Archive for the ‘Depression’ Category

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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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The Courage to Believe in Ourselves

April 6, 2010

I have been thinking a great deal about a friend of mine who has been stuck in an abusive relationship for years. No matter how bad it gets, she continues to stay. I have a very hard time understanding this. Why would anyone want to stay in a relationship where they are treated horribly, suffering verbal and emotional abuse regularly? Where they get less than they give?

My friend has no satisfying answers to explain her failure to leave. When we talk about the dysfunction of her relationship and I ask her why she doesn’t leave, the rationale she gives include statements such as “I am afraid,” “I have to stay in this relationship for financial reasons,” “I don’t want to be alone,” “If I keep trying harder, things will get better,” “If I just keep my mouth shut, things will be OK,” and even “This is the best I can do,” “I need this person,” or “I don’t know what I would do if I leave?” All of these reasons make me sad for my friend. She is a kind, caring and wonderful person but has little self esteem. She doesn’t realize how unhealthy and damaging this relationship is to her, both emotionally and psychologically. I have watched this strong, capable women dissolve into self loathing and paralysis. She feels stuck and even trapped. It is obvious to me and to her other friends that the longer she stays in this abusive relationship, the more destruction to her self esteem and self worth. The light of her spirit is fading and she is loosing the joy that once flowed freely from her heart.

I guess it is just human nature to believe what others tell us about ourselves or say about us. Many of us carry such wounds from childhood. If you hear from someone who is supposed to love and care about you that you are worthless, not good enough, or wrong, pretty soon you start to believe these things about yourself. Even when you know what is being said isn’t true. Even when you know the handcuffs being placed upon you by the relationship aren’t deserved and do nothing other than to impede your own self determination and put others in control of your life and your happiness.

When I have let those with whom I am in a relationship bring me down, destroy my self worth and esteem, treat me poorly, verbally or emotionally and psychologically abuse me, I often turn on myself and start adopting as true the messages those people tell me, even when I know deep inside myself that they are wrong. It is both a painful and an incredibly lonely place to find yourself. It is hard to shut out those messages and believe in yourself. I know. I have been there.

It takes tremendous courage to leave a relationship where you are being abused either verbally, emotionally, mentally and/or  psychologically. It may be harder than leaving a physically abusive relationship. After all, psychic wounds aren’t physical and no one can see them. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But words often do more damage to us as people than physical injuries. Wounds to our psyche take time and effort to heal. They stay with us and impact all of our future relationships. Unless and until we find the courage to stand up for ourselves and believe we are deserving of better.

Our fears often immobilize us, keeping us trapped from growing and believing in ourselves. They keep us enmeshed with our abusers. They convince us we don’t deserve better and prevent us from defending ourselves, and often, from leaving.

When I have been in this situation, I have found that it helps  to look at my own issues and explore why I don’t feel I deserve better treatment. I ask myself, what in me propels me to tolerate such an unhealthy relationship? I talk to my friends. I have even spent time in therapy working on myself, my self esteem and self worth, exploring the issues that brought me to this place. And once I left the abusive relationship, I worked hard to build and nurture the relationships I have with people who value and appreciate me.

To my friend who is struggling, I am here for you. To listen, to lend a shoulder and to tell you how much you mean to me and how deserving you are of a healthy relationship where you are valued, appreciated and loved. All human beings are so deserving. Life is too short to waste energy on and with people who verbally, emotionally or psychologically abuse us, use us to make themselves feel better, stronger or more powerful, or who make us feel worthless and bad about ourselves.

I hope my friend finds the courage to believe in herself as much as I believe in her.

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Reclaiming Myself

November 19, 2009

Today I am rededicating myself to health, both emotional and physical. Since January, I have struggled, among many things, with my motivation to exercise and eat right. Depression, grieving of significant losses and plain old burn out and exhaustion forced me to put my physical health on hold. For the last several months I simply haven’t had the physical or emotional energy to lace up my shoes and hit the road. For months, depression ate away at my very soul. I lost a part of who I was. Having a tendency to gravitate towards emotional eating when I am struggling emotionally, I have eaten too much junk food. I have forgotten my healthy habits. But today, I declare war on idleness, ice cream and other junk food. Today, I am reclaiming that part of myself that has been missing for many, many months.

