Tuesday, July 6, 2010

archives: burnout (1) descent

I've been feeling discouraged and anxious for about 8 weeks now, ever since the plunge into exhaustion and despondency after my last seminar (remember that?).

My mood is finally lifting, as I remember how to relax and rest again, thanks in part to Arch Hart's Adrenalin and Stress - thanks Carmelina for the recommendation! - but also and completely thanks to God's mercy and perfect timing.

I had a relatively quiet term 1, but a crazily busy term 2 (which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way, with nary a moment of anxiety or despondency. An answer to prayer? Yes, but perhaps also the protective high of adrenalin). I could have recovered, but I'd booked the year so thoroughly that there was no time to take a break.

Like a shopaholic in a clothes store (believe me, I know what that feels like!) I find it hard to say "no" when I'm offered a ministry opportunity. It feels exactly the same, with the same internal dialogue. "Yes, I'll have that, please! I know I shouldn't, but I can't resist! This opportunity won't come knocking another time!"

So I was planning to head into yet more writing and teaching during terms 3 and 4, plus some extra caring for people to make up for what I couldn't do during term 2; but my energy and enthusiasm packed up and I could barely care for our family, let alone add extra responsibilities.

Apparently (says Arch Hart) this is the normal result of trying to run on adrenalin for too long. Eventually it runs out, and you can't muster the energy to face anything. It makes sense, but it feels pretty awful.

Half way through term 3, after weeks of feeling like there was a lead weight in my guts and a panicky, jittery band around my middle, I went to a seminar on burnout (I was still racing from engagement to engagement). In God's perfect timing it was just what I needed to hear. Symptoms of burnout? Here they are:

  • a sense of being drained emotionally
  • a reduced sense of personal accomplishment
  • a sense of depersonalisation, of distance and disconnection in relationships
All disquieteningly familiar.

I asked Janet Reeves,* who was leading the seminar, what to do if you've already agreed to too many engagements during the coming months and can't pull out.

Her answer? "Eat humble pie. Tell the organisers you're nearly ill with stress, and ask if you can cancel the engagements."

My (internal) response? "Yeah, right, like I'd ever do that." I meet my responsibilities. I hate disappointing people. I'm the conscientious one. Without that, I'm not sure who I am.

One week later, and I'm shooting off 2 emails to explain the situation and to ask if I can possibly cancel a talk and seminar. Predictably, the organisers kindly and graciously agree to put off the engagements for another time. A weight lifts from my shoulders.

My despondency doesn't lift.

Tune in next week for the next exciting installment in the story of me. ;)

*Janet Reeves lectures in pastoral care at BCV. She drew much of her material on burnout from BCV lecture notes and Peter Brain's Going the Distance.

images are by rachel_titiriga at flickr


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