The first magazine article I sold (for a whopping $150! It worked out to four cents/hour) was about a Baptist pastor’s burnout. That was 18 years ago. I remember thinking there were many points of similarity between his personality and mine. But it never occurred to me that I might one day go down the same path. I was rather smug about his burnout; I felt immune. I had limits, boundaries, wiggle room and a sugar daddy!
When it did happen I was as blindsided as that Baptist pastor was. His severe fatigue forced him to seek medical help and take six months off work. He recovered because during his forced sabbatical he rested, he received good therapy, and he made crucial changes to his thinking and his living.
Let’s start here: How did I recognize I was burnt out?
My first undeniable alarm that something was amiss came in April this year, the day I accidentally locked my two-year-old granddaughter and both sets of keys in my car. It wasn’t the incident itself, it was my reaction to it — I burst into tears and could not stop.
I cried during my phone call to my husband — who was driving on a freeway in Montreal (suddenly “driving distracted” in the city where one most needs one’s wits about them!). He suggested I call a tow truck.
I cried so much during my call to the towing company that the dispatcher had to counsel me before he could get my logistical info.
I was still crying when I went back into the house and told her mommy, holding a newborn and hoping to nap, that I had imprisoned her eldest in my car on the street. She also tried to comfort me. To no avail.
I did not stop crying until the tow truck driver — ordered by the dispatcher to abandon his current mission and make all haste to the hysterical grandmother and the incarcerated toddler — released the child in record time.
I was still leaking when the driver informed me the dispatcher had located the info from my AMA card (which I had misplaced) and there would be no charge. New tears of gratitude burst forth.
Why all the tears? The toddler was fine and rather enjoyed all the attention. The mommy was not alarmed nor upset with me. My husband didn’t accuse or blame me but tried, like everyone else, to calm me and guide me to solutions.
The flood of tears was an obvious overreaction. Something was not right. I was not right. Over the next several weeks I began to pay attention. Here’s what I noticed:
I had lost enthusiasm for my calling. At the time of the great flood (of tears) I was halfway through a four-month spring speaking season. (I speak at women’s events sponsored by Christian churches or organizations) The three weekends I wasn’t away speaking I hosted out-of-town guests at home. My son and his wife, who live nearby, had a second baby and the mommy had complications and was re-hospitalized. I was trying to help out as much as possible during my at-home days by caring for the toddler. This same family bought a house and moved in one month after the birth. They needed help and I was glad to give it. But there were no days off for months. I was dreading the next speaking event and hanging on until the summer break. My office began to resemble a tel. Archeologists may one day unearth my desk.
I was unusually tired. I typically have an abundance of energy. I am, after all, gluten free! (In case you can’t see it my tongue is in my cheek) I could barely get through a weekend of speaking without sneaking off to my room for regular rests. At times my speech was slurred for no other reason than fatigue. As tired as I was I could never nap and I often took sleeping pills at night because I was panicky about getting enough sleep to get through the weekend.
I lost confidence in my effectiveness as a speaker. Even though event organizers were quick to share the results of weekend evaluations in which the speaker was rated five out of five, I felt like I had little to say and was not saying it well.
Too often, I heard myself saying “I hate…”. When my kids were young I did not allow them to say those words because I think we talk ourselves into (and out of) things. If I say I hate school or I hate broccoli or I hate you over and over, I will convince myself I really do. In fact, when we stop saying we hate it and we begin to talk in more positive terms we often find that we don’t hate it but we can tolerate it or ignore it or perhaps even enjoy it in small doses!
I was annoyed and cynical about the inevitable summer FB posts of “happy” couples lauding their spouses on their anniversaries. I knew most of those couples. And some of their secrets. They weren’t that happy! Related to this…
I pulled away from my online life. I stopped blogging and seldom posted on Facebook wanting a break from the cyber-fishbowl. I was overwhelmed by the tsunami of TMI. Another factor was my feeling like I had nothing of value to offer so I took mom’s advice — if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.