Since April, my nearly daily exercise routine decreased dramatically, first to a couple of times a week down to weeks on end with no activity. I would go to bed each night vowing to go out first thing in the morning for a run. Morning would arrive and I just couldn’t mobilize myself to put on my running clothes, lace up my shoes and head out the door.  And then summer in the desert arrived with its crushing heat. Only a fool runs outdoors when it is 100+ degrees. And I hate treadmills. July, August and September pass with little physical activity on my part. The heat makes running out of the question. I go on the occasional bike ride but just can’t manage to string several days of exercise together.

During these hot, sweltering months, I let my diet go and eat a lot more comfort food. Yes, I am guilty of emotional eating. Yes, I love blueberry pancakes, ice cream and dark, rich chocolate. Like most of us, I tell myself, “Oh, a little ice cream never hurt anyone.” Or “I am not going to deprive myself of things I like.” And the best, “I will watch what I eat tomorrow.” And tomorrow becomes tomorrow which becomes yet another tomorrow, finally leading us to today. Several months have passed in the blink of an eye.

Last night I complained to my wife that I have put on a few pounds. Nothing disastrous, but enough for me to notice and feel the difference. She listens patiently as she always does then gently asks, “What are you going to do about it?” Such a simple question, but really a reminder that I am the ONLY one who can do anything to alter this new pattern and stave off the accumulation of additional pounds.  Before bed I once again, as I have so often in the past, vow to renew my exercise plan and change my diet. But this time these are not empty promises. And so this morning, after my breakfast of a protein shake, I put on my running clothes, dust off my running shoes and head out for a run. I am slow and the minutes painfully add up. 25 minutes later I am finished. Breathing hard, sweat soaked, but proud. I realize how great running is for clearing my head and stimulating my creativity. I have missed my old friend. For the last several years’ exercise has been my salvation and a gift I give to myself. Perhaps the greatest insight I had on my morning run was the voice inside me shouting, “she’s back!” Since at least January, I have felt like a piece of myself was missing. In the dark days of depression I lost hope, optimism and had no energy. But this morning, with my heart pounding and the sweat pouring down my face, I reclaimed that missing piece. I am indeed back!

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Depression – A Black Hole

May 28, 2009

Nothing is worse then depression. When you feel lost and hopeless; like you are trapped and there is no escape. In these moments my world is dark and cold and all I want to do is sleep … or die. I can picture my lifeless body lying on the floor, pools of blood encircling me.

With this depression comes loneliness and isolation. I don’t want to go anywhere or see anyone. I don’t want to talk on the phone or even to my wife. I just want to retreat into my inner world and curl up in the fetal position, rocking myself like an infant. How I wish I could go back to the innocent days of childhood when I was worry and care free. Even the tiniest responsibility feels overwhelming and the smallest obstacle insurmountable. Worse yet, I am certain there is no one in the world who understands. How could they possibly understand? I am all alone.

I know I have friends and a wife who love me and have listened, but I fear they will grow tired of my overwhelming, unending sadness and abandon me. I can’t stand feeling this way but am powerless to change. I am a prisoner, my arms and legs shackled together like a calf that is hog tied and waiting for slaughter. I am unable to move. Friends can avoid or ignore. For me there is no escape.

Right now I hate life. I hate myself, my job and the world. I feel no joy. I am despondent. I have no mental, physical or emotional energy. I feel as if I have nothing left to give to anyone, even to myself. If I could will away this depression I would in a heartbeat. I would make a deal with the devil himself to feel normal again; to laugh; to sing; to care.

The doctors say this will pass. That this is just a result of burn out, caused by prolonged and excessive stress. Many people confuse stress and being overworked with burn out. They are incredibly wrong, uninformed and naïve. Stress involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you. But, you can still manage if you can just get everything under control. Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough and results in your feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring.  It is feeling undervalued, unappreciated and lacking in control. When you are burned out you don’t see any hope for positive change in your situation. The former is drowning in responsibilities and the later is being all dried up. I am all dried up like a dead rotting flower, its petals falling helplessly and unnoticed to the earth.

Right now I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. I am hoping, no, praying, that someone pierces that darkness with a pin and let’s the light stream in. In the end it will have to be me. But right now I don’t even have the ability to find the pin, let alone use it to pierce the darkness.