Finding Steady Ground

So, there you are, recognizing burnout and getting out of a toxic situation. You start working on yourself and figuring out what caused you to get into (and/or stay in) the toxic situation in the first place. You’re healing from burnout. You feel like you’re making great progress. And then, you fall back into a hole.

It happens to all of us. Like a deer learning how to walk, getting up on your legs is just the first step. Chances are, you’re going to fall back on your face, at least once, but probably more than that, as you try to find your footing.

I watch movies (or read books) like Eat, Pray, Love or Wild, and I think, “that’s what I want to do.” I want to run away to multiple foreign countries to “find myself.” Even the thought of being alone in the wild, me against the elements, sounds enticing. Especially after coming out of a long period of burnout. However, not many people are truly able to push “pause” on life to check out for long enough to find their footing again.

Burnout, Survival Mode, and Being Lost

When in burnout, when operating in “survival mode,” brain fog is normal. There isn’t energy for additional things like thought or emotion. When you spend each day feeling like you’re barely hanging on, there are a lot of things that don’t make the cut. Sometimes those things are essential. But when operating in that kind of dysfunction or deficit, there might not be the energy for more than the bare basics. This is one reason, the experts will tell us, it’s not a good idea to stay in survival mode for longer than absolutely necessary.

Another element we all need to realize is that we’re not lost. We might have buried our core selves under layers of trauma, or in a “pit of despair,” but we never lost ourselves. Our true selves are still inside us somewhere. It might take time and work to figure out where we’re buried but figuring out that “something is off” is a huge first step toward that recovery.

When the Hits Come

I had a moment recently, where I wanted to beat myself up. I’m a year outside of a situation that was causing me to be in severe burnout. I’ve been making good progress. I feel more awake and alive than I have in a very long time. And then, I found myself in situations where I felt like life knocked me off my feet. Before I could recover from one, another hit would come.


I described the situation as being in a tiny boat, in the middle of the ocean. The boat is barely sea-worthy, but here I am, paddling away as best I can in the great big ocean. Out of nowhere, a storm hits, with giant waves that try to capsize my tiny little boat. In the middle of the storm, pirates strike. My boat can barely carry me, so I have no idea what the pirates would be after, but there they are, striking just as hard as they can, with their giant cannon balls against the sides of my boat.


Feeling Means Healing

In a situation like this, it is normal to feel the pressure. It is normal to want to, not just buckle, but fold completely. I told a friend that I felt like I was regressing. That thought initially made me even more depressed. That was until I recognized that I’m not regressing. Regression is returning to a former or less developed state.

I refuse to return to the state that I’ve already healed from. This means, that what I am feeling isn’t regression. What I am feeling is feelings. I’m feeling emotions. I’m feeling the reaction to the hard things that life is throwing at me. These are some of the elements that I had buried so deep inside that I forgot what it meant to feel.

As I mentioned, most of us can’t press “pause” on life and escape to a beautiful island where we’ll meet the love of our lives. We’re not able to escape to the middle of the desert, to be by ourselves to figure out the meaning of our lives. We must keep pressing forward. Sometimes the movement seems barely perceptible, or backward, but it’s still movement. It’s still progress. And sometimes, we must go back to face what we lost when we weren’t able to process the feelings, the emotions, when burnout had us trapped inside ourselves.

For more information about links within the post, check out: Elizabeth Gilbert‘s Eat, Pray, Love, Cheryl Strayed’Wild, and @KitaRose on TikTok.

For additional posts from our staff, click here.