This is the first of a two part conversation where Catherine invites Antoinette Daniel to share her personal experience with burnout.
Antoinette discusses her early teaching career, the overwhelming responsibilities she faced, and the moment she realized she was burned out. She talks about the lack of support she received and how she resorted to alternative health practices to cope.
Antoinette also shares her decision to leave her job and take a break by working in Africa. This episode concludes with Antoinette emphasizing the importance of being honest with oneself and seeking help to recover from burnout.
Antoinette is a former PE teacher, now entrepreneur who is passionate about seeing justice done in all areas of her life. She is the founder of an award-winning London cleaning agency called ‘Just Helpers’ and they are aiming to make the world a better place, one clean at a time. Strong justice Ethics are at the heart of all they do.
Find more about one of Antoinette’s business, Just Helpers.
And connect with her on LinkedIn.
Big shout out to my podcast magician, Marc at iRonickMedia for making this real.
Thanks for listening!
Having to be perfect all the time. Because anything that you do shows up or stands out. So again not being allowed to be average because average stands out, not certainly not being allowed to be poor because that then it brings a narrative of, well gosh, is that what every black person's going to be like? So real heavy pressures. I would say it's better now. Still not perfect. I'm still pleasantly surprised when I arrive in certain rooms and see another not even a black man, another black woman there. Something in me goes off. Thank goodness no all on me. Yeah, I can fit it just a little bit more in this meeting, because they're not all going to be watching me.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
Hello, and welcome to unset at work. I'm your host, Katherine Stagg Macy. I'm an executive and team coach, and I'm interested in the conversations that we do not have at work. Today's topic is burnout, which the World Health Organization defines as occupational phenomenon. And I think it's a really useful way of framing it and reminding ourselves that because I think there's often so much personal responsibility put on the person who was burned out rather than the context in which burns them out. Burnout is a result of that real chronic imbalance between what the Job asks of you and like workload and poor working environment and shitty boss, and the resources that you're getting. So the degree of freedom and autonomy that you have or the support of work relationships, you have or don't have interesting data points from a McKinsey report over a year ago. Now, that said, a third of people in the UK and the US report burnout symptoms often always, a third of people report burnout symptoms, often always. And this isn't despite, or in spite of the fact that HR decision makers report that mental health is their top priority. So that in itself is a clear mismatch between the experience of employees love people who've I'm coaching, and what leadership is saying they're trying to create. There's two angles to this conversation. One is the personal lens. And the other one is how do organizations go about creating the conditions for burn out? This episode is going to be the first one, it's going to be the personal lens. And it's a very personal conversation with my guest, Antoinette Daniel, who takes us on a journey through her own experience of burnout not once, not twice, but three times and just shedding the light on the challenges that she faced in her demanding career and the toll that it took on her mental health. She shares that one moment her very first moment because she realized quite clearly that she wasn't coping, and she shares her unraveling journey towards recognizing the signs of burnout, and seeking support and the tough decision that she had to make to take care of herself. Let me tell you about my guest internet. She's a former PE teacher and entrepreneur of multiple businesses who's passionate about seeking justice in all areas of her life. She's the founder of an award winning London cleaning agency called just helpers. And they're aiming to make the world a better place one clean at a time is a strong of justice, and ethics are part of everything that they do. She's currently in the process of radically transforming the cleaning industry, to enable cleaning colleagues to be paid equitably, have fair working rights and conditions to more rigorously monitored, laws to be changed to enable ethical agencies to operate or ably in client's homes and offices to be cleaned to consistently high standard. This was such a rich conversation that I've put this over two episodes. This is part one of part two, part two will be available next week. So let's go listen in to my conversation with Edna Daniel. Internet Daniel, welcome to unset at work.Antionette Danielle:
Hi, Catherine. I've been so excited for this one.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
To talk about burnout.Antionette Danielle:
less excited about that. Yeah, talking with you though.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
It's an interesting topic. I've noticed a few people going off on holiday and hoping that they come back feeling badly. So well. We'll get into that. Let's talk about we're going to share our experiences and particularly your experiences around burnout. When was the first time that you experienced burnout? What was going on?Antionette Danielle:
