Wednesday, July 7, 2010

archives: 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


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