"On November 2nd 2016, I was on a conference call and all of a sudden I started feeling a numbing, tingling sensation down the right hand side of my face and I started to feel a little dizzy.
“I walked out of the meeting room I was in and as a couple of colleagues approached me, their faces were of absolute shock and horror. I couldn’t see it but they could – I was starting to droop on one side of my face.
“I was taken to hospital and I was screened very quickly to see if I had a stroke or any bleeding in the brain. Thankfully I didn’t.
“I knew something wasn’t quite right but I was determined to just carry on. It was a busy time in the office and I didn’t want to let anybody down.
“Then one day in early December I was in a board meeting presenting to over 20 people and I started to feel the familiar feeling on my head and my face. I stepped out of the room and one of my clients took me aside and said, ‘This is enough. You’re not letting anybody down. The only person you’re letting down is yourself if you carry on.’
“With finally having figured out that this was a rare and severe form of migraine possibly caused by the excess cortisol and adrenaline running through my body because of stress, they decided it would be best for me to take some time off over Christmas.
“The rest seemed to have a positive effect but as I was ramping up and getting ready to return to work on 3rd January 2017, the attacks returned only this time they became a daily debilitating occurrence.
“It would begin with that familiar droop of the mouth but then evolve into my hand, arm and sometimes my leg would become weak and I’d be unable to control or move them. Once the paralysis subsided, I would then be left in pain, dizzy and exhausted so there were many days when I’d just move between my bed and the living room.
“Thankfully with the help of an incredible family, friends and medical team who help me reset my life completely I’m back to a new normal life, one that is much better than the one I left behind. I changed my diet, exercise, sleep and mindfulness routines and I have the support of some amazing medical technology, a machine that helps me keep my brain stable and that I carry with me all time and will have to do so for the rest of my life.
“So how did I get myself to that point where I completely fried my brain? Well, I was at the back end of a six-month stint of 80 hour weeks and I don’t think I had spent a day away from my laptop in the previous three months. Weekends had become an alien concept.
“The reason I didn’t speak up was because I thought that would be perceived as weakness, that I would be showing my family, my friends and most importantly, my employer that I wasn’t coping with my responsibilities and I wasn’t a top performer.
“I am thankful to Samaritans, the Lord Mayor’s Appeal and PwC because they’ve given me two opportunities. The first one is to raise awareness about the fact that the relentless pace that we live in the City does take its toll. We need to feel more comfortable and secure in ourselves to put our hand up and say ‘I need help’.
“The second one is that they have created this wonderful Wellbeing in the City tool that will help us all identify the signs of mental ill health in ourselves, but also identify the signs in others. It will give people the confidence and the tools so they can approach colleagues to say ‘are you okay?’ and have meaningful discussions that can truly make a difference to someone’s life.”
Paula has now recovered from burnout and has returned to her strategy consulting job in the City. She has become a passionate advocate for wellbeing in the workplace and the impact nutrition, movement, recovery and the right mind-set can have on mental health. You can read more about her story on her blog and follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@_burnoutgirl).