I was an early adopter. So I would say probably around the age of 23. In my first serious teaching job, I'd been recruited to this really fabulous school. We had a culture of working six days contact time with kids. So we were a Saturday fixture school I was a PE teacher I'd driven into and I have a high achiever, right so I then signed up with the Royal Opera House to do dance production shaped around my kids. So that was a Sunday. So seven days contact time with kids, but in my first year, I loved this job description so much I love this school and I still do To this day, but they gave me the list this list of things if you can achieve a, b, and c, or when you achieve a, b, and c, are about seven things on the list, you'll get an extra responsibility point. So obviously, I got my head down and within the first year, knocked them all out of the ballpark, promptly rocked up to my appraisal then said that, only to be told, nope, not good enough. We're not giving it to you. But no real explanation, no real understanding of why and how and what I could do to make that better. And I just thought I've given everything to crack this list out. And I think that was probably the final trigger. So tired one, first full year of teaching, too. I'd got number of life things going on. So my mom, for people that don't know me so well, my mum was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was a child, in and out of the care system, but I became her full carer or her next of kin, aged 18. And who would have been dealing with that through university and all of that entailed. And I was running the youth at church. So I was just juggling a number of balls and teaching pressure, I think just cracked me. That's the first time he's 23.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
Do you have the language for it?Antionette Danielle:
Not at all. I just thought, Oh, my goodness, Daniel, you are not coping. It's not good enough. So that's the hole that I was in at that point.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
It was your own fault. It was it was the phone in your head?Antionette Danielle:
I totally hoping. Yeah. And as you've asked me this question, I've never really realize that before, a get around schizophrenia, people are often diagnosed in their early 20s. So I think somewhere in a scared part of me, I was also thinking, are you developing schizophrenia? Are you going to end up in the hospital next to your mom, I've never connected that before. So those two things were going on.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
There's so much going on there as well. And so you're feeling overwhelmed. You don't have a label for it. Like, what were you? What did you do? How did you cope?Antionette Danielle:
I unraveled, I unraveled over a period of time, I think the penny drop moment for me is when I came to that's what it felt like shouting at a lineup of kids. So I was known for being quite a happy go lucky teacher. We were taught at university to never raise your voice with kids actually, that there were so many other ways of getting kids onside. And I was lucky that like those ways worked. For me. It was one of my favorite classes. So we never fell out. They always complied. I always made it fun for them. But I came to and it was just 30 Scared faces just looking back at me lined up against the back of this little cord. I'll never forget it. And I was just ranting. I can't even remember what about these poor little fake faces poor little things, but trying desperately to make me happy. And I just thought, Oh, my God, no, this is wrong. This is not me. Don't do this. And these kids don't deserve it. How I wasn't fired on the spot. I don't know. So I think that was my realization point. And I went away and tried to put some pieces together in my mind, I realized, oh, there have been other things going on that you've not acknowledged, and you've been unwilling to accept, like, dreading getting up and coming to school, crying, I'd be sobbing in the store cupboard, before lessons or after lessons trying to hold it together in between, I think I can safely say now I was depressed or on my way into a deep depression, just those feelings of feeling out of control, terror, of feeling incompetent of feeling that I didn't belong. And this calling that I've long held wasn't for me. And feeling very isolated in it actually very alone.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
I'm really sorry, I had to go through that. And it completely resonates with my experiences as well. And then burnout, it feels so it's so internalized, and so almost shocking to find yourself. That's what I'm hearing you as well like crying in the cupboard, wondering how you're going to make it through the day. I'm sure there are people listening, who can resonate with that. How did you make your way out of that? At the time, and you recover from that?Antionette Danielle:
