A Tale of Two Cities

April 5, 2016
A tale of two cities burnout

Last December, I split my life in two.

It wasn’t conscious in the way that that makes it sound like I sliced it down the middle with a knife. But I very consciously took a job 200 miles from my wonderful home, and my wonderful life.

Why? In all honesty, it wasn’t feeling so wonderful. Something had to give. I was burnt out, tired, anxious. My health was suffering.

I didn’t ever overtly say it, not like that. Not for the whole year that I felt it in my core – in my soul – did I do something about it.

I didn’t feel like I could.

I know I’m not the only busy, driven, outwardly happy person out there who has felt like everything they have doesn’t fit together. That all the balls they’re juggling are in danger of crashing to the floor, where it turns out they didn’t really mean anything anyway. That their life is moving faster than a person’s heart, brain and body can possibly keep up with, and yet at the same time they feel like they are standing still. That they feel guilty for daring to feel like that at all, to whisper it in a hushed tone into the dead of night, when this life they’ve built is the product of a series of choices they and they alone have made; that they made it this way because it’s what they wanted. And so it’s what they got.

And it feels like you should be grateful because seemingly you have absolutely everything, and yet your heart tells you you don’t, because it is so heavy.

And it feels like you should be grateful because seemingly you have absolutely everything, and yet your heart tells you you don’t, because it is so heavy.

Because success and happiness are two very different things.

And who was I to complain? From the outside everything was more than fine; everything was as it was when I felt incredible, grateful, happy and grounded a year before. I had, and have, a wonderful relationship, I owned, and own, a part of a property – in London! I had more friends in close proximity than ever before! Success!

And yet, I took myself away. 200 miles away, on weekdays at least.

Because I needed to take control of the situation – to bring myself back. To be the person I recognised, the person that had been just out for my grasp for enough time to make me feel… not quite here.

My last dinner with Ian before I moved; the special one that he’d prepared for me even though I was the one leaving him, was never eaten because I ended up working until 11pm. I cried at the desk, alone, as the light above me went out. Its sensor had detected there was nobody left.

It wasn’t wrong.

I was angry, for me but mostly for him – at the situation, at feeling like I needed to do something so disruptive to feel better, at what I felt I’d become. I wasn’t keeping up my end of the partnership – he’d fallen in love with someone and she’d faded, in parts. We rely on each other of course; this sort of thing works both ways. But I was sick of hearing my own moaning, and sick of feeling so burdensome. Because nothing particular was wrong, remember? And yet nothing at all felt right.

He saw it. He was the one who encouraged me to apply for the job, in the department I’d always wanted to work in. He understood that by going away for work, I could come back to him in every other sense.

I was simply broken in London, not broken because of London.

The city that was my playground had become overbearing. Aggressive. I thought London was steadily breaking me. But I was simply broken in London, not broken because of London. I mean, clearly it doesn’t encourage a gentle pace of life. But it’s not like I’d been lured in under false pretences.

I’m spirited. Alive. Interested in everything. Excited by everything. London was (is) a sensory explosion that feeds all those things.

But I’d become distant, vacant. Hardened. Disengaged. Tired. So tired, yet sleep evaded me. I couldn’t drag myself up for the gym, and the perpetual cycle continued. My precariously constructed and perfectly suitable whirlwind had unravelled from within.

And so, that bitterly cold day in December when I woke up in a room belonging to a girl I had only met once, in a strange bed, to start a new job, I could have wept – with relief. I knew I’d done the right thing, for me, at that particular point in my life under that particular set of circumstances.

All around me, there was space.

Literal space – in my head, to clear my thoughts and think about the things I really wanted. Space in the street – to walk to work and only pass four other people, not 400. Space and time – to go to the gym in the evening. To catch up on the months of sleep deficit I’d racked up. Space to give care and attention to a chronic medical condition that requires huge amounts of energy to safely maintain. And creative space. Space for motivation and excitement and enthusiasm to flood back into my work. Structure. Something to work towards that I once again felt something for.

My blood sugars improved almost instantly, and I very quickly came back to life. It took no more than a few days to feel like I was breathing the air again, properly.

I wasn’t just existing. I’d woken up.

Now? The mist has lifted. I know how amazing my life is, in London, right where I built it, where it remains while I see this through. I leap onto the train of a Friday evening, giddy to get back to where my soul feels content. Manchester is a fantastic city to live in and explore, but it’s the place where I get my head down – where routine rules. I work, I workout, I cook simple meals, and I get to bed. London, by contrast, is for memories, spontaneity (within the constraints of a 48 hour window!), for planning adventures, and fun, and being with the loves of my life.

I may not be there for most of the week, but I’ve come home again.

A tale of two cities burnout


  • Reply Bill Sheppard April 5, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    Beautifully articulated!

  • Reply Anna Fenton April 5, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    Brilliant- so honest and heartfelt! You’ve managed to put into words so many of the things I felt before I left London, but couldn’t articulate. Long may you put your happiness first!

    • Reply missjengrieves April 8, 2016 at 9:51 am

      Hey lovely! ah thank you, a panda’s happiness is very important! I’m so happy you found yours too. London is quite the beast sometimes isn’t it? I think it was a lot of things, but London definitely doesn’t help matters when you’re in a bit of a funk. Hope you’re well and happy and the new job is going well! xx

  • Reply Helen Wills April 6, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    Such a fab read Jen. Sometimes you have to make brave and scary decisions to really feel better in your own skin. Sticking with what is dragging you down often feels the easier option, but the harder choices are usually the best ones for you. Glad it’s working out.

    • Reply missjengrieves April 8, 2016 at 9:53 am

      Thanks so much lovely lady. It’s a lot of emotions to articulate, but space and time have helped me figure it all out. Feeling much brighter now! A bit of perspective is always a good thing, it was a bit of a drastic move but it all fell into place with the job etc. I hope you are keeping well? xx

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