I began to suspect, and asked some friends, if I might be burnt out. My friends advised me to look into it. I was too tired to investigate so I took the entire summer off (where I live, it’s not that long!), dreading September. But it came.
So today I looked up a definition of burnout and here’s what the “experts” (wikipedia) say: Burnout is a type of psychological stress. Occupational burnout or job burnout is characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation, feelings of ineffectiveness, and also may have the dimension of frustration or cynicism, and as a result reduced efficacy within the workplace.
Hmmm. So I took “The Burnout Selftest” and my score was 55. Which meant:
|You are at severe risk of burnout – do something about this urgently.|
Yikes! So I wrote this blog. I’m tired now. But somehow intrigued and empowered at the same time. Is this what Jesus meant when He said the truth will set you free? Stay tuned for musings on what to do if you’re burnt out, speculations on what causes burnout, true confessions re: is there life after burnout? and answers to where is God in my burnout?
Meanwhile, feel free to add your two cents — if you have the energy.
18 thoughts on “How can I tell if I’m burnt out?”
My poor, dear friend. It is no surprise but I am so glad you were able to diagnose it and go from there. It must be so hard to acknowledge that we do get burnt out even doing what God has called us to do. I have noticed your lack of emails but also I was aware of your exhaustion and hoped you were recovering. Are you? My guestimate is that it takes a long time to get fired back up …since it took a long time to get burnt out. Praying for all kinds of good stuff for you. love yah Thing 1 from Thing 2
Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2016 21:00:59 +0000 To: email@example.com
Dear Thing 2…I did rest over the summer and will be talking about that in future blogs. My burnout did take a long time to come on — I expect it was the last four years and I will be exploring that as well. Meanwhile I am doing well and looking forward to our next adventure!
Hi Connie, my name is Maretta (Gillespie)Moore, don’t know if you will remember me, I attended Friendship Baptist church, Modesto where Jerry was the pastor. I too can relate to being burnt out. As a Christian I thought, hey we’re not suppose to have that kind of thing. Right? Haha. I keep asking God to give me strength and joy in what I’m doing. Then a dear friend Louise Sauls (do you remember her) reminded me that it’s okay to say “NO.” So that’s what I’m trying to do! Try it…just say NO! Love from a Christian sister❤️
Hi Marette! Of course I remember you from our California adventure! What sweet memories they are too! And I could NEVER forget Louise Sauls — she was our light and our anchor in so many ways. Please give her my warmest regards and big hugs. And Louise is right, we have to say no and I am able to do that. In fact after taking the summer off i am already feeling renewed and will be talking about those aspects in future blogs.
Connie, have no idea how inspiring your post is to me! Literally, just minutes ago I was wondering why I feel so ungrateful about almost everything lately. I have so much to be thankful for… what is my problem? And then your post showed up. I need to take my own advice when I tell people that in order to take great care of others, we much first take care of ourselves. Hang in there, girl, for this too shall pass…
Yes Janie — like you i found I was great at giving out the advice and about margin and boundaries and trusting God but in fact I was not applying it to my own life as fully as I needed to. I will continue to explore this topic in future blogs and welcome your input any time.
I Love you Connie.. To everything there is a season and a reason why we go through things. You know it’s going to help a ton of people in the end. Blessings my friend 🙏🏼 Wendy
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Thanks Wendy. Sometimes people need to hear that others have the same problems or issues as they do. I have heard from lots of people (here and on other forums) who can relate to this issue of burnout. We walk in community and hold each other up!