I knew that I wasn't right. And so I went to ask for time off from first of all my line manager who was quite a new line manager at the time, and she didn't feel equipped to rubber stamp that really. So I then went to my head teacher who gave me an odd sort of all or nothing. I was just saying if I could just come part time even just take give me a few weeks to be part time but sick leave. I think I'll be okay. And she basically said, No, we could make you part time but then you'd lose your salary essentially. And that just wasn't an option for me. I didn't have a fallback plan. I didn't have parents that could bail me out. I was very lucky that I had a couple that mentored me at church and she was a GP. So I went to talk to her, and just ended up sobbing on her dining table. And she was the first person that used the word depression and talked about, maybe I could go on antidepressants, which gave me a whole waft of things that I couldn't could consider. But the antidepressants literally had me wailing again, because I was caring for a parent. That was on all sorts of medication. And my thoughts, which weren't right now, I see. But my thoughts at the time were, I'm seeing what it's doing to her not really fully understanding the blend of medication, I don't think I can afford to have two of us on this one of us, it's got to fully function. So it needs to be me. And so I just hunker down actually, and like, right, you've got to sort this out. I never recommend this to anyone. But I gave myself a lot of tough talks, makes me feel quite emotional thinking about it. Because it wasn't really what I needed, but talked myself out of that spiral. I also my line manager was into alternative health practices. And I'd never really dabbled in that. But she had me over to her house, she did some Reiki treatment on me, which completely freaked me out, but was interesting. She introduced me to crystals, again, completely freaked me out just didn't fit into my religious narrative. But the biggest thing she did was, the thing that I felt most impacted by was blend some flower remedies for me some herbal remedies. And so I took some of those each day to give myself this big pep talk. And then I told myself, I need out of all of them, I can't figure out how to stop all of these or make any of these scenarios better. I can't say no to teaching, I need the money, I can't just switch my mum off. She needs me there. I can't stop leading youth working at church. So this is how messed up my head was. I'm just going to create a legitimate reason why I can exit stage left. And I decided it was going to be career development, and that I would get a job abroad. And no one could argue with that. But it would give me timeout. And so I literally set this campaign of project to Africa, and gave myself 18 months to find a job somewhere anywhere in Africa. And that kind of kept me sane everyday I pinned a map up next to my head. As soon as I woke up, I put pink dots in it every morning, almost meditating on a map. And within 18 months I was gone. So not ideal, it papered over the cracks. But it gave me two years, essentially to recover.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
I mean, you didn't have the support. And that's what I'm hearing in that storyline. People didn't understand the people around you didn't have the language. They know the willingness to give you the space that you needed to know how to guide you anything.Antionette Danielle:
Oh, am I talking? Gosh, 25 years ago or so. So really wasn't sexy to be talking about breakdowns and work stress and but burnout. Burnout was, right, yeah.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
It's changed the whole life. Either. Your headmistress is responsive? No, you can't have any time off. It's not the first time I've heard line managers just completely incapable of understanding or having an empathy for that. When you say there was 25 years ago, you've had another experience of burnout since then,Antionette Danielle:
yes. So this is prior to my 40th birthday. So we're talking just under 10 years ago now, with the onset of taking on a business this business. So I fell into this business accidentally, I've had a big life change. Where I'd sold up my home, I was all set to be a missionary in India campaigning against human trafficking. So I was immersed in that world where I was seeing really heart wrenching images and narratives day in and day out feeling very helpless. I was teaching a group of people to we were mapping an area around brothels and indicators for trafficking. So making real life calls posing as punters again well, just disembodied calls to another woman on the end of the phone and going to bed feeling really helpless about abandoning these women to in the sake of reset for the sake of research, which would then enable us to present a petition to local policymakers and police to go in and investigate but leaving them until that point. So just having all of that going on, and then my parents, my birth, parents dying in quick succession of each other within 10 months, and just feeling overwhelmed. I was back to coaching at school, I'd got this business growing that wasn't supposed to be growing. It was just supposed to be paying my bills, and all these stories that I was hearing. And I remember again, just sitting on one of my desks and just wailing seems to be a thing when I figured out oh my goodness, okay. something's broken because I'm not a big cry. So uncontrolled crying is probably should sign the first sign but it's typically the last sign and a lot has gone on. Before I get to that point. Yeah, Yeah, I think because I got the framework from before I could label it a lot more quickly. And I, instead of asking for time off, I demanded time off this time, I took a month off from the charity. Fortunately, that coincided with summer holiday at school. And I just recruited some admin team and I just pushed more hours onto them and Lenten lean into that. But I sought medical intervention a lot more quickly, then, and just hunkered down in my cave, really, still trying to self sort, but coming out of things a bit more quickly.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
