A business woman’s experience of rebuilding her life after a catastrophic breakdown has helped turn her into one of the region’s most sought after resilience experts – and she’s in Scarborough in April.
With her coaching methods used by everyone from stressed out executives to over-worked parents , few people are better at spotting the early signs of mental health issues in the work place.
Life was very different for Anne Burton – now a critically acclaimed author of two books on human behaviour that’s set to host the first of two “Reboot Weekends” at Scarborough’s Hackness Grange from April 24-26 – a decade ago.
She was a high-flying management accountant specialising in helping multi-national companies as they underwent periods of intense organisational change.
Anne Burton still struggles to piece together the days after her breakdown.
“I sat staring at the TV for days on end – I’m not sure it was even turned on. The experience completely broke me. It felt like my whole body had shut down.”
It was a single comment that caused Anne Burton’s world to stop turning. But the stress levels had been rising for months before. She’d recently landed a new job and quickly realised she’d inherited a major problem that senior management knew nothing about.
“It was the aftermath of the Enron scandal and new US legislation meant audits were tougher than ever before. Failure could mean million dollar fines and prison sentences for senior management.
“I discovered to my horror that the accounting software wasn’t properly installed. The incoherent results it was producing would never pass the audit. But my predecessor – who was well liked within the company – had somehow managed to paper over the cracks.
“My days got longer and I’d regularly be at my desk at 6.30am. Whatever I did – I always seemed to be the barer of bad news.
“I’d be tense all the time. The voice in my head was on auto-repeat – ‘You’re inadequate and you’re the problem’.”
The company finally accepted the software was at fault at the eleventh hour. It was re-installed, Anne delivered the figures and the auditors were happy. She had worked like her life depended on it. She had finally re-gained the respect of the company – or so she thought.
The message came through from her taskmasters in the US questioning her work within days of the successful audit – ‘it’s not perfect’ they said.
Those words became the epitaph for the old Anne Burton as she collapsed, sobbing in the shower at her home in Chesterfield as the full force of the breakdown hit her.
But far from being the wake-up call that led to a true life change she, like many in her situation, somehow struggled on after a few days off with stress.
“It has surprised me over the years to notice how many of us don’t heed a warning about physical or mental health – and I was no different. What I did was similar to when you trip up in public – I jumped back up, looked around to see if anyone had noticed and then went on as if nothing had happened.”
Anne Burton changed jobs but soon realised the darkness was never far from the surface.
It wasn’t long before a second, even bigger wake-up call arrived to say things had to change.
She was rushed to hospital with suspected ovarian cancer and ended up having a full hysterectomy which ended up bringing on the full force of the menopause. As Anne Burton was recovering from surgery her mum – whom she was very close to – sadly passed away.
“The emotional tsunami of loss, devastation and worthlessness felt like a carbon copy of my earlier breakdown. I knew it was linked – it was far more than grief and hormones. This was my true wake up call.”
It was the start of a new journey and a new life for Anne Burton.
“I spent ten years studying human behaviour. The biggest discovery was learning about my own experiences. I realised so much of the stress was of my own making. I learnt so many of the problems stemmed from my own beliefs – I now know your life can be transformed by changing these beliefs.”
Anne Burton ended up authoring two books on the subject ‘Being Human – A User Guide’ and ‘Being Human – The Mind Reboot’.