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The Road To Recovery From Burnout

August 10, 2010

About a year-and-a-half to two years ago, burnout took over my life. Like a parasite, it attached itself to me and fed on my energy, my happiness and creativity. It infested and destroyed a part of my soul. I was depressed, couldn’t sleep, and just didn’t care much about anything or anyone. Getting out of bed was hard, and staying out of bed was even harder.

A lot of people confuse burnout with stress but the two are radically different. Stress is having too many pressures that demand too much of you, both physically and psychologically. Stressed people can still imagine that if they get everything under control, they’ll feel better. And they often do. While burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, it is a far more serious problem.

Burnout is feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. Burned out people feel helpless and hopeless and that life does not seem worth living, and they experience frequent headaches, back pain and muscle aches.  They also feel tired and drained most of the time and have difficulty sleeping. The primary damage from stress is physical. But the primary damage from burnout is emotional.   Burnout often leads to detachment and depression.

People have a tendency to blame burnout on the individual and their own shortcomings. But years of research proves otherwise. After twenty years of pioneering research on burnout, researchers Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter have concluded that “burnout is not a problem of people but mostly of the places in which they work.  When the workplace does not recognize the human side of work or demands superhuman efforts, people feel overloaded, frustrated and well, burned out.”

After nine years of extreme stress, managing huge egos, outrageous hours, more work than was humanly possible to keep up with, not enough help or infrastructure to handle the volume of work and, little support from those in a position of providing it, I hit the wall and simply could not function any longer. I had nothing left to give. I was losing myself. To say the least, I was burned out.  And I was seriously depressed. My doctor had been warning me for at least a year before that something needed to change, that my stress and work environment and their attendant impact on my life was not healthy and was the root cause of some of my health issues, both emotional and physical, including my insomnia. I ignored the warnings and tried to cope. I asked for help but didn’t get any. And eventually, I had to speak up and out and walk away. I chose myself. It was the best, yet incredibly painful decision I have ever made.

It has taken a long time, but I have finally recovered from my burnout. I wish I could say my recovery happened quickly and effortlessly, but that would be a lie. The road to healing has been long and at times painful. With the help of a therapist, my incredible wife, son and some dear and cherished friends, I have processed my experience and found the path out of the black hole in which I was drowning. I have eliminated people from my life who were energy suckers and emotional vampires, who demanded too much and gave little; who were only there because they wanted something from me. I have reassessed friendships and kept only those that are real and genuine, mutual and reciprocal. Rarely do I have a headache and I no longer feel drained and exhausted on a daily basis. I am taking time for myself and setting boundaries. I have rediscovered and reclaimed my soul. I no longer need or rely on sleep medication. I am excited about life and the possibilities before me. My creativity has returned and is flourishing. And for the first time in a long time, I am happy, truly happy.

Don’t let burnout sneak up behind you and abduct your soul. Evaluate your work life and make the necessary changes to avoid burning out. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It is a gradual process. Be vigilant and pay attention to the warning signs. Listen to your doctor and your significant other who may see the warning signs long before you do. Learn to set boundaries and manage your stress. Remember what is important in life and make time for those people and things that matter.

I don’t wish burnout on anyone. I hope by sharing my experience I can help you avoid it. If you think you might be burned out, get help now! Don’t wait until it is too late. Life is too short to waste being burned out.

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9 comments

  1. Been there, done that. Good for you that you got out and have recovered. I know how hard that is. It took me a very long time to recognize my burn out. You are right, life is short and we miss a lot when we don’t have our priorities set.


  2. Thank you for sharing this and calling attention to this huge problem. This really resonates for those of us in the legal field –a field which usually demands and embraces perfectionists and puts us in a position to be around those who demand too much because we too demand it of ourselves. Thanks also for sharing your hope and the happy ending!


  3. Love your blog. It is very real and honest.


  4. Hey, insightful post and thank you for sharing. I recognized much of the symptoms you described from years of my own experiences. The worst, for me, were the dreadful feelings upon awakening, what I called the “morning dreads”. Life can throw some cruel curves. Workplace, homeplace, someplace, anyplace, we need to be loved and appreciated wherever we are.


  5. holy crap. I feel like your description of yourself at the low point could be mine.


  6. Just found your blog. Great post. I also liked your other pieces. I will keep reading!


  7. Hi, I am very thankful to hear your experience. I was very burnt out from a stressful education that segued into a stressful career, and I suddenly decided to quit my job one day. My finances were few, and was surprised at the seemingly great disrespect and multiple jabs I got for being unemployed. It was not the most amenable situation to recuperation, but it helped.

    I had just read a second-hand report from an endocrinologist that burnout is permanent — once our reserves for dealing with stress are depleted, we do not get them back. I frantically searched for some counterexample to this statement and thankfully I found this article. What a terrible state that would be to be permanently burnt out. And what a criminal act it is to put the demands and expectations on a person to drive them into it, whether it is permanent or temporary.


  8. I am a 27 year old woman. Was shocked that I have been diagnosed with burnout around 03.12.12. High blood pressure, muscle, shoulder pain, dizziness, lost of orientation, inability to structure proper sentences verbally( I am fluent in at least 3 languages) , inability to read are only part of the problem.The first 3 weeks I slept 15 hours a day(before I worked 60 hours a week and slept maximum 6 hours per day). Although I slept so much now, I had only 2-3 hours of energy per day.Tried to excercise. It actually increased my blood pressure and made me sick. I keep reading the same things about burnout from people from all over the world. everyone should take this illness seriously and try to avoid it! I truly hope I will recover fully one day and be my multi-tasking ambitious hardworking me. I am very happy to see that the author of the article recovered! It gives me hope. I think that one cannot control external factors that add up to the burn out- such as death of a loved one, traumatic accidents and so on, but it is vital to manage the internal factors. As the author said, remove the energy vampires. I wonder, how do you recognize them? I would like to add- learn to say No & always listen to your gut feeling. Feelings are there for a reason, even if your brain is trying to tell you otherwise & rationalize with you.


  9. Thank you for your article! To read that the road to recovery is not swift has been very reassuring to me. I recently walked away from a career due to severe burnout. When I burnt out I lost a whole chunk of myself, my heart, my soul. I am currently in the process of recovering. It’s been hard and frustrating at points, but I am fighting to become whole and better again! To read that you are truly happy again grants me hope on my journey to recovery!



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