Crash and Burn: Lessons in Boundaries and Balance
This Mercury Retrograde has been an absolute b*&^h for me. Actually, the last few months have. But the major wake up call came this week when I found myself struggling with anxiety, exhaustion and a sense of gloom and doom that I was trapped.
You have no idea how difficult that was for me to write.
Here I am supposed to be this person who everyone comes to for advice, for healing and for help with anxiety, exhaustion and getting out of their own way. So how the hell am I supposed to be able to help you if I can’t help myself? Was I some sort of hypocrite to be working to help people with something that I suddenly needed help with? I was. But not for the reasons I thought.
My hypocrisy has nothing to do with my ability to cope––even more so because if I didn’t know how to “cope” and have the tools to do so, I would have had a psychotic break 2 years ago. My hypocrisy lied in the fact that I spend countless hours with all of my clients helping them create balance and boundaries in their life, and while spending so much time focusing on them, I lost track of myself.
Running a business is a lot of work in itself––no matter what type of business you have. There’s marketing, bookkeeping, space maintenance, client contact; the list is never ending. I handle all of that for little ol Journeys, but I also exert the physical energy of scheduling clients, meeting with them, working with them; along with the emotional/mental energy that comes with therapy and healing. Then there’s designing curriculum and teaching that curriculum. That’s all just for Journeys. I also work at Yale School of Medicine, working on studies to develop treatment for mental illness that incorporates both traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapies with the work I do working with energy, mindfulness and spirituality–– all on top of being in school full time to finish up my LPC with countless papers due on a weekly basis. I think it goes without saying that that’s a lot of sh*t to balance.
Don’t get me wrong, I did that all to myself. I didn’t have to take extra classes. I didn’t have to sign up to work at Yale. I don’t have to own my own business. So I’m not complaining whatsoever. I actually love every single thing that I do and I wouldn’t want to change it, nor do I regret it. However this tornado surrounding me whilst incessantly juggling can only go on for so long without dropping all of the plates.
And that is what I started to feel this week.
It started with falling asleep before 9 pm every night on the couch, like I was suddenly hit with some sort of sleeping spell; like every ounce of my energy just deflated from my body and left me lifeless until the next morning. Even then, after hours of sleep, I’d still feel exhausted. I noticed the area underneath my eyes began to look almost bruised. Is this 30?!
No. This is tired.
I went from being someone so very diligent, organized and on top of everything to forgetting to pencil certain appointments in, needing to reschedule this and that, canceling appointments I knew I needed for my own self, and ultimately feeling and acting very ungrounded.
I knew something had to change when I felt like I wanted to cry at every moment. As if all of this pent up stress of having to do this, and get that done, and write these 5 papers by Wednesday, was about to burst from my eyeballs. The pressure resting on my chest sent me into a tailspin of thoughts mimicking that of a hypochondriac. “Am I finally having a heart attack?”
Before I wrote this, I had to have a long, stern talking to with myself. I was originally coming from a place of hating to admit this––that I allowed myself to get to this point. But then I had to ask myself, “why?” Because that’s all ego talking. I hated it because I didn’t want to admit that I was the one thing I coach all of you on being––a f*&(ing human.
Many people have put me into this place in their mind as someone that just “has it all figured out.” That I “have it together and never have bad days.” And when you hear that so often, maybe I just started to actually believe it? No. Maybe I Just didn’t want to disappoint you that I, too, am only a human. One human. Who can only handle so much. And that that is OKAY.
We are allowed to have emotions. We are allowed to have days that didn’t go so well. We are allowed to feel overwhelmed. We are allowed to feel sad, angry, hurt, disappointed, just as we are allowed to feel happy. We are allowed to feel balanced. We are allowed to feel at ease.
I apologize for wanting to hide from you just how difficult these last few months have been for me. Because by doing that, I was denying myself something that I needed, that we all need to hear and recognize––permission to accept where we are at, being okay with having these emotions, rather than looking at an unhappy emotion as something bad or evil or that we have to run from.
IT’S OKAY TO BE OVERWHELMED!
