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  • Writer's pictureHaulwen Nicholas

Depleted - my story

I remember feeling exhausted, every day, but like many, I thought I should continue I should keep going. I needed to "pull myself together", "just get on with it", and "stop whining". I am sure you have heard similar things from others, or from the voices in your own head. In December 2009 when my period came, I literally didn't want to move. I felt like I had the flu. My arms and legs ached. My whole body felt like lead, I had brain fog and it didn't matter how much I slept I still felt tired. At the time I was living a hybrid life. My work was based in Banbury, two and a half hours from where I lived. I'd been in this job since October 2018 and I'd made the leap because I thought it would be my dream job. It wasn't.

I'd get up at 5:30 am on a Monday and drive to Banbury to avoid the rush hour traffic. I'd work all day and had negotiated to work some days at home. But Monday to Wednesday I was in the office.

At the time I was living one night with a work colleague and friend who was off work ill, I'd help her clean, help do her shopping, and help cook for her. She was later diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

On the second night, I was living with another work colleague and friend. She had two children at home and I'd sleep in the bottom bunk and her primary school-age daughter in the top bunk. This friend was recovering from cancer, but also going through many things with her older children and the children living with her, some unforeseen deaths in the family, and the general pressures of being a single mum. Some nights I'd be trying to get the kids to bed as she had a breakdown in her kitchen. She was the life and soul of every party and she rarely let out how she truly felt, which was exhaustion and overwhelm. Sadly this friend has since passed away, I miss her dearly.

On Wednesday evenings I'd finish work at 5 pm but I'd wait until after 6 pm to leave as the traffic home to Shropshire was a nightmare. I'd get home about 8:30 pm to 9 pm tired and exhausted from travel, work and being in different beds where I never slept properly.

Thursday morning I'd wake up and go to my family farm, milk the cows and do jobs around the farm, as my dad was ill and my mom has had chronic health issues since I was a child. I'd come home and work from home and at 4 pm go back and manage the farm again. I'd repeat this on Friday. Saturday and Sunday would be catching up on housework and the other jobs on the farm. and Monday back to work. I was lucky my Uncle came and helped and some neighbours, as well as my husband, but it was full on.

During this time I'd also been approached for a job nearer to home, so I jumped at the chance to apply for it and when I got offered it, I handed in my notice thinking this would help solve all my problems.

It didn't.

I am one of those people who when I leave a job, work all the hours they can trying to leave it in a good place. My people pleaser in me wants to leave everything right. Even though I know for a fact many jobs I have left, I've actually been asked to go back in and show them something and I say "it's in the handover document" and find they deleted or threw away all my hard work. Lesson to us all, to not break a sweat in finishing things when we leave, it's not appreciated.

So as you can imagine I was putting even more pressure on myself.

In February 2010 I fell ill.

I had felt nauseous, fatigued, aches and pains, dizzy, stomach issues, you name it everything, I literally couldn't move for the next 3 months. And my people pleaser was devastated as I felt like I was letting my old job down as I hadn't been able to do my handover, and I was panicking as I was due to start my new job.

I was ill most of my notice period and I was sure people would think I was faking it. A few weeks before I was due to finish I felt a little better and was able to do some odd bits and bobs, but I was thoroughly exhausted and had no idea how I was going to start a new job, but I did.

I started my new job in May 2010 and as you do, you are trying to make a good impression. At the same time, I was seeing my GP to find out what was wrong with me. They checked me for deficiencies, for various illnesses, but my GP said to me "I've been waiting for you to break for years, surprised you have lasted this long. I am sure you have chronic fatigue syndrome, but I'll check you for everything else first".

In June 2010 I was on a team day and it was a hike up a local hill, I couldn't make it and returned to my car and my new manager and HR asked what was wrong. I explained and I was reduced to a 3-day week, seeing the company doctor and having Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) paid for by the company to help me. My chronic fatigue was confirmed by the GP and company doctor in July 2010. And my journey of living with fatigue began then.

I worked part-time for the rest of 2010 and initially, my company was incredibly supportive. But in December 2010 accusations were made about me not returning the calls of some senior managers and it really knocked me back. my confidence was so low and my self-esteem it was easy to get "gaslighted" and not see it. In early 2011 I discovered the accusations were incorrect (I'd phoned the managers in question to apologise) and it was someone else they had made the complaint about, so they had no idea why I'd been put on a disciplinary for it. But it knocked my confidence and made my condition even worse.

By now I was exhausted. I needed to work but I had no self-confidence, I constantly doubted myself and became paranoid that I was being scrutinised all the time. I'd jumped out of a job I hadn't enjoyed into one in a culture that I didn't fit with, but felt trapped. Who would employ a woman with fatigue?

Even though I knew it wasn't good for me, I continued for another 7 years working in a high-level senior management role. Travelling across the UK and Europe. Hitting massive cost-saving targets. Helping in takeovers and acquisition projects. Expanding my team from 5 to 23 people. I got some excellent feedback, but with the slightest mistake or illness I felt like I was being targeted. Fatigue can really make you feel more paranoid, in some instances justified and others not.

