This piece was tough to write. I don’t want it to appear self indulgent, although to be honest, it has been somewhat cathartic. I am writing this because a few people convinced me it was a good idea to share in the hopes that it might warn some of you who may be heading in the same direction. Or for those of you, who have already arrived at that less than desirable destination, know that you will be ok, but patience is your friend. And if you’re anything like me, it’s a new friend.

Let me be clear. I’m not dying, but I certainly felt like a large piece of me died last year.

Text by Stef Hanson | Images by Witsup

 

Early last year a friend of mine messaged me, are you ok? It was out of the blue. I wasn’t sure what triggered the question. I was curious. I replied with the typical, yeah all good, why?

Why did I respond that I was good?

Because I wasn’t.

I think I was the furthest from good that I have ever been.

She had noticed that the photos I had been posting were different. They were darker, black and white. Moody.

I guess it’s true. A picture does tell 1000 words.

That friend? Caroline Steffen.

I don’t think she’ll ever fully understand how much her reaching out like that helped me on my road to recovery. Thank you Swiss/Lionel.  DCIM100GOPROG0161778.

Work hard, play hard. I’ve been full on like that since I was a kid. My gran loves to reminisce about my first time in the billy cart that my brothers were too scared to try (they won’t read this, so their ego is still intact). Full tilt, downhill, around the corner and straight up a tree. Once the tweety birds stopped circling my cranium, I ran back up the hill to do it again. Not much really stops me from doing what I want to do. Not even a big ol’ Blue Gum.

But at the start of 2016, that metaphorical tree stopped me in my tracks. It flat out slammed me to the ground.

At the end of the year for the past five years I have fallen in a heap. I had left every ounce of me on the dance floor of life. Pretty standard. Typically when you stop, you crumble. So each year I’d reboot over the holidays, and get stuck back in again. Over those years I was working essentially two full time jobs, training for long course triathlon, and I even threw organising a wedding in there. Adrenaline was my friend and saviour, combined with coffee of course. Candle burning. Both ends.

A good mate of mine warned me. Slow down.

But I feel fine. This is how I operate. I love that people think I’m crazy and can’t believe what I fit into 24 hours.

“I don’t know how you do it! You’re superwoman! You are out of control!” They’d say. And I freakin’ loved it.

WIT_3987

In January 2016 I got sick. Standard. I got over the sniffles, and carried on with life. But every time I attempted to do anything “normal,” I’d wake up the next day a wreck. I’d drag myself out of bed, and jump on, nay slump myself over the bike.

I’m just tired. More coffee.

I could not get out of my own way. I was feeble on the bike and in character.

This lurgy is hanging around. A couple of days away from training. I’ll just use that extra time to get some work done.

But, concentrating on the computer screen became increasingly harder.

Just write some words. Do something! I couldn’t. But you have to! You run your own business. You NEED to work. You don’t have a choice.

Stress.

There was a very distinct lack of control on what was happening to my mind and body. More stress.

A distraught phone call from the family back home. Adding to the stress.

And now I’m angry. My body and mind just won’t do what I want it to do.

More anger. I’m not talking throw your toys out of the pram angry. It was deep. Like it came from a black hole from the depths of my stomach angry. Poor Bretty (husband) copped it. I was hiding this side of me from the rest of the world, because it wasn’t me. I was ashamed.

Get the moody, black and white picture?

We finally recognised that something was really wrong. But do you think we could figure anything out? Nope. Blood tests came back fine. Glandular fever? Nope. Rounds of antibiotics did nothing to kill whatever it was in my system. I was getting angrier and more and more fatigued.

I reluctantly threw out the coffee and Katee Pedicini and Emma Frodeno were now my saviours.

WIT_2590-2

Katee is the co-owner of Holistic Endurance and author of Healing the Grumpy Athlete. She was THE light at the end of the tunnel. She recognised all of my signs and in between tears of frustration, she broke it down for me. I was racing an iron-distance version of life, fuelled on fumes. And I’d got away with it; until now.

Adrenal and chronic fatigue.