I have often said that if God wants you to do something he’ll give you the time to do it well. I sometimes take on too much and soon find that I don’t have enough time to do it well. Yes I may be able to “get it done” but not well and with very little fruit. Just today I thought to myself I’m fast approaching my max. thank you Connie for the very timely post. It’s time for me to slow down and listen to what our Father has to say. I’ve been here before. Will I ever learn!
hi Donna…will you ever learn? Will any of us? I suspect that people who are prone to burnout are people who are always wanting to do a little more, a little better. I don’t think any of us ever really “learn” but perhaps we get better at seeing the signs and making adjustments before we get in as deep!
dear Connie, God will use your brokenness to reach those who need to know what you are going through. there are many of us who trust in God in our brokenness and I pray that God brings his light into your life. God gave you those tears to cope and He knows we need balance to have the life He desires for us. It is hard to realize that in doing Gods work, we can be affected by doing too much. sit with God and reflect His love for you and your family. no one expects you to do it all. Love Anne
Thanks Anne — I agree that God always gives us opportunities to use our losses, sorrows, failures and brokenness to help, encourage and comfort others. I am already well on my way to recovery after a wonderful summer of change and rest and I will be talking about that in future blogs. I appreciate your understanding, encouragement and love.
You don’t know me, but I work at the CNBC office for your husband, and I’m also a student at the seminary. I just took the burnout quiz you mentioned, and scored a 52. Somehow I think that’s a problem 🙂 I’ve seen this coming for a while, but it’s so hard to avoid when you’re nose-deep in ministry, studies, and work! Now I’m not quite sure how to dig myself out. But I was really encouraged by your story, so thank you for your openness in sharing!
Nice to meet you! Thank you for sharing your current status re: your life and burnout. I absolutely agree that when you are “nose-deep” in the realities of your life — none of which you can (or want to) walk away from — and feeling dangerously close to the edge of burnout, it makes you stop and think. What happens next determines whether you will move toward or away from burnout. If you want to continue in “ministry”, in “studies” and in “work” then your only strategy is to look at each of these aspects and see what adjustments you can make to lighten your load. An aspect you did not mention here is your personal life — family, friends, managing a household, hobbies. Put that into the equation as well and a simple strategy is to focus on “life-giving (soul-feeding)” versus “life depleting” parts of your life. Let your first adjustment be a small move to reduce something that is sapping your energy and increase something that feeds your soul. I’m on your team!
Hi Connie, You likely don’t remember me, but perhaps remember the ladies retreat of Emmanuel Church in West Kelowna. We went to Rock Ridge Canyon retreat centre (beautiful spot in the mountains).
I have been through burnout. Its clinical name is Adrenal Fatigue…so it is real and can play havoc with sleep, emotions and your hormone function. Here is a website that explains, although you have likely read this already. https://adrenalfatigue.org/what-is-adrenal-fatigue/
I am still taking an adrenal support supplement even two years after and still have days that I feel overwhelmed by the simplest things. Age doesn’t help either LOL!
Blessings to you and I will add you to my prayer list and I pray you will find the right amount of rest and planning it takes to heal. And yes it happens to people like us that are always on the move and want to help everyone and do everything to perfection.
Love in Christ…and smiling helps a lot too 🙂
Hi Anne, I certainly remember the weekend I shared with the West Kelowna women at beautiful Rock Ridge Canyon Retreat. Thank you for the link with info about adrenal fatigue. I would not put myself in that category but when i read the info at the site I quickly recognized someone else I know. I am feeling much better after taking the summer off and I believe my burnout was minimized if not averted altogether. However, I know someone who battled cancer for a few years (major stress) and her biggest nemesis now that she is cancer free is unexplained fatigue. It is very possible she is experiencing adrenal fatigue. I will pas this along to her. Thanks for this and for your prayers. Hugs, Connie
Hello Connie. I recently became a Mentor Mom for our local MOPS and was introduced to your blog for the first time. I came across your wonderful article “from 18 years ago” about a Baptist minister facing burn out. My husband recently faced the same thing and I wanted him to read it. I found the article to be so insightful into the exact feelings he faced, feelings that one going through this may not even know how to express. Even though this article was from long ago it is so applicable to so many people today in full-time Christian service. I found myself saying, “Yes! Yes ! Yes!” to myself throughout the whole article.
I have searched and can no longer find the article. Can you please help me? Thank you in advance.
I have the original article. I emailed the pastor for permission to republish it and add some details of how he is doing now, many years later. Hopefully I will get that posted in the next few days. Stay tuned!