But it’s also okay to do something about it.
I set this expectation for most of my clients that when you text me, call me or email me, that I’ll respond right away. Whatever you need, I’m here, I’m your girl!
But when you have 30 people texting you regularly asking for bits of advice here or there outside of their sessions, I go from working in sessions, to working outside of sessions, day or night, weekend or weekday, holidays or not.
This next part is very important. I don’t want you to stop texting me, calling me or emailing me. That is not why I am writing this. I am writing this to allow myself and to let you know that I am going to now honor my time, as much as I honor and respect your time, with setting more boundaries; meaning giving myself permission to have a weekend off; responding to NON-EMERGENCY texts and emails on Monday, just like anyone else who works. (I highlight non-emergency because as a therapist, I do have some clients who need a bit more attention, and I respect that and honor that as a part of my job, but that’s very different from “what should I do about this guy I like?”)
I’m writing this because I do hold myself accountable. For my own health and mental sanity. But also so that you know if you don’t get a response right away, it has nothing to do with you, me ignoring you or not wanting to help you; but because I may just be getting some R&R for a few.
I think I needed this to happen. As with everything in life, I feel that our greatest obstacles and struggles come to teach us the grandest of lessons and it is up to us whether or not we want to learn from them. It’s one thing for me to help people find balance in their life because I know how to do that, but it is an entirely different thing to actually do it.
I’m at that phase now. I’ve been there before and I let it slip and I can see a huge difference in how I felt then versus now. I forgot that my mental and emotional health is important too. After all, how can I help you to the best of my ability if I am a mess myself? (And all my students know how much I hate a hypocrite!!) So I’m doing this for myself as much as I am doing this for you – so I can continue to be there for you.
I also believe that we all learn from one another. And I hope you learn from my blip. I don’t call them mistakes because mistakes are negative and I don’t see this as a negative experience or a mistake – but as a means of awareness. So here is this blip in my life – a simple, “Earth to Brittany. You are way out of whack, you are all work and no play! You need rest before you collapse!” And after receiving the 12th trigger of anxiety and heaviness that came over me this morning because of my lack of boundaries with work versus life, it finally set in.
There are quite a few lessons in this.
Boundaries. Lack there of will leave us drained and ungrounded.
Balance. IF you do not have it, you will topple over.
It’s okay to be a person. To have emotions, to have feelings. None of us are super human. Perfection is a farce. And trying to deny ourselves the very thing that makes us human is a sure path to stewing in those negative emotions forever.
Everyone needs a break. We are not unstoppable machines. We need to reset, rejuvenate, tell people to kick rocks because our sanity depends on it. It is mentally, emotionally and physically impossible to work nonstop and live a healthy, happy life.
With all of that being said, I will repeat I do NOT want you to stop calling, texting or emailing me for your sessions and your questions. I am not writing this to complain. I am not writing this to tell you I am ducking out of my role in your life or in the field of mental health. I am writing this to teach you and share with you the above lessons, but also to remind you (and myself) that no matter who you are, and what field you work in, we ALL can fall out of balance, we ALL can have off days, we ALL can feel overwhelmed. Even the most well known experts in the field have to learn these lessons and get a reminder because none of us are superhuman. So if you’re feeling this way, you haven’t moved backwards in your progress. You’re getting a not so gentle reminder to dial it back and reassess where your energy is at. In reality, it’s not a bad thing but a very cool thing that our brain and body can do for us to say, “hey! Something isn’t right right now!” So rather than feeling defeated about feeling defeated, see it as your built it warning system going off.
Do I think it’s pretty sweet that I’ve taken on so much and haven’t died? Sure! Am I ready for this chapter to end? You have no idea. But did I learn a valuable lesson? Absolutely. I could succumb to these woes of “why did I do this to myself,” and being angry or sad about it and allowing myself to be anxious. OR. I can take the slap in the face for what it is – a wake up call. But I have to actually DO something about it. So here we are. Me doing something about it. New boundaries. New sense of balance. Placing more importance on my needs and not just everyone else’s needs. And guess what! You’re allowed to do the same!