When resilience is overwhelmed

January was an awesome month. I handily met my primary goal of ten paid client sessions per month. (By the 17th!)

But January was also featured a series of unfortunate events.

I want to tell you about them, not to complain or get your sympathy – I’m fine now – but because there’s a fascinating lesson demonstrated here.

The first thing to happen was three days of violent illness. I spent a lot of those three days lying on the couch moaning and cursing my reproductive organs. But I wasn’t sick every minute and I still got work done, including a whole new resource for The Provocateurs. And I bounced back immediately, still getting more than half the work on my weekly plan done. Resilience was high!

Four days later…

a reaction to new medication delivered another two days of couch moaning, and extra days where all I could eat was dry crackers. At the same time the rain, driven by tropical cyclones up north, was a non-stop barrage that soaked you any time you went a metre from the door, and provided continual overcast – something that always makes me feel tired.

The illness and rainstorms combined to sap me quite a bit. I didn’t bounce back to 100%, this time. Instead of jumping back into work, I kinda more plodded back. Resilience was there, but more determined than cheery.

The next day…

my PC got infected with malware. I did my tired-brain best to remove it, but it was too persistent. So I had to format the computer, and reinstall everything from scratch. After this, my bounce-back was even lower – did I mention it was still goddamn raining? – and I was aware of myself teetering on the edge of burnout. But I soldiered womanfully on.

Then, three days later…

the river that runs in a loop around my house broke its banks. We lost power for 24 hours, and spent the entire day moving items to higher ground and hoping the flood didn’t rise as high as two years ago, when it was half-way up the house.

It didn’t! We were soggy but safe.

But I was officially broken.

My resilience was exhausted, like a piece of saggy knicker elastic. There was absolutely no bounce-back whatsoever, just an exhaustion and lack of focus so deep it was completely indistinguishable from an intense depression. (Maybe it was? I dunno.)

I was completely, utterly, pile-the-dishes-in-the-sink, sleep-ten-hours-a-night, everything-weighs-quadruple, three-naps-a-day, eat-because-The-Dude-tells-me-to, out-of-arms-reach-is-too-far, sorry-what-did-you-just-say wiped out.

For a full week.

I was barely able to manage the essentials (client calls, urgent emails, vitamins and the occasional shower) before my energy was completely tapped out. I was too tired to rest well, too exhausted to get anything done, and nothing I did (or didn’t do) seemed to make an improvement.

After the first unfortunate event, all it took was one decent night’s sleep to get me back to 100%. After the sixth one, rest had no noticeable effect. I was at zero, and I stayed there for some time.

It was fascinating to watch my resilience get overwhelmed.Horrible, but fascinating.

It’s been a looong, long time since so many unfortunate things have happened to me at once – thank god – and so I watched how each small problem left me slightly less well equipped to deal with the next one, and on and on down the spiral.

If any of these events had occurred in isolation, I would have been over it by the next day. It was all of them that combined to sink me for an extraordinary length of time.

And this always, always happens when you get to the bottom of the barrel. In this case, I didn’t create any of the events that overwhelmed my resilience, but in the past I’ve been here because of adding too many things to my plate, and it’s exactly the same.

Recovering from even 95% tapped out and recovering from 100% tapped out are so different they bear almost no resemblance to each other.

As long as you aren’t completely tapped out, there’s always a teeny bit of bounce to help you bounce back. Rest and good food and long showers and going for a walk and good company all recharge the batteries, and you can feel it happening. You heal, you mend. It’s wonderful.

But when you get completely tapped out, that actually kinda stops working. Even complete rest doesn’t seem to have much effect. It’s like you need to hang around, exhausted, fuzzy, and miserable, until your resilience machine remembers to start up again. Only after that can you start to recharge and regain your energy.

It sucks hardcore.

So I guess what I’m saying is this:

If you’re already feeling a bit overwhelmed, do absolutely whatever it takes to avoid adding that final straw to the camel’s back. Reschedule, renegotiate deadlines, cancel, get your mum to take the kids for a day, take a social media hiatus, outsource, ask for help, spend your savings, steal a thermonuclear device, whatever you gotta do! This is your most urgentest priority.

Do not, if it is even vaguely possible, keep adding weights until you get to the bottom of the barrel.

And if, despite your best efforts (or due to the vagaries of the weather gods) you do get completely tapped out: understand that it is going to take way, way longer to recover than you anticipate, and react accordingly in regards to email auto-replies, scheduling, and making commitments.

You’ll likely need up to a week to have the brain to start creating anything – even an intelligent email reply – and even after that low-down week you’ll only be starting to rebuild your energy and you’ll need to keep being gentle on yourself for at least another couple of weeks in order to not meet the bottom of the barrel again. Flaggellating yourself about your growing to-do list will really not help. Lower your expectations. Be gentle on yourself.

Do you have any stories to share or tips on how to recover from the bottom of the barrel? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!