Emma saw me briefly working at a race after I had just passed out. She rang me that week and we went through everything. She was another who had warned me. Her best piece of advice was to accept what was happening. The more I stressed about not being able to train, not being able to work, not having a personality, not being able to do anything, the longer it would take to recover. And, the second I started to feel better I should rest again.

I didn’t want to hear it. I’m pretty stubborn. But I had to stop, collaborate and listen.

STOP – And stop everything I did. I was lucky to punch out one hours worth of work a day for about two to three months. The rest of the day I would be napping.

COLLABORATE – I worked closely with Katee, a Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture therapist who I dubbed the witch doctor, and Emma. It was all kefir drinks, super clean eating – thanks to Bretty, Chinese medicine pills and slow wanders with Henry the Dog (another vital part of the team).

LISTEN – I had to listen to Katee, but more importantly, to my body. I slept. A lot. Katee was the one who pointed me in the right direction and taught me a lot about hormones, gut health, probiotics and dealing with anxiety. Hormones? What the hell? I’m not a hormonal or emotional person. Oh but I was. Anger and spontaneous crying outburst were fun to deal with … for Brett.

WIT_9063-4

The learning curve was steep. I had to abandon a lot of who I am and what I do.

It was getting harder and harder to keep up appearances. The Stef Hanson persona is a tough one to uphold. I had to let that go. I didn’t want to. But I had to.

I would get so anxious about being anywhere with large groups, usually the place that I thrive in and kind of a big part of my job. But I had zero personality and I didn’t want anyone to see me like that.

Of course over the months there were many others who helped, but these guys as well as Bretty who is a saint (he won’t read this either, so MY ego is still intact), are the ones who helped me in the early stages, because they were the only ones who knew. I would love to mention everyone, but you know who you are. I should, however, point out the Witsup Interns who helped Witsup keep going in 2016. There was a very real chance it wouldn’t have without them. I owe you.

I had to make some big changes to make sure I could crawl out of the well that I had dug for myself.

I started tracking hours that I worked so; just like training I wouldn’t over do it.

I have to switch off at a certain time at night – no more late night work sessions. No laptops in bed. No phone on after 9pm. My phone used to vibrate all night. I’d check social media at 3am. That had to stop pretty quickly.

DCIM100GOPROG0100219.

Lunch breaks were taken away from the computer – usually a walk with Henry.

If I had meetings I would leave 20 minutes early so there was no chance of anxiety. I remember every minute of my day would be calculated. I would fly from one thing to another. I can’t do that anymore. Anxiety is a bitch!

Training stopped completely. And when I could, I started with strolls with Henry. Training is still not option. I am exercising. And I am finally starting to feel good – mentally and physically. For the past month or so I’m managing one exercise session a day for six out of seven days. And when I say, I’m not very fit, it’s not a self-deprecating comment; it’s fact. But it’s a fact that I’m ok with because I am out there doing something now.

Oh, and I talk about my feelings more. Vomit. Feelings. But it helps prevent anxiety and big outbursts of nonsense. Seriously; poor Bretty.

I’ve learnt to say no.

I usually go to bed before Bretty now!

I’m still yet to try meditation. I battle with that. But I find that going out for a SUP (stand up paddle board) is quite therapeutic.

DCIM100GOPROG0050640.

You’ll notice that the photos I am posting have a lot more colour and life again. Things are good. I’m having fun and feel like a lot of my personality has been restored. I’m still a ways off “normal”, but I also need to recalibrate what the norm is for me.

You can take what you want from this piece. But the more I speak to people the more I realise that a lot of people are teetering on the edge, or have fallen into a similar well that I did. I urge you to look after yourself. Take a step back and recognise the warning signs of overdoing it. You CAN do everything and anything you set your mind to, but just don’t go full throttle to get there. It’s just not worth it.

I am far from an expert on the subject, but if anyone is feeling anything like I did, then I hope this helps point you in the right direction. Let’s ban together and stop glorifying the busy-ness, get real and prioritise ourselves, because what I can guarantee you is that if you look after yourself, the rest will fall into place. And if you don’t, you are guaranteed to fall.

DCIM100GOPROG0070189.

