In Part 1 of my Blogger Burnout story I shared about how my 5+ year blogging career was run into the ground. In this post, Part 2, I’m going share with you what took place after burning out. I’ll share the journey of my blogger burnout recovery and how rebuilding a life meant destroying it a little more first.
The Wakeup Call
My solo travel through Europe helped many of my mental and personality issues rise to the surface. It’s almost unexplainable with words just how intense these realisations were and how impossible it was to bury them back inside me once I had seen them. All of my insecurities and my willfulness revealed themselves to be the massive stone shackled to my feet, holding me back from everything I knew deep down I could achieve. To me, this was the textbook definition of “self discovery”.
Before I got on the plane to return to Melbourne I became cemented in my belief that changes had to be made. I needed to give myself a real shot at living life, not just surviving life. Suicidal thoughts have always been present in my life, no matter how good things were I’ve always considered suicide a realistic option. However, after this experience of self discovery I made a deal with myself – I would hand my will and my life over to medical professionals, psychologists and any one or anything else that says they can help me, and if I don’t see an improvement in my life after 12 months, I give myself permission to end my life. One of the strongest reasons I had for not ending my life previously was that I had hope – hope for a life I knew was possible, but this deal would mean that I would pursue that hope in every way possible so that I could know that at the very end of it I did all I could to turn things around.
The sad reality of this decision was that I knew deep down I was going to have to put a fair amount of my career pursuits on hold while I work on my personal issues. The Plastic Diaries would have to be neglected a little longer in hopes that I could fix myself enough to come back as a better version of myself.
I started with talking to my GP and admitting to him the full extent of my physical and mental health decline. I had always sugar coated it for him and anyone else in my life. I only ever told half the story because I didn’t want to be perceived or judged in a way I couldn’t control. I didn’t want to bother people with my problems or be an inconvenience, even to the people I was paying to help me!
Physically there were issues with pain, muscle weakness and fluctuating weight. We decided to start with a big problem I had been putting off since I was a child – my feet. What started as slight bunions as a child had morphed into an extremely painful deformity. I bit the bullet and went to a consult with an Orthopaedic surgeon. I was informed of the urgency to have both feet undergo a Bilateral Forefoot Reconstruction (aka Bunion Surgery).Mentally I had a bagful of issues to unravel and there was no clear starting point. My GP referred me to a new psychologist, and boy did I get lucky. I’ve seen psychologists for years but never found one I felt truly “got me” or changed anything for me. This one was different. I felt safe with her and eventually I admitted the full extent of my self-medicating habits. We did great work for a few months and there was clear improvements in my self-esteem, my motivation and relationships with my family. Eventually she helped me realise that so long as I was on this high-dose cocktail of medications I wouldn’t be able to really work on my issues to the extent that I could if I was sober and clear-minded. Together we decided I would need to enter a detox program to remove all non-essential medication from my system – prescription and otherwise.
Considering all this ‘bad news’ I decided to get it all over with at once. I scheduled the surgery and put my name down on a waitlist for a private psychiatric hospital to undergo detox. I was unable to walk for 2 weeks, limited weight bearing for 4 more weeks and then slowly started walking again at 6 weeks. I finally got my bed in the hospital at around 4weeks post-op so I was going to be coming off a lot of meds while recovering from an invasive surgery. Long story short, it wasn’t fun.The detox allowed me to safely reduce and cease some of the medications while still being in a safe environment with medical professionals and mental health support. My meals were taken care of, I didn’t have to look after anyone else, all I had to do was get dressed and attend therapy sessions. I was initially booked in for 2 weeks but it took me longer than we anticipated. After 3 weeks we had managed to get me down from 3 daily, high-dosage medications and excess pain killers down to just my regular dose of antidepressants. I also detoxed my system of alcohol, marijuana and nicotine – all three had grown to something I was using regularly to aid in my life coping skills.