And so the signs that you're starting to see in the second round is wailing, as you call it as the sort of the final time. And it was in hindsight, you look back, like Were there other warning signs or red flags that you're seeing.Antionette Danielle:
So it's the same and interestingly, when you and I connected a few years ago, I was on the up towards that. So it's extreme tiredness, bone, deep and tiredness for me, a foggy brain. So I'm a problem solver. That excites me, it gets me out of bed, but when problems just seem to overwhelm me, and I am starting to get irritated about people and their problems, and I can't solve my own problems, when I lose passion for what I'm doing. And it becomes like a heavy a mill around my neck, that sort of feeling when I dread getting up every morning. And the day ahead of me just seems long and heavy and complicated when I distance myself from people. So I'm quite sociable when people start to tire me out. And I'm craving alone time all over the place. And when I'm tearful. Yeah, that's probably the most painful one. For me.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
Yeah, it's interesting listening to I've been diagnosed with depression, myself and being on meds and then the list. I'm always been really struck in this conversation, how similar they are to what you're listing with burnout. And what I know that we're not to. We're not medical professionals. We're not saying anything. I'm just saying it's just to noticing just the overlap. And to not surprise when in your first burnout, how people were suggesting, and it might have been depression. Maybe it was. Maybe there's a maybe they're cousins? I don't know. Yeah, yeah. The burnout for me has been like a loss of joy. The things the things that I have enjoyed doing all of a sudden, have no joy at all to them, which is also a symptom of depression. So yeah, I can I can relate to the other the the lack of energy, the lack of empathy, the shortness, yes. The shortness of that I have with people that I normally have a lot of time for, and biting people's heads off. Like, Wow, what's that about? Your as appointing other LinkedIn relationships, right, like our burnout feels like such a solitary experience, but it is it's affecting our work, it affects our relationships, that could be contributing factors and sporting factors, depending on the kind of relationship work or who the boss is, or how people around you are understanding you or not understanding your experience. Your experiences are the social justice work that you are doing. I mean, that is exhausting. I've heard people say that if you do the work that you're passionate about that, then you don't get burnt out like that in itself as fulfilling, but I think there's this, you have this wonderful example of there. There's certain type of social justice work that I think by the very nature will have you on the burnout path. I think teaching is on there as well.Antionette Danielle:
I'd agree. I agree. And I think it's, I think that's a really complex thing, because we aren't we were taught in the world of business, aren't we that if we follow our passion, follow our joy will never regret turning up to work, it will be an absolute walk in the park. But even now, with the anti trafficking stuff, that's eight years later, I still can't see the words human trafficking without wanting to curl into a fetal ball. If it comes on the news, I have to switch it off. If it's a film, like a made up film, I have to switch it off. So I think that we're not careful enough with people that are working in industries, where perhaps they're secondary trauma involved, where you're having to immerse yourself in things that you're definitely passionate about, but maybe you're powerless to change, or powerless to change overnight. Even my cleaning business, I love it. And I hate it every single day. And again, it's because I think if I could give it up tomorrow, I would accept that there's a purpose behind it. And so until I can see that purpose being fulfilled, I don't feel allowed to walk away from it. And there's something in that that can create that heavy burden that onerous path to towards burnout as well, unless I have checks and balances in place.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
I think there's a there's a link between, you said earlier like being a high achiever. For me a lot of my self worth comes in the work that I do. And those are all contributing factors to variables in place that can set you on the path to burnout doesn't mean you're gonna guarantee but they are contributing factors. Let's put it that way. I think perfectionism is probably another one I was aboutAntionette Danielle:
to add that Yes. Okay. High achievers, perfectionism, I think are vulnerable to yourself,Catherine Stagg-Macey:
a perfectionist.Antionette Danielle:
