Wednesday, September 30, 2009

burnout (2) recovery

You'll remember that I found myself on the edge of burnout half way through last term. I stopped the relentless pace, but my discouragement and anxiety persisted for a second endless month.

Here's what I learned: it takes time to recover from burnout.

You don't go suddenly from overwhelmed and exhausted to peaceful and rested. It takes time for your body to heal. It takes time for your emotions to recover. It takes time to (re)learn how to rest.

During this time, depression and exhaustion are common companions - and, according to Arch Hart, healing companions. I've never thought of depression or exhaustion as something to be celebrated! Mostly, they're not. But sometimes (like that dreary 2 days at the beginning of a holiday) they can be the first sign of recovery.

So I accept the persistent despondency (no, I don't, I actually hate every moment of it, furiously navel-gaze about why it's happening, and struggle with self-pity, grumpiness and despair). I pray and wait for God to restore my joy. I welcome the moment, (4 weeks later!) when my mood starts to lift, my muscles begin to untense, and my mind relaxes.

That's where I'm at now. I'm still a little shell-shocked and bewildered. I'm rethinking my priorities. I'm spending precious half hours lying on the couch and watching the wind bend the branches of the gums (my surprised daughter asks, "Why are you lounging on the couch, Mummy?!" "Lounging" - that's what!). I've rediscovered the joy of short, simple quiet times reading the Bible and praying without the burden of a seminar to prepare, and the pleasure of unpressured time with my kids (ah, the blessing of timely school holidays!).

So what have I learned? (Ah, yes, the moment when it's all distilled into a life lesson.) You know, I'm not sure I want to give you 4 points to go away with, as if life is that simple. It's easy to wait until something is over, and then to produce pious platitudes, forgetting how hard and confusing it was at the time. And (as you've noticed!) I didn't feel able to write about it when I was in the middle of it. The fact that I can write about it now shows that my mind is springing back to its normal shape.

Here's some random reflections. God is ever, ever faithful. Depression - however mild and ill-deserving of the name! - is horrible and bewildering and overwhelming, and I can't even begin to imagine how awful severe depression is. It's right for me to fight for joy in God, but it's God who restores joy in his own timing and in his own way.

Rest is God's good gift, and I neglect it, and try to do everything, at my peril (newsflash: I am not God). I'm newly grateful to God for my family and holidays and my couch. I'm not about to stop serving God with all my energy (Col 1:28-29) but my energy levels are less than I would like them to be.

My final conclusion? I've got some hard decisions to make about the many ministries in my life. Please pray for me as I make them.

images are from whatmegsaid and Tomas Rotger at flickr


BGSydneyside said...

Definately praying for you in this process Jean- its always dificult to decide what good thing not to do.
love Belinda

jennifer said...

Thank you for sharing your struggles. I have suffered with anxiety and depression (both mild and severe) a couple of times in my life, so I could relate to your situation.

Your story made me think about something that has been on my mind for a while. I think that sometimes in Christian circles those of us who stay at home to look after our families can replace outside work with Christian ministry. And I feel that my generation (I'm 47 with 3 older sons, youngest is 17) are often not available to do the things all you younger mums are trying to do.

It is something that has been on my mind and heart for a couple of years now. My husband and I decided that I would not go back to outside work as the boys got older. But I have tried to use some of the extra time that slowly comes to be involved with daytime women's bible study, getting to know the younger mums, trying to help them out when they have new babies etc. (Many of them do not live near family and may otherwise have little support).

So I will pray for you as you make those tough ministry decisions, remember you are doing a great ministry in looking after your husband and children, and continue to enjoy some much needed "couch-time"!

Susie said...

Jean this is honesty in its raw form! Thank you for trusting us all with your own journey. Seeing the process which has taken hold of you and how you have unraveled from it - to healing, is encouraging. May you find your Sabbath rest in Jesus and give Him all the glory.

Jean said...

Thanks for the prayers and encouragement, B, Jennifer and Susie!

Jennifer, your reflections are exactly what I've been thinking about recently. I'm working on a Sola Panel post at the moment about the possibility of women choosing not to return to work so they can encourage and minister to younger women. It's a sensitive topic, but an important one, I think!

I think the decision you and your husband have made is a very godly one, and no doubt wonderful for the younger women you know, both as a help to them and as an example.

