Eric, one of our bravest My-E-Health® clients, has generously shared his story with us.
It's one of those stories that conjures up the image of the hero fighting his battles until the last drop of blood.
But no hero wins their battles by themself, nor does burnout go away on its own.
When we first met Eric, My-E-Health® was summoned to investigate the well-being of the personnel in a department within a large company. We began by issuing the Empowerment for Participation (EFP) batch of assessments all department personnel. This provided us with a starting point to understand the situational environment and conditions. A systemic, toxic and manipulative environment was exposed.
Eric suffered from the effects of a toxic environment, excessive workload, depression and angst among his colleagues. Communication was poor and there was no sight to an end. A transformational project resulted in some organisational changes that reduced work workload and provided him with some temporary relief.
However, there was much more to Eric's story. Bereavement. Following the death of his first wife, Eric had moved within Sweden, taken up a new career as a maths- and IT-teacher at a school for adult students. Eric's wife had passed away after illness leaving Eric and their children behind. He had survived through the grief with anti-depressants and an obsessive focus on coping with his responsibilities and caring for the children. The tragic event also coincided with Eric suffering a severe injury, which ended his high-level sporting career — a huge loss of identity and psychological safety for him.
Nonetheless, Eric persevered with grit and moved on settling into a new town and a new job that he liked. He met a new partner. They were happy and in love. They had a child together. Eric says: “I loved my family. I loved being a father and being involved in my children's activities. I tried my best to support them in everything and I even took on extra activities such as soccer coach. I really enjoyed it.”
But then, life struck again. Eric's partner, unexpectedly got septicaemia (blood poisoning) and passed away three days later. Twice bereaved and now the sole carer for the children from both relationships, he was again grieving and exhausted. The demands and his self-expectations at work crashed and a combination of Depression, Anxiety and Burnout emerged as life stresses drew him into a dark place.
Can you imagine? Losing your first life partner, losing your identity as a professional sportsman, shouldering the responsibility for the family, pushing on, changing careers, moving to a new city, starting a new family, your second partner dies, you're exposed to conflict and aggression at work, you have endless responsibilities...
In addition, and what made the intensity of the burnout worse, was that depression and anxiety had hopped on the train conflicting with Eric's own caring nature. He still tried to help everyone else whilst putting himself last.
In essence, Eric is a person filled with good intentions, passions, and sincere desire to make a positive impact. At work, he has a strong sense of morale and integrity. But he always forgot about himself and he thought he couldn't ask for help. He felt he had to cope on his own no matter what.
The inevitable crash finally came. The catalyst was when Eric's children were away on sporting camps and he finally had a week to himself. He simply crashed. He recounts: “I had all these plans for what to do with my time. But I was spent. I couldn't move. I simply sat there staring at nothing. Had I lost my mind?”
After Eric completing the assessments, Eric was required to book a feedback session with his assigned My-E-Health® counsellor. As could be expected, his results showed a High Risk for Burnout, Anxiety and Depression. He was also apprehensive and felt uneasy about asking for help. He says:
“At firs, I worried they would think I was crazy. Or weak. My self-confidence was at zero. But finally, I wasn't on my own. Someone listened to me and heard me and the counsellor confirmed that my feelings and burnout were “normal” considering what I had been through. I was told “it's alright to feel like this”. And at that point that external validation was important to me and made a big difference. I wasn't crazy, just hurt and drained. And completing their questionnaires gave me black-and-white proof that I was simply human. I felt an incredible relief.”
Eric's treatment consisted of the My-E-Health intensive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program (usually three to four hours per session) and two to three times per week with regular follow-up assessments to make sure he was on the right track. Integrating the questionnaires to the situational environment and how Eric engaged, provided a number of psychological advantages and cognitional links that reinforced Eric's path forward. Eric continues:
“In counselling, I also realised that I fear change and I had no way of coping with it. At work, I felt I had no control over the situation with a bullying, aggressive manager. At home, the separation anxiety as my children became more independent was new to me. My whole life was filled with uncertainty and I wasn't coping. The counselling provided me with the perspective and psychological safety that I needed to move forward. It made me focus on me for a change. Together we developed tools and strategies so I could deal with my challenges. What's more, I feel safe as I know I can talk to my counsellor or log into the system whenever I feel the need. My-E-Health® also proactively contacted me throughout my recovery to check in and this made things so much easier for me.”
Eric feels stable, happy and engaged. He thinks work is fun and he feels able to cope with inevitable changes and unknowns. He feels “hopeful” but needs ongoing support to not “fall back into it again”.
There was however, never a particular “turning point” after which things just became easy and Eric was cured forever.
In fact, many patients with depression, anxiety and stress-related exhaustion have been so deeply affected by stressful events that they struggle with long-term recovery. It may be a life-long journey. The emotions and the effect on you and your life simply don't go away. Rather, they become part of you and you learn to accept them and live with them normally.
This doesn't mean it's a hopeless case. Not at all. With the right strategies, burnout recoverees can return to both working and enjoying life. Although once you get back into life and work, continued wellbeing and health are not simply guaranteed. It's more like work in progress. You have to keep working on yourself, support yourself and also receive support. Antidepressants and sick leave are merely band aids.
Eric is the living proof of this. He relies on the My-E-Health® program for support when he feels he may fall back into depression or self-doubt. He's not taking any medication. He's been able to keep himself in the green zone of the assessments over a ten-year period. This shows that the continuity in care from My-E-Health® and the quarterly health coach feedback session make sustainable engagement achievable. Now recognising his own behavioural patterns, Eric can counteract relapses if and when they arise. He has tools to stay on track with recovery and constant validation of his ups and downs through the My-E-Health® reports.
Because burnout can be chronic and affect both the health and performance of employees at all levels of an organisation, prevention strategies are considered the most effective approach. Stressed employees who keep going to work are less productive. No one can be a super hero all the time. Presenteeism costs nine times more than creating a healthy workplace.
The My-E-Health® program has now been shown to work for both recovery and long-term prevention. Eric's story is one example.
Note: the quotes and testimonial in this text are actual but we have changed the participant's name to ensure anonymity.