Back from Burnout

Nine months ago the world around me crashed and burned. I had been running on empty for over 2 years compensating for so many challenges in my life and it was affecting myself and my relationship with others, I began to question whether I was really present, and I had this building anger inside me that really scared me at times.

Several honest colleagues close to me, and my wife encouraged me to make a change in stepping out of the environment and situations I found myself in to have a chance to heal. It was alien for me to do so as I have spent most of my life focussed on supporting others through development, coaching and mentoring.

I have always had the ethos of looking after others first before myself, something grown out of my early childhood and the way I was brought up.

What frightened me all those months ago that ignoring the advice from others I just burned out!

Initially, I didn’t realise what had happened and though I was suffering high levels of anxiety and stress I was trying to keep going. I found myself fluctuating between feeling very emotional and fragile to feeling irrational anger. There was a scary period of having dissociative moments where I was in a room with others but felt like I was standing in the corner watching myself. I didn’t recognise myself and had lost a sense of who I was, questioning everything I was doing. I didn’t even trust that what I was saying was making sense anymore.

For those that know me well, many commented that they hadn’t heard from me and I dropped off social media as I was finding the posts and articles suddenly overwhelming and overloading my thought processes and making me more anxious.

For the first time in my life, I was really scared I had lost myself and wasn’t sure I would ever find me again. Having grown up with a Dad who was Bi-Polar and experiencing what manic highs and depressive lows did to him, it scared me I was crashing down the same road.

Where I am now nine months later is a different story, my life was saved by my wife giving me permission to step out of the trap I was stuck in that was feeding this anxiety and stress and get off the ‘wheel’ for a while to find myself again.

I have to say in these situations, if you are suffering something similar, to get help, you cannot do this on your own. I went to my Doctor who was amazingly understanding and very supportive and I ended up having face to face counselling and CBT alongside some serotonin-based medicine, all the things I had never done or felt I needed in my life before. The value, collectively of all of it was it helped me start the healing process of finding myself again.

Here now, I am still on the road, I have real moments of self-doubt and confidence and a real anxiety preparing to speak again to groups or facilitate workshops, something that has never worried me before in my career. I can tell from what I have been through that there are some collateral effects that are going to take much longer to deal with but the good news is, I am getting there, and having people around you who love you and care about you is key. I speak much more to my wife now about how I feel when I am anxious and Claire will ask me if I am okay on occasions, to make sure I am not slipping back.

One really emotional moment that made me realise I was moving forward was recently when out with our family, our boys, their wives, and our 2 wonderful grandchildren and one of my sons just said to me at the end of the day “Dad it’s so lovely having you back”.

It makes me emotional writing those words but it just shows how important it is to know you are cared about by others and there is a way back always from these dark and dangerous times.

This is why myself and Kevin Miller are so passionate about People Centred Leadership, we all can do so much to create the environment of care and safety that people, all of us, need to grow and thrive in.

To all my fellow men out there I want to say, we are not always strong enough to carry others, we sometimes need to be carried too, to be honest, and ask for help is not a shameful thing it doesn’t make us any less who we are, in fact, it shows our humanness and helps recovery and healing.

This is the first time I have written an article since October last year for those who have wondered where I have been and, starting to write again has been the most difficult I can ever remember. But having put these words down on paper I know its another step on the road to getting stronger.

Our mission in life should be to look out more for others who are in pain and suffering and put our arm around them and help them find a way forward to heal. If you are not in a good place right now, ask for help from the people you love and trust, you will be surprised to know its not a shameful thing to do so, and it’s the start of the journey of finding yourself again.

Take care all of you.


