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Surviving Burnout.

On rediscovering well-being, building resilience, and career change.

Patricia Ezechie Coaching - Surviving Burnout, Resilience and Wellbeing

If anyone had told me 15 years ago that I would be working in the area of career change, well-being, and resilience, had developed and run an online business, held workshops in well-being, and had a 10-year career teaching yoga full-time, I would have thought they had taken leave of their senses. Yes, I had already caught the yoga bug over 20 years ago and was attending some classes, but I had no inclination of making well-being and resilience my way of life. My mind, energy, and focus were still very much on my career, and I was working ridiculously long hours to prove both to myself and my bosses that I was worthy of promotion and acceptance into the “club” of high achievers, that I would go that extra mile and do what it took to get the job done, and that my job was my life.

Back then from the outside looking in, I appeared to be the picture of success — I had a great job, earned a good salary, owned my own home, drove a great car, went on fabulous holidays, had good friends, and seemed to thrive in the high stress environment I operated in. However, as well as the apparent success, this period in my life was also one of great emotional stress and turmoil. In reality, I was miserable. Yes, I worked hard because I was ambitious and wanted success, but I was also using the job and its demands to hide from myself and everyone around me what was really going on. I was lost, I was alone, I was disconnected, and I was incredibly unhappy. I was operating as two very distinct people — the ambitious, dynamic professional in public, and the gibbering wreck in private. The job and its demands was the only tangible thing that I could keep hold of, as when I was not working I was in that dark place, a hole so deep I felt I would never be able to climb out of it. Depression and mental health wasn’t something we talked about openly then.

I suppose it was inevitable that things would come to a head as maintaining these two separate strands of my life could not go on indefinitely, and as the demands of the job began to increase exponentially (as did the material rewards — I was now on a six-figure salary), the cracks began to widen. My weight began to rocket, the hours got even crazier, and at the height of my dysfunction I had taken on another flat closer to the office in a last-ditch attempt to reclaim some of my time, my thinking being that if I reduced my commuting time and lived close to the office during the week, I could come home to London at weekends and relax. In reality, it was just easier to get to the office, so I worked even longer hours.  

I was trying to make changes, even managing to squeeze in a yoga training course on an extended period of leave, but still could not make the break or get off the treadmill I was on. I was miserable and the signals that all was not well were getting louder and louder, but I stuck with it, and in the end, it took work stress to the point of meltdown to stop me in my tracks.

I still remember the day it all came to a head. A VP I was working for and who I hugely respected said something at a meeting that so upset me I just got up, walked out, and went home. That was it. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I remember crying my eyes out all the way home in the car, and calling my mum in hysterics when I got home because I just could not do it anymore. I knew something had broken and things would never be the same again.

I resigned that same day and worked out my notice, intending to have a break before thinking about my next job only to find that not long after leaving I couldn’t get out of bed one morning… my body just would not respond. I had pushed myself to the point where my body said “if you’re not going to stop, we’re going to stop for you,” so almost overnight I lost my health and my career.

I couldn’t go back to work because I couldn’t trust my energy as the severe tiredness continued for months. Some days I had absolutely no energy, struggling to even get out of bed, and on other days I felt better and could do more. There were a lot of false dawns where I would have several days of good energy and I would think I was better, but I soon learned that if I pushed myself at all to do even the simplest things — like going out for a walk — I would exhaust myself and find myself back struggling to get out of bed. How could I possibly commit to a job if I did not trust my own body?

The first two years of the illness where hell, mainly because I thought I could drive my way to recovery, too — I believed that if I worked hard enough, read enough, pushed myself enough then I would recover quickly. The realisation that it would come in its own time, no matter how hard I pushed, cried, screamed, or demanded it, took a while to sink in. The harder I pushed, the harder the illness pushed back and the worse I felt, and for the first time in my life I really had to learn patience. Chronic fatigue syndrome stopped me in my tracks. I had burnt out and, even worse, I now had a chronic illness that would forever change my life. Everything I thought I was, everything I thought had made me — me — was gone, and for the first time in my life I could not fix it.

On the days when I felt so awful I could hardly get out of bed, and was so full of frustration that recovery was nowhere in sight I just had to accept this was where I was and needed to be and let go — not easy! A daily yoga practice really helped me do that. As yoga became a key part of my recovery and was of so much benefit to me, I trained as a yoga teacher to deepen my knowledge and to have something to occupy me while I focused on recovery, as the course was accommodating enough for to manage my condition. The more I learned the more it became my mission to help as many people as I could to stay well, be their authentic selves, and do work they loved. My health began to improve and with it my creativity so while training I developed an award nominated online business and studied the psychobiology of stress. So five years into my recovery I had effectively changed career as there was no going back to what I used to do, and if I am honest I could not think of anything I would rather not do! I began to run courses, workshops, and retreats in yoga, well-being, and stress management and also some freelance consultancy when able.

The more I worked with people the more I found that the key stressor for most of them was work — either they were doing too much, had poor work life balance, or wanted to change what they were doing — and it began to feel like my job was to patch them up in a class, workshop, retreat, for them to just to go back out there and smash themselves to pieces again doing work they hated, did not excite, meet their sense of purpose, or allow them to work in a way that supported their well-being.

 So I became a Career Resilience and Well-being Coach so I could further help the people I worked with through practical and strategic tools and support as well as the holistic wellbeing interventions of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness — and that is what Patricia Ezechie Coaching and Consultancy is all about… helping people that have come to a crossroads in their careers and lives to create a career and future where they can be authentic and present, using their best skills and strengths in a way that supports their health and well-being.

My passion and purpose came from my experience of burn out and CFS. I didn’t then, and even more so now (in this always on 21st century world we live in) want anyone else to experience what I had. They don’t have to. I know we are living in extraordinary times, but the huge positives that have come with this era of technology and globalization are increased flexibility and increased choice. We can change career, and relatively more easily than even 10 years ago. Work-life balance, resilience, and stress management are now on everyone’s radar, vocabulary, and experience, as we all realise we are going to be working longer, so need not only do work we love but stay well doing it.

My road to recovery has not been easy but given the choice I wouldn’t change a thing. I lost one career but found a another that I adore and allows me to use my best skills — so I excel at it. I work on my own terms because I have to maintain my health well-being. More importantly, I am able to help people to transform their lives in the career change, resilience and well-being programs, retreats and workshops that I run, or in the career change one to one work I do with the people I am lucky to work with. My experience both professionally and personally informs the work I do and enables me to help the people I work with to make real, lasting changes to their lives, and I suppose I would never have been able to do this without the illness. It took a lot — my health, my identity, and almost even my home at one point, but it gave me back me, so on balance I think I came out on top.

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