The only time I did nothing was on the rare occasion I became ill. I certainly had a lot of low-grade symptoms, like a progressively irritable gut, terrible mood swings, swollen lymph nodes and fairly regular tonsillitis, but none of those were serious enough to stop me unwittingly running myself into the ground collecting external accolades.
My busyness hid the increasing feelings of exhaustion until my physical, mental and emotional reservoirs had run dry and I found myself in a crisis of my own making. By this time my thyroid was seriously under-functioning and the rest of my system was in disarray. I couldn’t even lift the duvet on our bed and my dreams of helping others seemed unrealisable.
However, thanks to the support of a naturopath – a health practitioner who applies natural therapies – the empathy and love of my husband, and my own innate curiosity, I slowly clambered out of that deep rut and now, almost 20 years later, I am flourishing.
On the journey back from burnout I learnt that nourishing my body and my needs has to be my priority; that to reposition myself at the heart of my priorities doesn’t mean I am neglecting others or being inconsiderate. It allows me to be at my best, the majority of the time and, if I am flourishing physically, mentally and emotionally, then those around me get to experience the best of me too.
I learnt that saying “no” to some things isn’t unkind but teaches others how I want to be treated and in doing that I am celebrating and strengthening my own boundaries.
I learnt how to enhance my ability to withstand the stresses and strains of life by adjusting my internal response to the events of life.
I learnt that I am physically energetic and emotionally joyful when I nourish my body with natural foods and eat to feed my cells rather than catering to my tastebuds all the time.
Now, in my work as a naturopath based in Perthshire, Scotland, where I live with my husband and two children, I share the lessons I learnt with other women to help them flourish too. At 47 I know not to overdo it and my work-life balance is perfect for me. I’m achieving what I want to professionally but I’m not paying the cost personally.
I have learnt that if I choose to waste time then it isn’t time wasted. I don’t need to feel guilty for doing nothing, or feel lazy if I’m not running around relentlessly. Crucially, I have finally learnt to position my health and happiness before my productivity.
Louise Westra is author of You First: Your Body, Your Needs, Guilt Free