Getting back up again
Words by Claudia Tsd
I understood how unfair it was that so many people in the world internalised the pain and prejudice that others had inflicted upon them.
I knew I had to get out of that job. It was after a panic attack in the middle of a meeting. I had collapsed on the floor, left the office in tears and had to take time off due to mental and physical exhaustion. In hindsight, the burnout was, besides being a painful and terrifying experience, a great teacher. It has not only enabled me to understand myself better, but also to have more confidence in my instincts as well as my ability to adapt and re-invent myself. While I may struggle with self-confidence sometimes, I’ve always been a very driven person; when I believe in something or someone, nothing and no one can stand in my way. My childhood was marked by neglect and deprivation, I had to pull myself through and develop an ability to connect my story to the bigger picture. Realising early that I was not alone in suffering for reasons beyond my control, I understood how unfair it was that so many people in the world internalised the pain and prejudice that others had inflicted upon them. Like me, many had to ‘learn their place’, be it within the family unit or their wider society. This understanding made me very determined to get out of the box I had been placed in by my peers and society. I wanted to succeed and bring as many people up with me as possible. I moved to London from Romania at the age of 19 with the ultimate goal of gaining a good education - so I could achieve my goal of helping to alleviate some of the sufferings in the world. Whilst I was an undergraduate student, I became particularly interested in – and angered by – armed conflict and wanted to do something about it. I went on to gain a master’s degree in Conflict Studies and joined a reputable aid agency. One year into the job, I started working on the crisis in Yemen. Being able to have a career in my chosen field of work was a massive privilege. I enjoyed learning the dynamics of the conflict, as well as the history and politics of the country. However, the bleak humanitarian and political situation that I was seeing each day soon started weighing down on me. Having to think about the thousands of (entirely avoidable) deaths from hunger every day made me seriously question whether I could make a difference in this specific situation or any other situation for that matter. I found myself gradually unable to sleep and was getting every airborne virus known to humankind. Most days I went into work feeling anxious, exhausted and hopeless. This of course correlated with a confidence nosedive.
It was a clear signal from my body that I needed to change strategy and one I’m actually very grateful for.
This was when I had my panic attack. It was a clear signal from my body that I needed to change strategy and one I’m actually very grateful for. I now have a deeper understanding of myself and am much more in tune with my body and emotions. I know when I am about to go off the rails and can take better steps to bring myself back to a place of calm and safety. Ironically, since “the incident" I have become much more confident. I have greater trust my judgment and instincts - that said, I’m steering clear of man-made humanitarian emergencies for a while. I am of no use to anyone until I grow stronger at shielding my mind and emotions from the constant barrage of negativity and anxiety you experience in that field. I am also learning how to divorce my narrative from the bigger picture. I know I will get there eventually. I gained a huge amount from being able to tap into how others might be thinking and feeling in various challenging situations, however, it also meant I was also taking on a painful mental burden. This can, and did, seriously backfire. The key lesson learnt from going through burnout is that it’s ok to break down. Sometimes this is even necessary to become a bigger, better, more empowered person.
Claudia works in international development and humanitarian response. Originally from Romania, but living in London for the past 9 years, she loves learning, electronic music, her friends, speaking Spanish and figuring out how things work. She is passionate about bringing people together to enjoy today and create a better tomorrow. She would like to learn how to DJ and try out stand-up comedy.
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