“What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before My Flaming ADHD Burnout”
“You are not invincible or capable of the impossible. You are not omniscient. No one will hate you for not taking on every project. You’re not letting anyone down by simply saying, ‘No, I’ve got too much on my plate already’ instead of pushing your own happiness further and further down the calendar to take on more deadlines.”
I imagined riding my motorcycle through the green hills — slipping away without telling anyone I was leaving — even just for a day. Instead, I kept going. I kept going in a job that was wearing me down to the bone. I kept going in a broken relationship that made me feel like a failure. I kept going all alone because I had to prove to the world that I could do good work; that I was worthy.
This was my life three years ago, and a few years before that too, when I was being grossly underpaid while feeling responsible for the demise of a business that began sinking long before I arrived. Still, I worked all day and night just to meet unreasonable demands — some from my bosses, but most from myself. I felt intense pressure, but I kept going because I was terrified. Terrified of failing my then-girlfriend, failing my bosses, and failing myself and sinking my fledgling career.
I took on far more than anyone could have fairly expected of me because I am a high achiever and my attitude was, “I have to do this all myself because no one else can.” I not only accepted responsibility for everything; I also accepted and focused on taking the blame for everything and felt totally alone in my culpability, even when I often wasn’t. I was not the lone savior or villain, but I do think I cared more than many of my colleagues, and so I destroyed myself and burned out.
In my effort to make everything work for everyone else, I ended up with extreme anxiety, feelings of failure, sadness, and self-loathing. I felt unlovable for my relationship problems, like I was a monster, and that I was the crappiest person at work and that everyone was talking about me behind my back. In that underlying despair, every negative word was devastating, even when it was unintentional or benign. I couldn’t register any positivity because I dismissed it as a fake gesture from someone just trying to make me feel better because they felt sorry for me.
I wish I had prioritized myself and taken a proper break for the sake of my mental health. Instead, I kept going. My performance deteriorated, as did my mental health. My anxiety got worse, I was miserable all the time, I was increasingly socially dysfunctional (I’d whine a lot about the same thing, going round in circles all the time for months, sometimes years), and I completely lost my self-respect and pride. Eight months in, I was a crying semi-alcoholic wreck who was too afraid to really fix my own problems because I hated myself so much. Ultimately, I could cope no longer and left my job and the relationship just to make the pounding pressure stop.
I made it out, but the damage was done. Looking back, here is the advice I wish someone had given me when it became clear I was destroying myself for a job that was not worth it: You are brilliant, hard-working, respectable, fun, and extremely brave — but you are not invincible or capable of the impossible. You are not omniscient. No one will hate you for not taking on every project. You’re not letting anyone down by simply saying, “No, I’ve got too much on my plate already” instead of pushing your own happiness further and further down the calendar to take on more deadlines.
Assess your priorities. What are you reasonably and comfortably able to do to move your career and your life forward at an equal pace? Why are you trying to live up to semi-fictitious expectations? When will you recognize that your health and mental wellbeing impacts everything else in your life and work?
Figure out what is really being asked of you against the excess pressures and responsibilities you put on yourself.
It is totally unreasonable to take full responsibility. You don’t have all the experience. You don’t have all the manpower. You aren’t perfect. You are learning as you are going. That doesn’t make you weak or unreliable; it makes you human. It’s important for you to manage your work so you can spend some time and energy on your happiness.
Take time to feel infinitesimal. You do so much good already. The projects will be there when you get back from taking your deep breath. When you need a break, ask for one without shame. Take a day off.
Finally, plan a time that is for you alone. Set aside a thousand dollars for it and plan it so you can just click a few links, pay for it all at once, and grab your bags when the time is right, like activating the escape hatch.
The world does keep ticking without you trying to hold it together as you burn yourself out until you literally can’t keep going. It takes time to heal from the damage of being overstretched, which in itself is a deeply painful process. Acknowledge that, realize it doesn’t make you weak, and put your own well-being first for a change.
ADHD Burnout: Next Steps
- Understand: ADHD Fatigue Is a Real (Exhausting) Thing
- Learn: 9 Sanity-Saving Strategies for ADHD Executives
- Read: “Oh, I Am Very Weary…”
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