Rob Coulston
Rob Coulston
People first, People at the heart of everything. That’s how I describe myself when asked what I do. It is where I have got my greatest satisfaction, connecting totally with my purpose of being on this planet. I have spent most of my career mainly working in learning and development with a wide range of organizations over a period of 30+ years. In that time I have had the honour of developing many high performing teams and mentoring and coaching people to help them find their true potential. I have worked with leaders and managers at all levels on work that has related ultimately to building better cultures for their people. The thing that has always fascinated me about organisations is the culture, the huge and humbling responsibility of being a leader and the amazing resourcefulness of people to deliver high levels of services in the most challenging circumstances. I have found that taking the time to build relationships and ultimately develop trust with others is where you really start to connect with people on a level beyond job descriptions and functions, you start to discover some truly amazing things and people can amaze and inspire you. We may be all different in terms of skills, strengths, and personality but the fundamental truth is we are all human. I have the scars like all of us of the journey I am on and I have been broken and healed in equal measure. Life through experience and connection with others teaches us so much and yet at the same time is humbling. We should constantly think about the legacy we leave with others, are we making a positive difference to other people’s lives through the work we do? I cannot think of anything more satisfying and uplifting. Rob’s Purpose is to help other people realise their potential through inspiring, supporting, challenging, coaching and encouraging – putting people at the heart of everything. He describes himself as a catalyst to encourage, inspire others to change, develop, discover, fly. Rob has worked in a wide range of organisations from the large commercial to the small engineering businesses as well as Public Sector. Rob has grassroots experience of developing high performing teams, challenging managers to become true leaders and a real passion for helping create a movement for culture change and new thinking. The love of Rob’s life, Claire and their wonderful 2 boys, their wives and grandson are the centre of everything and the true reason Why. Rob loves cycling, moorland walks, motorhoming and the open road.

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  1. What a powerful and vulnerable, raw and real article, Rob. I celebrate your willingness to not only take the actions to get the support you needed, but to share your experience with all of us. What I continue to notice about the challenges I have faced, still face, and those of others is many of us weren’t given good, solid tools for processing through difficult emotional content from the past, present, our thoughts about the always uncertain future. We either go to burnout or blow up. We are all in this life together. How important it remains to be there for one another in our times of walking through hard, hard, hard, or dancing through joy, joy, joy or more likely some beautiful mixture of laughing, crying, screaming, gasping, jumping with jubilation inside all the various realities we find ourselves. To be human is to feel all of it, to experience all of it… Welcome to the messy middle of being real. And THANK YOU for your honest and brave essay.

  2. What a brave, honest, introspective look at your humanity, Rob. This moved me because I’ve been there, too, and my inner critic is brutal. She points out all of the mistakes and unfinished business while ignoring all of the promise and potential. These are the times when I let the stress and anxiety overpower common sense and what I knew to be true about myself deep down inside.

    What I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes the hardest and most important thing we can do for ourselves is reach out for help, support, encouragement, and a gentle nudge back. I’m so glad you found that and that you’ve begun writing again. I know that this piece inspired me, and I’m certain I’m not alone. Your courage will give others much hope.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story, Rob. You mentioned that you still feel some degree of uncertainty about speaking to groups and facilitating workshops.

    I don’t think you have anything to worry about. There are so many people who have walked down that dark path who will be inspired and pulled in by your story of recovery, they will be sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to learn from you.

    You’re blessed with a caring family.

    All the best!

  4. Your article is refreshing, and common among many I have encountered in my life, but what is even more amazing is that you were able to persevere and at the end, what waited was those loving words from your family. Welcome back!

  5. Excellent article, and courageous also, Rob. It is not easy to navigate those feelings and to dig down deep to understand and manage them. But it sounds like you have a supportive and loving tribe to help you do so. It seems that you are coming out on the other side, stronger and with a deeper understanding of humanness.
    I think that there isn’t enough emphasis placed on embracing our vulnerabilities. Instead, the implication is that we have to be as tough as nails. Well, you can be tough as nails and still be vulnerable. They go hand in hand quite well together.
    Thank you for sharing this intimate side of your journey with us. I’m confident it will inspire others. I know it did me.

  6. The world needs so much more of you, your care, your story, your People Centred Leadership mission. I feel your courage, your vulnerability, your pain, your transformation, your trust all encapsulated in your words. I hope this is the ignition key for you to share more anecdotal stories here and other forums. Discussion = enlightenment, acknowledgement and healing for all of those that need it. I am so proud of the work you are doing!

  7. “Our mission in life should be to look out more for others who are in pain and suffering and put our arm around them and help them find a way forward to heal. If you are not in a good place right now, ask for help from the people you love and trust…” I’m reading wisdom and an offer of hope. Thank you.

    • Thank you Len I greatly value your support here, it feels a wonderful community to be part of. Thank you for pointing me to your article which resonates so much and has led me to discover an amazing trove of stories you have published here, I plan to read more and be inspired – thanks Rob

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