When I went in to the detox I knew I was using substances as a way of coping with physical and mental pain, and I was doing it in excess so it equated to abuse. I did not, however, go in there thinking I had a “real” substance abuse problem or a drug addiction. Through the various therapy sessions I was introduced to group therapy and 12 step programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous). It was during listening to other people speak that I heard my story reflected back at me, from all kinds of different people. Young, old, different ethnicities, different socio-economic status, etc. It became clearer to me that if I were going to do as I promised myself, and really give myself the best chance at improving my life, I was going to have to try something new. I became open to the idea of living drug and alcohol free.
I went along to my first 12-step meeting nearly 30 days after entering the detox. I didn’t feel like I belonged during the first meeting and I was put off by the idea of me never having a drink or a drug again. I don’t know about you but me, I love drugs and alcohol! I loved anything that had the ability to change my sense of being. Sadness, happiness, numbness – any emotion I had could be changed with a mind-altering substance. Why would I ever give that up?
A couple of weeks passed and I decided to give another meeting a try. This time I immediately felt a sense of belonging. It felt like everyone in that room was me in some form throughout my life. I listened to the people who shared similar stories to me, not so much about how or why they used drugs/alcohol but how they felt as a human. Then they went on to explain how dramatically their life had improved since removing drugs and alcohol from their lives. I hated the idea of it but I decided that I was going to try it. It’s not like drugs or alcohol were going anywhere. If I didn’t see any changes I could always go back to them.
I promised to myself that I would go 3 months without a drink or a drug. Barely a few weeks had passed before I warmed to the idea of formally working “the steps” in the 12-step program. My belief that I was/wasn’t an addict chopped and changed constantly for the entire 3 months but I told myself that I was going to try anything and everything to improve my life, and I couldn’t deny that the things I was learning by listening to other peoples stories were helping me to navigate my own life.
Shortly before my 3 months lapsed I got a sponsor and started working the steps. I was told that if I wanted to see real change I was going to have to dedicate my all to doing everything that is suggested – that may include reducing or not returning to work, severing relationships and changing a lot of habits. I didn’t like the idea of delaying my return to The Plastic Diaries but I understood what I had been told. I made that commitment to put all my energy into healing, whatever that took. I then moved my goal to 6 months of sobriety, and in that time I was all but convinced I was an addict. Shortly before that time had concluded I moved the goal post to 12 months, and over that time I chopped and changed again about whether I was an addict. When my 12 month sobriety anniversary came around on Jan 30, 2017 I couldn’t deny how much had changed within me.
Abstaining from substances wasn’t the thing that changed my life so far, but by doing so I was able to work on myself with a clear head and heart. During those 12 months I attended group therapy 2-3 times per week, 5+ 12-step meetings each week, saw a psychologist fortnightly, saw a psychiatrist bi-monthly and was doing the 12-step work. I essentially stopped living much of a life outside of my therapies. I had to put a hold on all my plans, dreams and goals so that I didn’t miss therapy sessions or 12-step meetings. I had to push through feelings when all I wanted to do was hide from them.
I can’t put into words how much I had learnt about myself by doing all of that, but a clear indication is that everything I wrote in Part 1 I didn’t even know until I had been through all of the above.
I’ve only just scratched the surface on discovering what makes me tick, how & why I do things and what changes I need to make, but the small amount I have unearthed has already improved my life more than I could have thought when I started on this journey.
I now know those personality defects I need to watch out for – people pleasing, perfectionism, close-mindedness, willfulness, self-criticism, self-loathing, etc – and I can see how I was using them in my blogging work. I’ve been able to learn about my own assets and develop goals for both my personal and professional lives. I’ve learnt to say no to things I would normally say yes to. I’ve learnt to stand up for myself and what matters to me. I’ve learnt to make my health and wellbeing a far greater priority than it has ever been. Finally, I’ve learnt that my happiness is important and that I’m capable of having the life I want, whatever that may be, if I keep developing my self-education.
As a result of all these learnings I’ve even been able to reflect on the impact my blogger burnout had on my business, and consider where The Plastic Diaries may fit in my future. Want to find out what that is? Read Part 3: My Future.