Last week, I spent time discussing some research regarding burn-out. Today, I’m going into a more in-depth personal look at my own experience with burn-out.
First, a little disclaimer: I’ve had my fair share of bad days.
I know that sometimes, all you need is a good cry, rest or some ice cream to feel better. Sometimes you need more than that, and it takes a few days to shake out of the funk. Totally. Unfortunately, that’s not what I’m talking about when I say burned out. I mean the completely depleted, emotionally exhausted bad days. The feeling of being overwhelmed by EVERYTHING in life, even those tasks that used to be mundane. The, I’ve slept for hours and I still feel like crap, days.
I feel like burn-out is something that builds; you don’t reach crisis-mode right away. However, most of us don’t really look at our warning signs for what they are, and I was no different. I felt symptoms of burn-out during graduate school… which, really, who doesn’t?
I felt exhausted, overwhelmed, starting to feel like there wasn’t an end in sight. The good thing about grad school… it ends. Eventually. After I graduated, I had a little bit of a hard time adjusting back to “normal life,” but I was able to do it. I hadn’t reached crisis mode yet.
I sure hit that point though, at my last job. A little refresher about what position I’m talking about… I worked as a case manager/therapist for 150-22o clients in a community mental health agency. Being a “jack of all trades,” I was a bit of “jack of all trades…” I helped clients’ search for affordable housing, understand and utilize community services, process traumatic experiences, emotional and thought patterns clients wished to change, and substance abuse. I thought often, I LOVE this job, so how can it make me feel so crappy?
Attempting to stay caught up at work was like trying to move something without touching it… impossible. It felt like I needed a miracle to get everything done.
I wavered between two extremes: working long hours and skipping lunch breaks to get everything done or just wanting to stay home and avoid everything. It felt like my anger was constantly right beneath the surface. A client grew angry with me about resources not being allocated quickly enough, and it took everything in my power not to scream back. My boss asking me to take on an additional case felt like a personal attack because couldn’t she already see I was drowning?
Home life wasn’t much better. We had just purchased our first home and were planning our wedding (should’ve been happy things but sometimes I felt like they were just one more thing to do).When I’m upset, he wants to make everything better. He took on tasks for wedding planning and house work, trying to give me more time to relax. Unfortunately, he was the target of anger when it bubbled over. I knew he was trying to help, but I felt completely unable to not snap at him for putting the dishes away a certain way I didn’t like, or for acting like the napkin color at the wedding wasn’t the most important piece of the event (bridezilla). Anxiety, which I’d always struggled with but been able to manage, now felt like it was controlling me completely.
It was as though I could not control my emotions.
It’s not like I was a complete bear (or other words that start with b) every single second of every single day. Sometimes I felt like my normal, sarcastic but overall pretty nice, self. I felt proud of the work I was doing, happy with my personal life and beyond excited about my upcoming wedding. Other times, I felt everything above, and it felt like there was no warning between the two extremes.
If you’ve never felt like this, you may be sitting there thinking, she’s bi-polar!
But instead of having Bi-Polar Disorder, I really was sinking into burnout without a clue in the world what was happening.
I share this not to bum you out but instead hopefully so you can have the lightbulb moment I did- you are not alone.
It’s important to note that one of the hardest parts of stress and burnout is that it does NOT LOOK THE SAME ON EVERYONE. What it looks like when I’m completely depleted is different than even my best friend’s. It’s helpful in counteracting it to understand what yours looks like. If you have never, take a few minutes and jot it down. Have you experienced burn-out? What does it look like when you are not taking care of yourself?