In 7 years I had 6 different managers, (3 of whom were made redundant). My life became work and I'd work late each evening trying to keep up with the workload. I'd sleep at weekends with no energy to do anything else. I had no social life but did force myself to the gym every Sunday afternoon. I used to envisage my workplace as a prison (not a good practice I can assure you), and to be fair with its high fences it does look like one. Much of what was being said and done clashed with my values and beliefs. It was a very extroverted place of work and I am an introvert. Everything about it was exhausting and then each month my periods would be so heavy and so painful, I felt like there was no escape.

I would try and look for magic and wonder in the world. The donkeys in the field on my way to work, the rainbows. But I found it harder and harder to keep a grasp on the good things. My light was dimming and I was no longer being myself.

One thing that kept me going was I was writing children's books. I was attending writing events and I loved them. Those and my holidays to Wales were my sanity. But I had other coping mechanisms too. Eating too much, drinking too much, spending too much. All little addictions to keep me going.

In 2013 I used my company's private medical insurance to investigate my heavy periods. I'll write on this in more detail another time, but in 2014 it was confirmed I had endometriosis and adenomyosis. It was too advanced to treat so I had to find a way to live with it. In my case paracetamol, ibuprofen and codeine. And that rarely reduce the pain and didn't help with the fatigue which got worse at that time of the month.

On one occasion I collapsed in a street in Germany on a business trip. I'd requested not to go as I knew my periods were on and I'd explained this to my manager. I'd suggested my team members went as it was a trade fair and I'd been many times so it was more beneficial to them. I was told I had to go. And I wasn't allowed to travel the night before due to costs, so it was an early flight. An early flight, bleeding heavily, being on my feet all day, and not eating properly resulted in me being overnight in a german hospital. I was then threatened with disciplinary for it when I returned. Yet I still stayed. Too scared to leave, thinking no one else would employ me. Blaming myself for everything.

In 2016 I decided it was time for a change, I requested to step down from my role and take a new role that we'd just created where I could work 4 days a week. My request was denied.

Two months later driving home from work I almost crashed my car 3 times. I hit a kerb, I misjudged a bend, and I didn't brake quickly enough. I got home and I was in tears and rowed with my husband before storming out of the house on a cold winter's evening only in a dress, cardigan, leggings and slippers. Even though it was bitterly cold, I went and stood by a pond in my village and wanted to go and lie at the bottom of it. Not to kill myself. I very much wanted to live. But just to stop and pause time, to rest and sleep. When I came home my husband told me to quit my job and I said I'd think about it overnight.

The next day I was working from home and the emails started coming in. I looked at them and thought, no, I cannot do this anymore. I wrote my resignation letter and sent it to HR and my manager. I still got emails, for hours afterwards, so I sent an email saying I was taking the rest of the day off with stress and switched off my computer.

That night 2nd December 2016 I was due to see The Shires in concert, it was the most amazing night. I felt like the world had been lifted off my shoulders and I ran along the promenade, spinning, laughing and I remember my husband saying "I've got my girl back". I knew Id made the right decision.

Did all my fatigue disappear then? No of course not. But I worked my 6 months' notice, which was one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride and became self-employed in June 2017.

It took me until December 2018 to recover, regain confidence, and self-esteem, feel less tired and not be ill all the time. In January 2019 I started walking daily and building in self-care practices. As I did my periods became less painful, I had fewer aches and pains and my brain fog and other symptoms eased.

I was just starting to feel I was ready to bloom again when my husband was taken very ill and I was caring for him and then we went into the COVID pandemic. I was lucky to have plenty of work on my packaging consultancy, but with my husband furloughed and so much uncertainty, my healthy practices stopped as I focused on trying to keep us financially secure. As we all know 2020, 2021 and early 2022 was strange time. We were living but not living and I could feel my old symptoms creeping back up on me. In April 2022 I went to my Osteopath after I had had a fall. Falls are always the universe's way of telling me to slow down. And he said as he treated "Haulwen you are thoroughly depleted" .

A light bulb switched on, this was the word I was looking for.

It's funny how after all this time, and having had burnout a few times in different forms in my life prior to this, I had never thought to use the word depleted to describe how I felt. But there it was. The word that really described how I was feeling in April 2022, but also from 2009 until 2019.

The word depleted feels like it captures how I have felt much more than exhausted, tired or burnout. And that's what brought me back to where I am today. In 2017 when I first started coaching I had wanted to focus on fatigue but was persuaded not to, but I think that was a good thing, as now is the right time for me to bring together my years of knowledge and training to help you. So why have I waited since April to do this?

Well, I have been going back through my life determining what are the things I have used time and again to get me through and allowed me to work and to live. And what advice would I give my former self now? I've looked through the books and articles I have saved and read and with it, I have devised my own method to help you to not make the same mistakes I have.

Do I still feel depleted? Yes of course I do. This is why what I am devising is something that you will need to come back to time and again. 2023 is the year for me to put this together to help you.

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