March 19, 2015

From Passion to Burnout

So here's a story for ya....a couple of days ago I was fortunate enough to attend a day-long workshop on burnout.  Right before lunch, after reviewing the symptoms of burnout, I had an emotional meltdown...yup...right in the middle of my burnout workshop.  Could that be anymore perfect? You see, although I teach stress management and have experienced burnout in my past, I ultimately never learn from my own experiences.  It wasn't until the list of symptoms was in front of my face that I started checking off each one until I reached the bottom (both figuratively and literally).
I have nothing left right now. No energy for socializing, exercising, even cooking dinner (although I force myself to do well as the exercise).  That's the thing...when you are feeling crappy you don't do the things that will make you feel better.

For the remainder of the day, I was holding on to as much composer as I could (very similar to the feeling one has when one is hanging off the side of a rock face as, one by one, your fingers start slipping).  I made it without another incident, but as soon as I got into my car I started taking on the form of a watercolor left out in the rain. I can't tell you how thankful I was to see my little pug at the door so excited to see me I thought I was going to turn inside out. Thank God for dogs!  He got me out, walking, and shifting my perspective very quickly.

This little snot factory is the
very best therapist I know!

Since that fateful day of enlightenment, I have been walking around like a tissue paper balloon full of touch, one poke, one thoughtless move by anyone and I will burst.  Needless to say, I've been desperate for kindness, support, and thoughtfulness.  The interesting thing about my un-well-ness is that I am experiencing it from an emotional and intellectual perspective.  Emotionally, I am feeling: lonely, sad, and am enjoying a lower sense of self worth than I have in a long time, and I feel I have no friends anymore.  However, I still am full of hope and know that underneath all this crap is happiness.  Intellectually, having taught courses in mental health and suicide, I understand I am experiencing a situational depression brought on by years working in an unwell, toxic, and unsupportive working environment while coupled with an internship that kicked the shit out of me.  I also understanding that my fleeting thoughts of suicide (no reason to be concerned....this blog post isn't a cry for help) relates only to my plan of revenge on those that failed to support me through these times. I fantasize about making "those people" sick with guilt after realizing what they had done.  Not unlike Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" when his mom made him eat soap...he fantasized about going blind and making his parents pay.  You see...I still have my sense of humour and the ability to refer to the movies for whatever point I want to make.

I just can't believe I let it get this bad.  I should have known better. I should have seen the signs. I am a helping professional for God sakes (um..for those who don't know...that's a bit of sarcasm as helping professionals are the most stressed out, depressed bunch)!  Although this workshop was a review for me, I did learn one thing that was more scary than facing my morning self in the mirror (after drinking wine and eating carbs the night before).  Those that are passionate in their work are at a higher risk of burn out.  That passion is what drives us to try and change or help or give.  For me, I have a very high level of passion and interest in what I do. So much so that I think about it, write about it, read about it, and talk about it as much as I can.  When you are working in an environment that doesn't care, support, value, or collaborate with you or when you are met with brick walls no matter what you do to make positive change, that passion can turn against you very quickly.  Kinda like that cute little kitten on the side of the road you tried to save only to wind up in the clinic waiting for the shot you need after he tore you up (not that I know anything about that....little fury bastard).

This metaphor is perfect! This is exactly
how I'm feeling at work right now.
The very worst part of burnout is coming to realization you are burnt out and having to take the necessary steps to get yourself out.  In my own experiences, the stages look like this: 1. you cry for days and limit your activity to Netflix marathons and trips to the kitchen  2. you finally have the energy to take a shower and wash your hair  3. you start the process of figuring out what the f*ck got you to this point and how the hell you are going to dig yourself out of it. The final step is the hardest. What am I going to do to get myself out of this? New job? New friends? New attitude? New wardrobe? New Netflix TV series? It is important to understand how you got here so you can get out BUT when everything is grey and watered down and your passion or interest for anything is's pretty tough to do.

I know, based upon my own experiences with burnout, that I will get out of the pit and get back to my old self again.  The scary thing is what will it take? What's getting me down? Is it my relationship? Is it my feelings of social disconnection? Is it my job or the leadership within my organization? If it is how can I change it? Crap. I hate it when this happens.

Change sucks. Enjoy another picture of my therapist.

Isn't he handsome? What a poser.




  1. Kathi,

    I commend you for being so open about burnout - everyone needs to hear a story like yours as it resonates with so many people and can help clarify their experience. Despite the current challenges you are facing, I can hear signs of hope underneath which is a wonderful anchor. As a physician who works in physician health & wellness, I agree that external factors such as the system/politics or other people, can dampen your internal passion and contribute to burnout.

    I have followed your blog for awhile now and am so happy to see you are posting. You are a beautiful writer and I whole-heartedly believe in the power or creativity to counterbalance overwhelming stress and burnout. I also love animals and having 4 in our house - they really are amazing therapy :)

    I just live a province away in AB and look forward to hearing more about your life and work, the good and bad.

    All the best,

    1. Hello Sara;

      I can't tell you how happy, relieved, heard, and validated I felt when I read your comment. Thank you for, not only validating and valuing my experiences and feelings but sharing it on your twitter feed.

      Thank you for continuing to read my blog and for taking the time to write this comment. It means a lot to me. With 4 animals in your home, I am sure you understand the powerful connection and healing properties they hold. They are little furry lifesavers.

      Again, thanks for the taking the time to reach out. Your words of encouragement have meant a lot to me and something I will read and re read over the next few months (as I slowly dig myself out of this hole....although I have to say taking a few days off work has proved very useful).

      All the best back,