• Hera

How to burn-out riding a bicycle

As I’ve told you in my previous blog, my arrival back in the Netherlands (due to a broken collarbone) didn’t go very smoothly. Two days after I arrived I broke down and spend three weeks in a haze.

When in the third week the curtain of fog lifted again I decided to accept the invitation to the Dubai Travelers Festival. As always I thought that ‘to persevere’ would be the right move. The week went pretty well, but back in the Netherlands I relapsed immediately.

It’s been a month now and I’m still stuck on the couch feeling sick. I’ve learned what’s going on though; I’m BURNED-OUT. I literally burned up all my energy.
Burned-out? Isn’t that something that people with demanding jobs, who are under a lot of pressure, get? Yeah, I thought so too, but it turns out they don’t have a monopoly on this miserable state.

I’ve learned that you get burned-out whenever you use up all your energy and then you burn through your stock of emergency energy. Whether you use that energy to work, take care of your family, practice sports or travel; it doesn’t matter. Energy is energy, no matter what you spend it on.
Now a healthy person has quite a lot of energy to spend, but nonetheless, you do need to recover, which means: rest and sleep.

That I do lead a life that I love, doesn’t mean that I’m not spending lots of energy. The tons of meetings with people, telling my story day after day, being a guest at people’s houses. Riding my bicycle for thousands and thousands of kilometers, through heat and cold, rain and sunshine. All things that I choose to do, but they’re still very demanding.

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And here we are at the crux. If you have such an intense and demanding lifestyle, you better rest intensely too. And that’s where the problem lies. Sleeping has been a challenge for me ever since I was a teenager. Two out of three nights I don’t sleep well at all. And in North-America I’ve struggled to get enough sleep even more, due to different circumstances. So much that I’ve often wondered how the hell my body and mind still managed to function. And that’s exactly a sign that you’re heading to burn-out; not understanding where your body finds the energy to keep going. I noticed signs that I was exhausting myself, but I didn’t take them serious or didn’t interpret them well.

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I understand most people don’t know what it feels like to be burned-out, just like I didn’t. Well, this is my best explanation: it feels like a cocktail of jetlag, hangover, flu and insomnia. 24/7. It comes in many forms, but what it surely isn’t is ‘just feeling tired’. Sadly it’s not a malady where the solution is just to ‘keep going’, cause that’s exactly what caused it. Rest is the best remedy to recovery. And that is exactly the thing that’s so hard for those headstrong boundary-crossers that end up burned-out.

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Now what?
I’ve managed to move from frustration and fear a little bit closer to patience and acceptance. Reading about burn-out and retracing my steps of the last year and a half I remembered a QEEG (brain scan) they made of me six years ago. It showed that my brain hardly produces any alpha waves, which means that I can hardly ever rest, relax or sleep well. Talking with a neuropsychologist I learned that my brain activity shows a nice blueprint for developing burn-out.
After short but deep consideration I decided to start neurofeedback treatment, which trains the brain to (in my case) produce alpha waves. If the training is successful, it would mean that I will be able to really rest and sleep better! The chance of success is 70-85%, so I’m quite nervous to see how it turns out.

The treatment (which takes about 10 weeks) starts next week and so does the mindfulness training that I’ll start. Who would’ve thought you could burn-out riding a bicycle? I know I didn’t.
Carefully I’ve started thinking about new trips already. I can’t help it. The thought of at some point being fit again and getting back on my bicycle is what gets me through this. My Africa plan is on a hold, maybe that’s a bit too much stimulation for a fresh ‘burn-out survivor’. I’m exploring the possibilities to cross the Australian outback on dirt roads and somewhere in the back of my mind also South-America draws my attention.
It feels good to be around family and friends while being in this shitty situation. But I do feel that my life ‘isn’t here’ anymore, like it lies somewhere else waiting for me to join again.

Still I try to make the best of it and to enjoy as much as I can. I see, despite the frustration, that there are things I can learn from this and I try to utilize that.
My next blog will follow when there’s news to tell. Cause not much happens while you’re sitting on a sofa, I’ve discovered. I hope to tell you about my recovery and new plans next time.
This leaves me with wishing you all the best for 2018! Thank you for following me and my adventures through my blog and I hope to tell you new stories from-the-saddle again soon!



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