I used to be, I'm a recovering perfectionist, I've really had to adopt the mantra that good enough is good enough. I battled with that some days. But having hit that low, now, twice in my life, I just can't afford to be all out. So I choose my battles, there are some things that I will go hell for leather on and make as perfect as I can. But they're not many things. Because again, I've recognized that my good enough is probably somebody else's perfect. And I have to be okay with that. And then I try and take time regularly to zoom out, look at the big picture, look at the horizon again, get everything weighed up, I think it's why it becomes such a big planner. Because in planning is when you start to write things down and put them into a framework, you realize, time is a finite thing. And you are a finite being. So there's only so much you can manage. Choose your battle, Daniel, what are you going to go for today?Catherine Stagg-Macey:
I mean, that brings up the thread of this conversation about who you are and how you show up in the world as to what systems of oppression, you are a black woman in the UK. And that has to play into what it's like to show up and what what is good enough.Antionette Danielle:
Earlier on in my career, again, when I was totally unaware of all of these things, as a teacher, as a netball player, having gone through the private school system, bizarrely, as a child in care, I was the only or the first I remember my first three schools actually, as I crossed the threshold, every black child in that school, by the time I came round in a loop was either hanging out a window hanging over the stairwell, or following me because I just never seen somebody that looked like them as their role models. So you'd have the pressure of representing those young minds and showing up properly for them. I have the pressure of knowing oh my goodness, I'm the first across this threshold, I've got to bring my A game. So that remembering that I'm waving the banner for anyone that comes after me, that's a black woman. And then just the pressure of standing out. So no matter what you did even just standing still you stand out, right? So having to be perfect all the time. Because anything that you do shows up or stands out. So again, not being allowed to be average, because average stands out, not certainly not being allowed to be poor. Because that then brings a narrative of, well, gosh, is that what every black person is going to be like? So real heavy pressures? I would say it's better now. Still not perfect. I'm still pleasantly surprised when I arrive in certain rooms and see another not even a black man, another black woman there. Something in me goes Oh, thank goodness. No all on me. Yeah, yeah, I can fidget just a little bit more in this meeting, because they're not all going to be watching me.Catherine Stagg-Macey:
Yeah. And you talked about being sort of shinier and better and triple A star game to not attract the judgment, the criticism, what whatever I can when I highlight them, the conversation for everyone is listening, just how the emotional toll of living like that. And how that's another factor and that can contribute to burnout.Antionette Danielle:
I would say it definitely did as a 20 year old, in the schools in the school system under the teacher. Yeah. Again, I just had a narrative for it. And I guess for my non black colleagues and friends or anybody listening to this, the best thing I can liken it to is when you go abroad to a country where you are the minority, and you have people on the streets hailing you down, cars driving by honking at you people following you, it's a novelty when you're on holiday, but also, especially if you're white, it's a positive thing. Nobody is there thinking that you're going to come and Rob rape or pillage them. So to have that every single day, and I'm not saying people are saying that of me, but just that being the novelty in every scenario, every single day, everywhere you go. It's a latent pressure that adds up over time,Catherine Stagg-Macey:
even if you're not conscious of time because it becomes such an internalized normal. I mean, that is your that's your normal. Yeah. I remember traveling to India some years ago on business and walking down the streets and I just had, it was mostly women and Children literally touching me the whole time and touching my blonde hair. It's like what is this blonde hair that this woman has? Yeah. And there's, I understand that people seem to like to do that with black woman as well. As I pull my face and heart. It's dehumanizing to be pulled and objectified in that kind of way. Yes. If there's a fetishizing you're just foreign objects and how fascinating you are. Yes, but be uncomfortable inAntionette Danielle:
the work environment. It's a lot more polite to no one is physically touching or pouring, you know, but it's happening right? You are exercised in silence or what would you think Antoinette? Oh, no, I was busy tidying up a bathroom in my head as I was setting the back room of this meeting. Oh. SoCatherine Stagg-Macey:
contract this one. Yeah. Burnout is a tough place to be in and if listening to this, you've become more aware of what you're experiencing and a bit concerned about your own mental health. Please get advice from a healthcare professional. None of our conversation today can replace the support that you can get and you deserve from someone in the medical profession. Come back next week, we're gonna pick up on the third experience that she had in burnout, and really then explore more about the path to recovery that Antoinette has found in her experiences and all her wisdom that she shares with us about what to do when you find yourself in places that she has found herself. So thank you for listening. I think that you hear means everything to me. Thank you. This is your wing woman signing off.