Article written by Melissa Holdbrook-Akposoe
Images by @Melissaswardrobe
I crashed so hard in June. I knew it was coming. I had been pushing myself entirely too hard all in the name of “girl bossing”. You see, no one tells you what happens when you achieve your dreams. Success becomes addictive. It becomes your identity. Over-achieving becomes a personality trait that you boast proudly about. There has never been a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t outwork my peers, that’s what got me here, right? So why was the thing I was so proud of turning into the very thing trying to break me?
What no one tells you is that there is a time limit on how hard you can go. There is only so much one human can do and if you’re a lazy perfectionist like myself, delegation is not your strong point which is what hugely affected me. I was constantly trying to do everything myself because I was “gonna have to do it again” anyway.
The constant over working through lockdown, keeping everyone entertained, accepting yet another brand deal became all too much and I ended up as a shell of myself. I was empty. I had no energy to enjoy the very things I worked so hard for. I had everything except the very important things. I didn’t know peace at all.
Every single facet of my life overwhelmed me to the point where I had to halt it all. I decided to take a month annual leave (unheard of!) which would include a solo trip to Ibiza. Not with a friend, not with my partner but by myself. Something I’d never done before. I needed to have clear thoughts to help me navigate through the brain fog I was battling. The more I write this the more intense it sounds. I’m not gonna lie, your girl was sipping on champagne and eating fries by the pool – it wasn’t all bad, but it was necessary.
Whilst I was there I made the decision to start therapy every week to really find out what was going on with me. Between my therapy sessions and whilst doing a lot of self-reflection, I realised that my identity was solely tied to my occupation. If someone were to ask me “Who is Melissa?” there wasn’t a lot I could say that wouldn’t be attributed to my work achievements and that’s what needed to change. Why wouldn’t you overwork if that’s all you’ve got?
We live in a new age society where we’re all waiting for the next person to announce their “big project”. Be it a book, a house, a baby, a dog… everyone is addicted to presenting something to their audience. When you do take part in ‘announcement society’ you get a rush of validation from people you know and some that you may not know but the adrenaline gives you a high that you end up chasing. You feel accomplished, liked, loved and most importantly you feel valued. In turn, you end up tying all of your value to things that can be announced. So, when you have nothing to announce, you fall into a low mood where you don’t feel your best self. It can even sometimes make you compare yourself to people you see online, and in turn can make you feel inferior.
What I felt was necessary for me was to completely move my barometers of validation. I needed to redefine what validation meant to me. If all of my validation is not based on what I can achieve occupationally, I can look for other more healthy ways to feel fulfilled and thus work less which in turn makes me less over worked and less likely to burn out.
I had to write down all the preferable answers that I wanted to be able to say when people asked “Who is Melissa?” and work on all the things that would allow me to be able to reply with that.
I wanted to be able to say things life “Melissa is a good friend. I’m there for people when they need me most”
When you work your life away, life really runs away and you miss so many important moments. I decided that this was no longer going to be the case for me.
It’s unconventional, but these are the changes I made to work through my burn out in a way that would last. It’s one thing to recover from exhaustion but it’s another to keep it a bay. There are huge lifestyle changes that need to be made in order for me to sustain a more peaceful life.