- Prioritizing spaciousness in each and every day (no longer turning myself into a pretzel trying to make meetings work when other people’s schedules changed)
- Choosing purely fun social activities with no association to work at all (instead of combining networking with socializing)
Amazingly, my business hasn’t suffered at all. In fact, I have more and better ideas than ever. My nerve issue cleared up, and I’m making healthier choices for my body. I’m learning to crochet, and play pickleball! I adopted a cat and am hosting more guests in my home. And, I continue to notice my feelings of productivity-related guilt from a place of curious observation rather than reaction.
From breaking down in what felt like the longest winter of my life, I am breaking through to new possibilities, supported by my creative process and the 7 practices that help me navigate uncertainty and gain clarity in the moment.
For your own reflection:
1. What stands out to you from recent conversations you’ve had? What did someone say that still lingers in your mind?
2. What are you hearing yourself saying (or thinking to yourself)? What beliefs are operating in the background, shaping your experience and choices? Which of those beliefs needs reconsideration?