Self Care – A Cautionary Tale

By Master Sophie Atkinson

 

Earlier this year I took some time out.  In fact, it’s true to say that at the beginning of this year I hit burn out! In retrospect I had been heading that way for quite a while but ironically I hadn’t realised until it was too late.

 

It all happened so slowly that I really didn’t notice how or when all the joy and energy I had once felt for giving and teaching NO HANDS Massage turned into such a burden. But suddenly I felt like I had nothing left to give: I felt utterly drained and exhausted.  In case you’re wondering what the signs of exhaustion might be, they are rather easy to spot and then promptly ignore!  In the months prior to my ‘crash’ I had felt like I had no time; that I was running on adrenaline the whole time like I’d had too many coffees.  That I was ‘so busy’ that everything (even something like a dinner invitation) felt like an outrageous imposition on my precious time and energy resources.  I had completely run out of compassion – for my clients; my partner; my friends and family and for myself.  I was so overwhelmed by everything I thought I had to do that I couldn’t actually do any of it.  I had worked for so long to create a successful business, but now felt resentful and trapped on the treadmill of juggling clients and training courses and commitments.

 

Even though it doesn’t feel like it when it hits, exhaustion actually builds up really slowly.  In fact, it happens gradually, it happens over time, through repetitive behavior and because of not taking enough support!  ‘I’ll just have to miss my yoga class this week so I can fit this client in’.  ‘I’d better not say “no”, because I don’t want to let other people down’!  Sound familiar?  In order to re-build myself I knew it was going to take time, changes to my thinking and behavior and it would require a lot of support!

 

Luckily I had the incredible support of my partner and Gerry and the core NO HANDS team and so once I acknowledged there was a problem, I was able to stop.  And I just stopped everything. I cancelled all my NO HANDS commitments. I cancelled all my clients.  Literally overnight I stopped being an Instructor, a Trainer, a Therapist.  And it was utterly terrifying!  In the sudden silence that followed all my years of rushing around being busy, all I had was a big blank space and nothing left of me with which to fill it.

 

So with my energy at rock bottom, what did I do?  Well, I started doing properly what I thought I had been doing all along. I started to look after myself.  Slowly.  I took time to sleep, to read, to walk in the park in the winter sunshine. I ate good nourishing food.  I had a lot of acupuncture and Massage.  I had some coaching and some therapy.    I started to look after my body and I started to take a good look at my mind, and the negative thinking patterns I was running.  Only one person had created this state of exhaustion and that was me.  This was good news because it meant that if I had created it, I could change it, and I really would, just as soon as I’d figured out how to stop beating myself up for being so exhausted and for creating such a mess of it all in the first place…do you get what I mean about the negative thinking patterns?

 

I downloaded an app and started to meditate.  I turned my attention inward and started to focus on me, and what I needed rather than on what I could be doing for someone else.  I re-connected to my Hara and listened to what my body told me I needed.  Everything was reduced to a basic yet fundamental calculation – does this nourish or drain my energy? How does this make me feel?

 

It took about 3 months before I began to feel my energy return enough to be excited by the prospect of massage again. But I also knew that things had to be different.  I realized that I had been putting myself at the bottom of my very long ‘To Do’ list.  I had been the least important person in my own life: other people’s needs, wants, their diaries, their finances … these had all been far more important than mine.   I moved my treatment room into my large bedroom so I had more physical space to work in. I completely re-structured my diary, limiting my appointment days and times to ensure I could allocate time that had nothing to do with work, and when I could go for a walk or a yoga class or just out for a coffee.  And finally, I increased my prices. One of the things I learnt from having a lot of regular treatments is that everyone valued their time a lot higher financially than I did!

 

Since my ‘time out’, I have also learnt that my energy is more precious and fragile than I had thought. That constantly ignoring the small signs of tiredness, irritability and “I’m too busy” can easily snowball into overwhelm, exhaustion and burn out.  That life is about balancing the challenging and exciting doing with the quiet, still and inward-looking being.  If I want to make an impact in this world and the lives of people around me then I have to start with myself. Self-care isn’t an afterthought at the bottom of a To Do list: it’s an essential part of daily living.  It’s a constant reminder that I am important and I do matter – whoever I am!

