How I recovered from a serious case of stress and burnout

  • Posted on May 1, 2023
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
recovering from stress and burnout

 Burnout is a serious thing, and it often comes along with a certain stigma – you might say someone has “had a mental breakdown,” for instance. Perhaps, like me, you think, “It will never happen to me.” That’s why I’m sharing this story.

Someone at Avanade was courageous last year and shared what I needed to hear, and saved me, so I’m paying it forward in the hopes my story might also prove helpful to a colleague.

I’ve often been called by friends and colleagues “the Energizer Bunny,” able to successfully balance many things. Then life threw me several curveballs at once last year: graduation parties, a worker’s comp injury at a conference, work stress, a bad cold, a challenging volunteer project, my truck broke down, my washer died. There was a lot going on. My life was sounding like a bad country song.

Then a close relative attempted suicide, and our lives got turned upside down. We went through several days of prayer, support and counseling with our loved one, and got through the worst of that crisis but we were still helping with 24x7 suicide watch and safety plan execution. Within a week, I was a burned-out cinder. I was barely getting through the work day, then crashing hard by 5 p.m. and sleeping three hours. Later I’d wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks and anxiety. My cognitive skills declined, and I was really having to push myself hard to do design work that utterly exhausted me – literally made my brain hurt. It was no longer ethical for me to work and there was no way I could or should bill a client at that point. I needed time to get my life and mental health back in order.

I reached out to ask for help, and was offered a leave of absence, and I was so glad my career advisor and HR representative were so supportive. I used the Employee Assistance Program and I was a hot mess –weeping through the discussions – and they connected me with a great therapist. Things got worse before they got better, because it took a long time to get in to see the therapist. I was doing a lot of sitting, reading novels, and watching TV – and not much else. My cognitive decline was such that I was unable to follow simple plots like old Rockford Files or Murder She Wrote reruns, and that was distressing and alarming as someone who makes a living with their brain. I worried my career would be over forever.

My therapist provided an analogy that described it well, my reserves were low, like a reservoir that’s low on water. I wasn’t getting water out any longer, just mud and sludge. I was mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically exhausted. I had not been able to take a vacation in a while, and that certainly didn’t help my situation. Through therapy, I restored balance in my life, and was able to get out of the depression and anxiety. I worked through the plan outlined by my therapist and focused on small goals with pleasurable outcomes – like painting, watching sunsets, reading, and playing games with my children  As I improved, I rode my motorcycle (which requires high levels of attention, though not high levels of creativity), repaired some things around the house and went on a few day trips with my wife. Progress was slow at first, but then I felt restored.

Now I am back at work making a difference again and doing work I love. I’m so thankful to work for a company like Avanade that cares enough to equip me with the ability to recognize burnout, supported me in a time of crisis and supplied me with the EAP program, short-term disability insurance and therapy. They were there when I needed them, and it perhaps saved a life – my relative is now better as well.

Please take care of yourself, take some time for balance and mental health, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.

Bo Lewis

Thanks for sharing your story Dan, I'm sure this will help others in getting needed support.

May 11, 2023

Corrine Long

Thank you for your vulnerability and transparency, Dan. I am grateful you were able to take the time away you needed to heal mentally, spiritually and physically. Most of all, I am happy to see you returning with the charisma, thoughtfulness and brilliance that makes Avanade a better place.

May 11, 2023

Marie-Claire Latour

Dan thxs so much for the courage in sharing your story. I truly admire how you have taken the steps to care for yourself and your family. Take care & all the best. You are an inspiration.

May 11, 2023

Julie Cirino

Dan - Thank you for sharing your story! It is so important to listen to our bodies and also take the time to understand what is going on, but more importantly to take the right action and focus on self-care. So many people need us in so many ways, but we need to take care of ourselves first. Very Best to you and your beautiful family!

May 10, 2023

Keri Jordan

Thanks so much for sharing your experience Dan. So many times it can feel like we are the only person going through these types of feelings/worries and hearing stories like yours provides incredible comfort and reassurance to take the steps we need to recover and be well. 

May 8, 2023

Deirdre McIntosh

Wow, thanks Dan for sharing. Some good reminders in there on what to focus on and what is important at the end of the day.

May 4, 2023

Bonni Sullivan

Thank you for sharing your story. It gives me hope and a need to explore some options before I crash again. 

May 3, 2023

Trevor Herrendoerfer

Thanks, Dan, for sharing. Your insight into the nearness of burnout is hugely appreciated.

May 3, 2023

Dan Houser

Thanks to all for your kind and supportive words, and special thanks to Avanade for the support and commitment to mental health and our employees. Glad to be back and doing the strategy work I love, but now with a mindfulness that there is a real cost from trying to burn a candle at both ends.

May 3, 2023

Alicia Titchmarsh

Thanks for sharing Dan - I am sure this story will help someone just like somebody else's story helped you!

May 3, 2023

Joseph Ponnoly

Dan, Sorry to hear about the problems you had to face. Having known you for over 22 years, I have always admired your energy, positivism, and resilience. It is not surprising that you have bounced back quickly. Your contributions to ISC2 and the information security profession are unparalleled and admirable. I am personally indebted to you for supporting my doctoral work in cybersecurity and management. Your spirituality is the bedrock on which your life is based. It is full of compassion reaching out to others beyond self. May you have health and long life to contribute more for betterment of life everywhere particularly in securing the digital infrastructure of the world. -Joseph Ponnoly, DBA

May 2, 2023

Celine Mollinary

Thank you for sharing your story, Dan.

May 2, 2023

elisabeth cannon

Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing what was a very hard time for you! So glad you are back!

May 2, 2023

Allison Brown

Thanks for sharing, appreciate your vulnerability and insight!

May 2, 2023

Sarah Kane

@Dan Houser - thanks for sharing your story with such humor and intelligence. 

May 2, 2023

Jillian Moore

Thankyou so much for being so open and sharing @Dan Houser - it is wonderful that you feel able to share this story and pay it forward!

May 2, 2023

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