Last year I bit off more than I could chew with travel. I said yes to too much. In fact, I said yes to almost everything, because isn’t that what we are told we are supposed to be like?
If I had a few days break in my calendar, I’d take on more work. If I had a few weeks, I’d book a trip somewhere. In 2017 I took almost 100 flights around the world. Sometimes I would literally go to a different country, do a job, fly back to New Zealand, come home for a day, and then fly off again somewhere else. It doesn’t take a genius to say that’s not exactly a sustainable lifestyle, and here I am eight years into this blogging thing acting like it’s year one.
We live in a world that idolizes being busy, that you can always being doing more, and I fucking can’t stand it. I’m over it. I want time for myself again.
Is that so selfish?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful for this world I’ve built for myself as a professional travel blogger, but I finally realized a few months ago that I couldn’t keep up with my own life.
My situation had become unbalanced. Travel didn’t excite me anymore. Stress was my constant companion. The pressure to be successful, to be creative all the time, and stay ahead of the game had been eating me alive.
Without even being aware of it, I quickly was slipping into deep unhappiness, along with some very unhealthy routines. By the end of September, I was just really unpleasant to be around. The littlest things would set me off, I’d get really nervous about normal things like flights or meetings, and I’d freak out over stuff that didn’t matter. Change upset me.
I was becoming bitter and negative. And just plain grumpy. Instead of responding to with excitement to things, I would only see the downsides. I used to always hate people who would react negatively to things or focusing on what could go wrong, and I had gone and become one of them!
A routine trip in October sent me spiraling rapidly towards a total breakdown, something I didn’t realize at the time. And then I stopped sleeping. Like I went 3 and half weeks with no sleep. Yes, it’s possible and yes, it’s literally the worst thing ever.
I’ll preface this by saying I’ve always been a really shitty sleeper. I am not quite sure how I got that way, but I imagine my crazy lifestyle of sleeping in different beds all the time, constantly changing timezones, with crazy work hours and an insane caffeine addiction thrown in for good measure over several years might have had something to do with it. I could fall asleep straight away but would wake up after a few hours and never get back to sleep.
On my travels it was getting harder and harder to get up in the morning. Until that point, I literally couldn’t remember the last time I slept a whole night straight without waking up. Unless I was heavily drugged.
About mid-way through last year I started to see different doctors about my sleep issues, usually resulting in being subscribed some kind of strong sleeping pill that I would invariably quickly become addicted to and would knock me out so hard that I would be sluggish for days afterwards, not even being able to drive.
I tried everything, from lavender baths, lavender sprays, melatonin, herbal shit, tons of exercise, yoga, massage, vitamins, less coffee, among many others.
Then I started working on a sleep routine, going to bed at the same time every night, stopping looking at screens hours before bed, finally making up my bed every day (seriously, who has time for that?), changing my diet, cutting out bad stuff like sugar and eating better, having several hours of dedicated “winding down” time before bed. If I woke up, I’d get up, read for a while in the other room, and then try to start the “going to bed” process over again.
Did it work? Nope.
Then I went from sleeping badly to not sleeping at all.
I don’t need to tell you guys that getting no sleep over long periods of time is just terrible. And even when I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, I STILL couldn’t sleep. It was the worst.
It didn’t take long for me to go slip towards the unhinged and have a bit of a breakdown. And no, not like a Britney-style-shave-my-head-in-public kind of breakdown, mine was far less exciting and boring in comparison. I was deep in a some burnouts.
The lack of sleep caused me so much stress that I couldn’t even brush my hair because my scalp and skin hurt so much from tension, and I would get multiple migraines a week that only remedial physio and massage could alleviate. My body physically was in pain constantly from the stress of everything. Somedays I wouldn’t be able to move my head and I’d lose feeling in my feet or hands and my stomach constantly hurt.
Day in and out, I almost stopped being able to function, slipping into a zombie-like state for most of the day. I would have panic attacks and feel like I was going to faint; I’d cry uncontrollably at night after hours of trying to get to sleep unsuccessfully shifting between being hot and cold. I’d even start to drift to sleep and jerk awake frozen in a panic convinced someone was in my house to kill me. I wouldn’t be able to nap during the day but couldn’t get my eyes to focus on anything or even read. I snapped at everyone and was a huge bitch. I’d pick fights with my best friends for no reason.