Comments ( 9 )

  • Thank you for sharing. I have been burned out, thought I was taking things easy for a while turns out NOT, change is required. I agree self care is an important part of lifes ethical framework. self respect. The road to recovery is a long one with bumps along it some bigger than others what we do with those bumps is what makes or breaks us. I had not realised until one day I was up at 5’30 packing things away, work at 8 poped home to check removal men were ok finished work 4pm loaded hire van, attended 3 hours of Cruse bereavement training home again several hours cleaning in the dark. up again at 6am to repeat … I thought this was ok!!! I was too busy juggling with life I had no time for massage, or ME.

    • Wow, Annie – it’s amazing what we manage to tell ourselves is “OK”! Really glad you spotted it and I hope you’re finding the time and space to get well recovered and back to full strength x

    • Ann-Marie

      Thankyou for sharing
      I think you are in walton?
      I was going to book a session with you.

      Ann-Marie

      • Hi Ann-Marie – we do have a NO HANDS Master in Walton, Sam Beckett, but Sophie herself is based in London and Herefordshire. You can find your nearest Practitioner using our postcode or surname search tool: nohandsmassage.com/clients/#how-do-i-find-one

  • Thank you so much for sharing your experience Sophie and being so open and honest, I too have reached burn out int the past and am constantly aware of maintaining “balance” The way I have personally achieved this is with daily meditation and attempting to bring mindful practice into everything I do i.e I only ever “do” one thing at any one time and give it all my focus and attention,I also have a nice balance between my NH clinic work and my fitness instructing which helps keep my body (relatively) pain free ! My wish is for every therapist to look after them selfs more and I know of several that I will be encouraging to read your post and hopefully begin their journey back to health and balance once more ,namaste xx

  • Angela Dean

    Wow Sophie. I didn’t know any of this but one thing i did notice last weekend at the Effective Communication course, was how well you look. I caught myself thinking that a number of times. I’m so glad you gave yourself time to recover and it’s something i have, and still am, going through. Sounds like you sought out and continue to gift yourself, a high ‘stroke’ lifestyle. I have begun to practice the very same. Namaste xxx

  • Master Jenny waite

    Blessings Sophie
    Respect for your honesty and generosity in sharing
    I really hope u are recovering and finding your mojo again but in a different way to before
    I totally resonate .. ive been fortunate to pull myself back a few times in my life just before I burn out ! I’m very good at self care but I recognise I need a huge amount & a need for space and decompression and retreat in my life & I don’t feel bad about this . It is necessary in order for me to give 100 % out when I do give ..
    I was close to burn out around when I took my 3rd and final attempt @mastery assessment or between 2nd & 3rd attempt
    And had to really go slow and pace myself around that time. I remember doing qigong in room at Morecambe just prior to my assessment. Glad no one walked in on me ! Lol
    It was mainly buried and undealt with grief
    that made me so exhausted .. the minute I recognised it & started grieving and processing emotions my exhaustsion & health improved
    we just keep on learning about that ole chestnut support and to connecting to our hara & truth too eh?
    anyway .. I’ve always said all the best people burn out at some point !! Although Not necessarily advocating
    Anyway If you anything like me I’m brilliant at not showing weakness outward so v good at putting on face of I’m ok
    xxxx
    Namaste

  • Christine Rainey

    Brilliant article and explains Burn out so well. Sure does creep up and guess many of us think we are Super human Therapist. Im 55 years old and only begun Holistic Therapy Training/work when I was 40 yrs.
    I was the mum of an Autistic son (who is now 23).
    I was also the main Carer for around 10 years for My late Mum who had various physical ills then dementia. I have always been a part time Therapist so it was quality time working. But I did do the not looking after myself bit for quite some time. I used to get Massage every few months/ birthdays etc. But now its every 4 weeks. I go to Meditation class once a week and make time to be in nature well love gardening. Think I am much improved as you say put yourself first. As you say everything becomes a chore and quite a horrid cycle.
    Correct re pricing , people do not value you correctly. Have literally given away many a massage for folks who I thought were financially strapped to find they went away on hols after etc. So you must pull back and assess every so often. What you do, why you do it etc etc.
    Love your honesty and feel the only way to be real about really teaching people in looking after themselves.
    Love yourself enough guys.
    Namaste.x

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