About The Author

Stef Hanson. Chief.

Chief and founder of WITSUP Serious about what I do, but don't take myself too seriously

Related Posts

24 Responses

  1. Fiona Thomas

    Stef
    Big massive pat on the back for bringing us this very raw piece.
    Hoping you continue to get better and take the time out to look after YOU. Your words, I am sure, will help so many people. I know they have resonated with me. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      We are with you ! All type A and all needinhvto hear this ! Thankyou for being so honest ! Good health to you !!!

      Reply
    • TErri Friel

      I had chronic fatigue many years ago. It is completely debilitating and for a type A a horrible realization of your limitations. Recently I was having a great time training and keeping up with athletes half my age until I was nearly unable to function. Overtrained. Adrenal fatigue. Still dealing with the issues of adrenal fatigue. I suffer after training hard if I’m not careful. I had plenty of stress in the last four months compounding the situation. I kept asking myself why I felt to angry all the time. Good clue. I stopped all training for Feb…kept it to two days a week and light. Got more rest most of the time. Bad habit of staying up late. Gained 4 pounds but I”m beginning to feel better. Frustrating to me but I’m happy I figured it all out before training season begins. Hoping to be able to train seriously again by May. It’s tough to accept limitations when you feel so super powerful. I get it. I was there 30 years ago. Still miss that euphoria of being so athletic and on top of my game. Hard to grow old and feel mortal.

      Reply
  2. Mironda

    Thank you for writing this.
    As a business owner and athlete trying to find balance becomes increasingly more difficult every year.
    This article is true stripped down real.

    Reply
  3. Garonz

    Woah. Holy hell, Chief.

    I am so fricken god damn proud of this piece.

    It took a lot of balls to write, but then again, adrenal fatigue doesn’t affect the size of ones gargantuan lady-balls ( I just wiki’d that – so you know it’s true).

    As someone who put pride in being know for her ‘energy and unstoppability’ – I know only too well what it feels like to have your health betray you (oh hai whooping cough twice pneumonia twice and COPD ) – add to that a huge arse bag of ‘life shit’ and a 20hr a day work schedule… this recent turn was inevitable.

    But I know one thing for sure. Health shit and life stuff can slow a person, but it cannot the core of what makes you – YOU!!!

    What I am (and I know other people) are so attracted to when they meet you is your view on the world. Everything seems possible, everything seems more fun and sparkly and quirky and stoopid and ace. People love being around you because for a brief moment they get to dee the world through your eyes and it’s stupid amounts of fun! You remind people of what is possible to achieve when you throw everything you have at it. Women are boundless and our abilities infinite.
    But recognising that means also recognising our limitations.
    Now, you show us that it is not only your abilities – but your humility, vulnerability and persistence we have to admire.

    What a fricken amazing human you truly are.

    So lucky to call you a friend. You rule, Chief.

    Garonz

    PS: I have no regrets for giving no “feelings” warning on this comment. SUCK IT UP!

    Reply
  4. Gina McVicar

    How wonderful and courageous of you to share your experience Steph !!! , you’ve got this X

    Reply
  5. Mel

    Steph, this is such an awesome piece of honest writing. I’ve never really met you but I follow Witsup and always come to your Noosa breakfasts. It’s about time we started being able to talk openly honestly about it all being too much, without feeling like we’ve failed somehow. This article does just that. I’m sorry that for you it got as bad as it did, but by sharing your story, you’ll help others to see the warning signs in themselves before things get out of hand. Good on you for talking about it.

    Reply
  6. Clare McCann

    Thank you for letting us into your journey during the hard times Stef. I think society is very much pushing for us to do as much as we can, whenever we can for as long as we can. And sleeping? Well that’s just wasting precious time right! But you are so right, there needs to be balance and a slow and steady approach, as well as that ability to switch off every now and then.

    Reply
  7. Sue Horsburgh

    From one who has been there too, the honesty of your article is fantastic. May it give hope to those who are lost at the moment. And I bet Brett and your dog are loving having you back!