Who was this person I had become?
After weeks and weeks of trying to convince myself that tonight would be the night I’d get some sleep and then failing, I finally found a different doctor who I connected with and who was interested in actually finding the cause of my insomnia. She was great, quickly diagnosing me with severe anxiety, among other goodies. My sleep was also being impacted my a shoulder injury from earlier last year along with some delightful nose problems I’ve been ignoring since college, a perfect cocktail for insomnia and sleep apnea.
But until she uttered the word “anxiety” it hadn’t even occurred to me that this might be an issue with me.
I was a really problematic kid and was forced into a lot of therapy that I hated as a preteen, and since I’ve grown up, I’ve really worked hard and prided myself on just generally keeping my shit together and being in charge. I’ve had ups and downs over the years like everyone. To spiral like this was really new for me and after failing to pull myself together, I realized I did, in fact, need some help.
I polled in on Instagram Stories to see who else had sleep problems, and thousands of you guys replied with the results being an even fifty – fifty. Obviously it goes without saying that I hate all of you who sleep all night long anywhere without any issue. WHAT’S IT LIKE?! But also it was some weird kind of solace to know that I am not alone in this, that a lot of us are in the same boat.
Not to mention a surprising number of you replied telling me to smoke weed. I feel like we are closer, and I know you all better than ever haha.
Forgoing heavy duty sleeping pills for anxiety meds, I’ve been working hard to get my sleep issues back under control. Whether my anxiety caused my insomnia or vice-versa, or a bit of both, who knows.
I’m not a psychiatrist or anything but I do know myself better than anyone else, and I think if anything last year taught me that I had very easily let myself be overwhelmed with stress and become unbalanced with my work and blogging. Obviously, not a good place to be, and not a place I wanted to be in ever again.
I didn’t quit my job to blog and travel full time to hate it or be unhappy. I suppose in some ways subconsciously I was feeling like I need to say yes to all the trips and events, worried that one day things might be different or feeling a need to feel grateful for this life all the time. Like I had to take advantage while I could or something. But the reality was that I was doing too much.
I was burnt out on my own dreams.
I couldn’t sustain the life I had been living, it was too intense with too much stress for one person to manage. I was overwhelmed. I needed to find time for myself again, time away from computers, work, photography and even traveling, in a way.
I needed to find some balance in my life again.
The scales had become to far tipped in one direction, only focusing on work and success, while personal happiness, and the little things we do for ourselves, even my friends and family, had taken a back-burner in importance. Not cool, Liz.
I never put a hold on or checked my stress, rather just telling myself, yup, you can do this, taking on more and more and more, never stopping, never breathing. By the time I stopped sleeping, I felt like I was drowning. While I could pull myself together publicly when I needed to, it was getting harder and harder.
In some ways I often wonder if my very profound insomnia was my body screaming at me to pay attention and get my shit together. Along with seeing sleep specialists (who, to be honest, I’m still really cynical about) and being on anxiety meds, I’ve also have been focusing my energy on establishing routine and balance back into my life.
I used to never have proper work/life boundaries; I basically never stopped working, ever.
Now I wake up, put on a podcast, and spend half an hour or so making coffee, waking up, sitting outside, ect before beginning my day. I stop working at normal hours, like 5 or 6 in the afternoon, making time to meet up with friends, go for long runs or hikes, swim in the lake, and have a few hours decompressing before bed. No more working til 2am.
I bought Netflix for the first time, and I’ll start watching TV or episodes, something I literally never did before. It sounds stupid to write this all down but for me, I needed to establish a normal routine again. I get facials and manicures just for the hell of it, and reminder to look after myself and a little pampering makes you feel good.
I’ve also been making some big changes on the blog that you might not have noticed yet. I’m still figuring it all out but I’ve finally accepted that I can’t keep doing everything myself, and to be honest, I don’t want to. I’m exhausted in more ways than one.
