The Fog

Monday, March 6th 2017 was the day I figured my seemingly happy little existence shattered into pieces. A dear and significant relationship had ended that evening. 5 days later, I would be witness to my mom’s screams of agony as she was rushed to the emergency room of a hospital with what we would later discover were some gastro-intestinal issues. About a week prior to these two events, I had just started a position that I would describe to many as my dream job.

It was, indeed a time of major transition-some of it positive, some of it less so. For the weeks and months following this first week of March, I would wander in and out of a fog. In several discussions with my mom, about how I was feeling out of sorts, she would suggest that it was likely because of those three events- the new job, the break-up, and her hospitalization-that I felt out of focus and lost. She encouraged me to try to get through it-in developing new routines at work, and finding my footing there, I would most likely eventually come out of the fog and feel grounded once again. My mom’s reasoning made sense to me, but it was guiding me to view this transition period in a far more limited scope than what was actually the reality. Instead of looking to a two week period over the course of late February and early March as the core of my unsettled feelings, I would actually need to go much farther back-some 12 years-before I could truly appreciate where these feelings were coming from, and why they were happening.

Two and a half months later, with great deal of self-reflection, a lot of tears, and some blunt honesty on my part, the stark realization of what was really going on dawned on me. I was burnt out and suffering from compassion fatigue. There was likely a bit of secondary or vicarious trauma mixed in there too.

When looking at a spectrum of being burnt-out, I self-diagnosed as being on the more extreme end. For me, this was represented and reflected in many aspects of my life:

  • Activities that I once enjoyed-things that would bring me great mental clarity and energy, became difficult and less appealing. I’ve been an avid and enthusiastic runner for the last 6 years-ask my friends about the badge of honour I have worn, also known as The 4.30 am Alarm-and suddenly I was re-setting that alarm in the mornings and opting for more sleep instead of a run.
  • My appetite dwindled and I lost a lot of interest in my first love: Food. Stuff didn’t taste good anymore. I had always prided myself on my voracious appetite (Guys, I Just Ate an ENTIRE Pizza by Myself was an often posted Facebook status. I know. Really thought-provoking and profound), and now it was gone.
  • I lost my focus. On everything. I couldn’t focus on books. I couldn’t focus on work. I couldn’t focus on sleep. My mind seemed to go into race mode, and I found it jumping between a ton of different topics, all increasingly surrounded by worry and anxiety about what might happen.
  • Sleep broke up with me.

Admittedly, at first I tracked all of these symptoms back a few weeks-again to the start of the new job, the break-up and my mom’s health issues. In going a bit deeper, however, I began to track these symptoms back a few more months, and to the last job I was at. For about 5 minutes, I blamed my compassion fatigue and burn out on that job. I’m a big fan of self-reflection and analysis, so I went even farther back to the last 2 years, and figured the events that have transpired there, must have been the reason for my fogginess-watching my dad, who also doubles as my best friend go through brain surgery and recovery from a fluke-y illness only to come out of that and get diagnosed with tongue cancer was a taxing journey, to put it lightly.

In more recent conversations which have been incredibly open, and vulnerable, I have been able to go back to what I believe is the genesis of my exhaustion when I ventured up to a remote First Nations reserve in Northwestern Ontario to teach grade 3. What was supposed to be a one to two year stint at most evolved into 6 years (I quickly fell in love with the people and the landscape), in which I learned a lot about myself, but also witnessed a lot of hard stuff. And began the habit of not taking care of myself.

I’ve opted to write about my journey-both the one that has brought me to the present moment, and the one that I will continue to navigate through-primarily as a self-catharsis. I’ve always had a love for writing, and it is a natural and effective means for me to process life. I’m also hopeful that maybe in sharing my experience, someone else may be able to relate. For the longest time I have felt alone in and with my feelings, and I think it would have been so great to connect with someone else who may have been going through something similar. Maybe I can be that connection for someone else.

I’m also moonlighting as an aspiring photographer. Who doesn’t like a nice combination of words and pictures?

With Love,

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Olivia Shaw

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