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.