In October 2016 I attended a session for HR professionals where the topic of the day was mental wellness. The idea was someone could be mentally unwell but not necessarily mentally ill. The audience were asked to call out signs which could indicate a person was mentally unwell. I had 11/14 and found another 5 when I got home.

Many of those have returned and are key indicators I was burning out, resulting a week’s leave under doctor’s orders.

Then in early February 2023, something similar happened. My doctor said I was “burnt out” and told me to take a week to begin recovery and planning for the future. Deep inside I knew it and likely have since the previous November (or earlier 😮) but didn’t want to admit it.

The signs were there in my language, my moods/emotions, and my body. I was managing better than the time before, but not as well as I thought.

I want to share my indicators in the hope they may assist others before they are too far down the path of mental unwellness. If you have any of the indicators below, or similar, please discuss with your health professional now. Don’t put it off.

I should have been taking more notice. I should have done more earlier. I know it’s not that easy.

Linguistic indicators

  • My self-talk changed in two ways. Firstly, there was a noticeable increase in my self-talk with and about myself. Secondly, it was overwhelmingly negative in some way. I was telling myself I felt an imposter, tired, fatigued, overwhelmed and incapable. I was also telling myself I was coping and handling it (what exactly was I handling I never admitted because doing so would admit I wasn’t coping and handling it well!).
  • My ability to “think forward” fell off. I was busy just surviving the current day. My creativity was unreachable. If asked to be creative, my mind felt like it would shut down. Ask me what I was doing next week and it was almost like I couldn’t even comprehend the question.
  • In the past I developed a language pattern of seeing others as stupid and wasteful of my time. “Why can’t they just do that themselves? Why am I constantly babysitting them?” If that occurred this time around, I didn’t pick it. I am sure it was there and ready to explode outwards.
  • I had an overwhelming desire to slow down and talk to people. Hold some real conversations. With meaning. With time. I expand more on this in Everything, Everywhere, is Too Much. It’s a symptom of great fragmentation in my world’s demands of me.

Mood/emotional indicators

  • I felt immediate frustration with being asked to do anything beyond what I was already doing — yet at the same time taking on more myself.
  • Feelings of anxiety out of nowhere. Usually Monday morning in advance of work, but not always. Understand that my job has nothing direct to do with all of this, other than being part of my life as a whole. Everything I describe here happened outside of work as well. At its worst I’d have an adrenaline rush and feel like I was shaking (not visibly). It takes all my attention when this occurs.
  • Easily stressed at tasks I have taken in my stride in the past.
  • Narrowed emotional range. Happy but not really happy. My reply to, “Isn’t this great?” was a fully committed and heartfelt, “Meh.”
  • If I could cry/sleep/hide I’d feel better.

Physiology indicators

  • So tired. All the time.
  • Unable to hold focus. Couldn’t complete a 10 minute YouTube video. Watched movies in multiple sessions. Reading a few minutes at a time.
  • Persistent cough in the morning, and whenever I felt stressed.
  • One afternoon in a moment of stress I developed a sore throat and began losing my voice. Came better once the stress dropped off.
  • I adjusted my walking patterns
    • Walking became slower than normal - not much but it did
    • Walking less directional/purposeful
  • Slow lengthening of my morning routine equalling putting off the day. The first time on this roller coaster my daughter said, “So that’s why you’ve been leaving for work later every day.” At the time I hadn’t realised.

My Way of Being

The indicators above all had some degree of linguistic, emotional and physical component. That is why dealing with this on your own is so difficult. Shift one aspect of your Way of Being and the other two can pull you down again.

I’m in active conversation with my family, GP, psychologist and as of tomorrow workplace. Right now I’m in active conversation with you. Having been in a similar, and worse, state before I know things can come right. It takes time, and I can’t do it alone.

If you have experienced any of the symptoms above, know you are not alone. Please get some help before it gets worse for you.