I set my alarm for 5:10 am so I could head out to Colorado Springs for a Continuing Education seminar. I remember thinking that I was over scheduled this week and wondering how this was going to affect me. I reassured myself it would be okay.
I used to push myself past my limits regularly. Somehow I would always find time to crash and recover but 11 years ago I learned the hard way that it is not a good idea to push yourself past your limits on a regular basis. That was before I had kids when time to “recover” has become more and more difficult to find.
I groggily got up at 5 am on this midweek day, and headed out to Colorado Springs for my seminar on Play Therapy Techniques. I was excited about this seminar but was also acutely aware of how fatigued I was. My son had had the flu on the weekend and I was up with him at night helping him and cleaning up throw up. Then by Monday I had an upset tummy myself but chose to push through it since my clients are counting on me to be there for them and I knew I would be taking the next week off.
Because of the scheduled time off, I had a full work week with long days. I managed to make it through but felt the effects on my body as I slogged into the next day with the enthusiasm of a hippo wallowing in the mud. Then by Friday I got home from work and my husband seemed cheerful and excited to emphasize that I had made it through the tough week. Even with the flowers he brought me my happiness waned. I was grouchy and couldn’t even stand the sound of my favorite music. I turned off the radio. I reminded him in a monotone voice that I still had a Toastmasters meeting the next day.
I was supposed to do a speech after the main meeting for the nursing home residents in the “Speech-a-thon.” Fortunately I came to my senses and chose not to do the speech-a-thon but went to the main meeting with my makeup on to cover over my dark circles, and a smile (faking it was one of my old coping skills). I managed to win “best evaluator” and even did a Table Topics talk when you are given a topic on the spot to talk about without preparation time. By the end of the meeting my muscles in my neck and back ached and my head hurt. I knew I was well over my limit.
What is a “limit” and why is it so important? Learning what my limits are and respecting myself enough to honor them was one of the main components to my recovery from the severe burnout I experienced 11 years ago. It is also one of the concepts I try to teach my clients when learning to manage stress and anxiety.
A limit is an invisible line that exists between emotional, physical, and psychological well being and becoming anxious, irritable and stressed. Once you have crossed the line it is important to pull yourself in quickly by slowing down, implementing self care, and getting rest.
There was a time in my life I had no perception of a limit. I had no awareness that one should exist and I lived past my limits all of the time. I thought I was just driven and “hard working.” My need to please others, to work hard, and be involved was tremendous. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do, and I had an insatiable need to do because I lacked the self esteem to understand that my worth was not linked to how well I did things. I would push and push. I pushed myself all of the time, and the funny thing is, when people find out you are a hard worker, something else happens...you get asked to do more things. Then I found that the pressure also came from others that were expecting me to do for them. I was programed to feel that nothing was ever good enough so I would strive and strive to perfect things.
My burnout was actually a gift. It was a gift that helped me to understand what a limit is and how to enforce it. I learned that you can’t expect anyone else to enforce it for you. You have to first respect yourself and your well being enough to be determined to honor your own limits. I went over them this past week and the result was not pretty. I don’t even like being around myself when I am in that place. Fortunately, last week was an exception and there were parts that were out of my control. I’ll get back on track and be determined to take better care of myself this week. That should be easy since I am on vacation. What are your limits? How can you honor your limits this week?
I welcome your comments.