    Reply
  8. Lisa Melvin

    Hey Steph,

    Thankyou so much for sharing , I can totally relate to every word you have penned , its so tricky for family friends and teammates and the rest of the world to comprehend when from the outside one looks ok.

    It’s tough, your coping strategy sounds totally on point , by identifying situations to avoid that causes triggers in the brain has been my saviour I am three years in now not the same person as before but full on training and working not quite as intense as before but all good.

    http://lisamelvinfitness.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/good-days-bad-days.html

    Always happy to chat :)

    Lisa x

    Reply
  9. Shannon Jones

    Ahh another adrenaline junkie bites the dust. I remember hitting that wall several years ago. It felt like my worst hangover ever supercharged on NOS! I puked daily for three weeks, every time I tried to hit it hard IT hit harder than Mike Tyson on roids!

    Listen, I don’t get hung up on what meditation is supposed to look like. A lot of well meaning ‘gurus’ want you too do this or that to create a “state of mind”. You can get just as much out of ‘losing yourself’ in the patterns in the wood or tile on the bathroom floor while taking a poo. Simply taking your attention away from the constant chatter in your brain while not struggling to focus on anything else is a form of meditation. If that’s what you get on the SOP…ppppssshhhh screw the candles, incense, singing bowls, etc. get your ass out there on that SOP and meditate away!

    Reply
  10. Kristine Thompson

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been struggling with adrenal fatigue since last summer, and your willingness to share has made me realise I need to keep trying to get better- Today I shared my story with some folks, and asked for help. Thank you for helping me take that step.

    Reply
  11. Annette Fuller

    Whoahhhh I can’t stop crying….. That’s me what I’ve just read!
    I’m driving and I’ll just burst into tears! What’s with that? Everything you said has hit home to me!
    I run 2 surf shops in Broome, row boats for surf club (0430 starts) have 2 kids (one just got out of a domestic violent relationship) run my own Broome Boot camp , used to do triathlons many years ago but got glandular fever! Now it’s all falling into place, I have anxiety big time!
    I NEED TO STOP!
    Thank you so much for this article and thank you Oskar Booth for sharing this on FB as I would not have read this!
    Right step 1 – REST!!!
    and read more, get educated and see what facilities are up here or any suggestions for online reading would be greatly appreciated!
    THANKS AGAIN xxx

    Reply
  12. Amanda Stone

    Thank you for your honesty. This piece has given me the permission I need to take care of myself as well. Thank you.

    Reply
  13. Kate

    Thank you Stef for articulating your story with such honesty and emotion. I know you would have found it confronting to show your vulnerable side, however this selfless action will reach more people than you will know.
    Kate x

    Reply
  14. Victoria Burrows-Bilton

    Great words Stef! Thank you so much for sharing!

    Talking openly about this sort of burn out is much appreciated and will hopefully encourage more people to do so.

    That was me 3 years ago, working like a machine, training like a machine and trying to be a Mum and wife all at the same time, which lead to failures in all areas and in turn massive anxiety.

    Thankfully, like you I had amazing friends and a partner who made me stop and recalculate. In a drastic move, I shifted my family from the UK to Western Australia to pursue a slower pace of life. After a break from training and work I am now enjoying all the aspects of my life again.

    As strong women, sometimes we need reminding that we need to look after ourselves. Taking a break when we need it is not a weakness its a necessity so we can re – fuel and continue to be awesome!

    Thank you again!

    Reply
  15. Margaret Earnshaw

    We are very proud of you Stef & we love you very much ,brave girl to put all that on paper ,hope that it will help others .
    Our love Gran & Granddad xx

    Reply
  16. Gail Virgona

    Thank you so much for sharing. I nodded through this whole story but the most when you said “stop glorifying the busy-ness, get real and prioritise ourselves”. You are so bloody right. We lost a close friend suddenly in an accident this Jan and it’s really recalibrate life for me. I say no. I have decided feeling guilty for saying no is a waste of time. I do things that make me happy. I don’t put things off. I take a bit of time for myself. Lots of love and admiration to you Stef.

    Reply
  17. Louise

    Thank you so much for putting in to words what I have been struggling for years to describe.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.