Any further reflections you have on this important topic would be very welcome, especially from your own personal perspective of what it's been like making this choice, and what kinds of ministries you've been able to be involved in.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your honesty, Jean. I have identified with so much of what you have said. Be encouraged that last week's post inspired me to call and pull out of a hastily and not well considered agreement to speak at a retreat, as well as to say no to two other 'opportunities' that presented themselves during the week. It was timely and helpful. I will pray for wisdom for you as you seek to balance working cheerfully and sacrificially for the Lord, and doing too much and neglecting other important areas of your life. It's a tricky balance....but God does promise wisdom if we ask....
Love in Christ, Jo C

Meredith said...

Hello Jean,

In the world of snail mail, they say that for every person who responds to something in the public domain (writes a letter to the newspaper or a letter of thanks or complaint to a company, by way of examples) there are 20 others who meant to write but didn't. If it is the same in blogosphere, and I am the fourth person to leave a comment here for you and say that I too am praying, then that brings those praying for you up to 80. And I am sure there are more.

Which segues nicely into a thought that came to my mind as I read your beautiful post - and has crossed my mind before. You must have a HUGE readership for your blog (more than 80!) because "in all honesty" is the best blog there is in blogosphere. And because it is the best, you will not only have a huge readership, but you will also have a loyal readership.

And I shall speak boldly on behalf of the loyal readership to say that if you wanted to blog only three times a week or only during term time - if that helped to lift a burden - then you would not lose any of your readers because your blog is so good that we will keep checking to see if you have put up a post (or even organise ourselves with Feedburner to let us know when you have posted) and understand when you don't.

Because the loyal readership would rather see "in all honesty" and its dear writer as sustainable and with longevity rather than burnt out.

Of course I could be barking up the wrong tree here. Anyone who keeps a blog likes writing! And at one level it is recreational. So if writing your blog gives you that recreation then disregard what I have just said. But if "lounging around" is more the ticket at the moment then everyone who has come to know and love you through your blog will understand.

You are obviously thinking much more widely than this - but as others will know - I can't ever pass up an opportunity to encourage a good blogger to blog without a sense of duty or obligation.

Take care, rest well (since I hit the 40s I need so much more sleep than I used to in order to function well - it's so unfair!!!) and be encouraged that at least 80 people prayed for you today!

Love Meredith xx

Jean said...

Dear Jo,

I'm so glad it was helpful and timely for you. I pray that you, too, will know when to say "no" and "yes" with wisdom, love and faithfulness.

Love Jean.

Jean said...

Dear Meredith,

As usual, your comment made me laugh and cry all at once! Thank you so much for your encouragement.

Love Jean.

Jean said...

PS. and Meredith, be assured I'm thinking along the same lines as you - maybe less frequent blogging, a few times a week. I'll be making decisions about this as the year goes on, so keep praying for me! :)

jennifer said...

Hi again,

Regarding what it has been like for us making this decision - it has been great. There have been many benefits with family life (no stress about school holidays, when a child is sick, flexibility to be available to be a sports days, volunteer at school etc).
Sometimes I have struggled with valuing what I do because the world generally doesn't value what I do - and sometimes sadly even Christians can make comments or ask questions that make you feel you have to justify what you do all day! (I found this especially when my youngest went to school. It seems that it is allowable to be home with young children, but once they are all at school it seemed to be more incomprehensible).

Things that have helped with this have been coming back to the reasons we are doing this, finding my sense of worth in God's love for me rather than in what I do, the support of a husband who appreciates what I do and encourages me that it is worthwhile, and by reading books by authors who remind me of these things (people like Elizabeth George and Carolyn Mahaney).

In terms of ministry I've been able to be involved in - once again I still have to be careful not to spend all my time in outside ministry, but at different stages I've been involved with teaching Scripture, attending and now leading Bible study, and being part of a pastoral care group, a lot of that has been visiting, and practical help for mainly younger mums with difficulties.

One other comment I would make is that it is sometimes difficult in this situation, because you see so many needs, and there can be so few people available. You can get asked to do everything going at church because you are available. And so I have needed to learn how to say no. There have been so many new mums at our church lately - I would love to help them all, but I can't. Which is why I too would love to see some other women who are able to stay at home so that we can share the load better.
I hope that is the sort of thing you were asking about. Sorry its so long!

Jean said...

That's JUST what I was looking for, Jennifer, thank you!

Would you mind me using you as an example (anonymously of course!) in the article I'm writing about this issue? Please feel free to say no! :)

jennifer said...

Oh good - I'm glad it was helpful. I have been praying before answering that what I share would be relevent to what you were asking about - so I'm also happy for you to use whatever you wish for your article.

Jean said...

Thanks, Jennifer, I appreciate it. I pray that lots of women will follow your example! :)