I’ve been working on building a team of my badass women friends to help me run the blog moving forward and to take some of the weight off my back, in all sorts of ways, for helping with partnerships to boring admin tasks, to taking on expert guest writers in areas that I really want more content on. I’m even going to cut back on how much travel I do moving forward, focusing on only a few major trips that excite me, in the hopes of freeing up more time for me to work on more creative ventures, charities here, and on projects on here that I really want to do that I just haven’t had time for. Oh, and finish my first book!
Oh, and I also want FREE TIME TO DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! There, I admit it – I’m shouting it for the world to hear. I want time all to myself to just be lazy and not be busy with stuff. To think about things again and also think about sweet fuck all.
It’s like Liz 2.0.
It’s been a hard lesson to learn but I’ve realized rather painfully that I’ve got to look after myself first and foremost, and being constantly busy isn’t good for you, no matter what people say.
It’s been a few months now since everything crashed for me, and I really struggled with publicly admitting my anxiety on here for the first time, feeling like its a real weakness or afraid of being judged. I know that other people are probably in the same boat, especially women, and I know there are a lot of people out there dealing with far worse shit than my anxieties, another reason I’ve held back from sharing this.
But I can’t be the only one that feels there’s a real stigma still around mental health these days, and admitting something like crippling anxiety feels like somehow I wasn’t strong anymore or even worse, that I was a failure. But really, what’s so wrong with NOT being able to do it all?
Perhaps one of the most important things I’ve changed is working on just being a little bit nicer to myself. Instead of focusing on what I could be doing better, focusing on staying positive and being proud of what I’ve already done. I think we could all do with a little more kindness, don’t you?
The road uphill hasn’t been easy, and I’ve slipped off the bandwagon more than once, like having a week of no sleep a few weeks in to the occasional midnight Dominos pizza and wine binge (I mean seriously, there are only so many green smoothies a girl can fucking take). And while my sleep schedule isn’t perfect, it’s definitely a very big step up from where it was a few months ago.
But it’s only really in the past few weeks I’ve noticed that my personality is getting back to normal, where something that used to stress me out doesn’t even bother me anymore, and I that I’m back to being much more relaxed and laid back, and that I’m happier. I’ve just come home from a month traveling again and didn’t fly off the rails. Not to mention I’ve had more than one random acquaintance even say to me that I’m shiny and glowing once again, whatever the hell that means. Disclosure – I’m NOT pregnant.
So what’s the point with all my rambling here? I dunno actually. I suppose to just share with all that life is messy and complicated, and don’t be afraid to not be busy and ask for help when you really need it. I’d like to think there’s strength in admitting your problems in an effort to become stronger down the road.
And I’m really looking forward to being really inspired again!
What do you think? Share below!
113 Comments on “Burnouts, breakdowns and that pesky work/life balance”
Wow, that sounds absolutely horrible. I can’t imagine not being able to sleep at all for weeks on end, and then all the other stuff that came with it too! So glad you’ve got some things figured out and you’re on your way back to yourself. And kudos to you for talking about it publicly, I know that can’t be easy.
Oh, and if you want something awesome and completely ridiculous to watch on Netflix, try Jane the Virgin. I’m totally addicted. 🙂
I’m gonna check it out thanks!
Thank you for sharing something so personal with so many people. It takes courage, so I wanted to applaud you. A big hugs to you!
Great piece Liz, thank you so much! I know it will inspire and help many people.
I had what I thought was the burnout from hell when I was doing a crazy long-hours health service job. And it was partly that, but it also proved to be the result of a tick-borne disease I got hiking the US. If your symptoms persist, maybe get think about getting testing for borrelia and its coinfections – you’ve been in some pretty far-flung places. There are some pieces about it on our YouTube channel, Life The Basic Manual.
Hope everything smooths out soon. Sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job on regaining some work/life balance. As they say, I know balance when I swing past it….
lots of love xxxx
Cheers, it’s so hectic! I have had issues with travel illnesses in the past might look into that!
I just wanted to thank you for this post. You’re truly courageous for writing about your anxiety so publicly, and I’m so grateful that you are furthering the conversation on mental health. You’re always inspiration, please keep it up.