Burn Out -Is it even a real thing?
Burnout: Is it even a real thing?
Jane walked in the office in slow motion looking exhausted and weary like she had just run a marathon. When she sat down she took a deep breath and said
“I hope you too don’t tell me there is nothing wrong with me like all those other doctors I have seen out.”
My silence encouraged her to continue.
“How can someone tell me there is nothing wrong and yet I know I am very sick and I feel so bad? I am so, so tired and my body aches from head to toe. The more I sleep the more sleep beckons me. All I ever want to do is sleep and never have to wake up.” She paused. “Getting out of bed is such a bother because I have neither the energy nor the strength. I don’t even want to shower or get dressed and the very thought of going to work freaks me out. I am so afraid of work that the thought of it makes my heart beat so fast I don’t know how to calm down.”
“What have the doctors said?” I asked
“Those ones?” She frowns, “They tell me to go back to work because there is nothing wrong with me. I am not out of my mind!!!” she exclaims, “I know I am not lying but who will believe my story? Why do they – the doctors- refuse to listen to me? They give me pills that do not even touch my pain or help me in any way. Am I cursed?”
“Does anyone understand how you feel?”
“No one understands!!! Even my mum even thinks I am pretending so I can get extra time off work just to sleep. Imagine! I am tired of talking too. Yenyewe! Who is going to help me? Am I lying or a pretender?
“No you are not!” I respond softly.
“If I am not lying, why is my world so upside down? Why don’t people believe me? Who will help me? I am so low and angry with myself for being in this state because I have always worked well without hitches even when it’s long hours. I have given my work, family and friends all that I have with almost no leave or break. How on earth did I get here? Sometimes I even want to just end it all.
“Why do you want to end it?” I ask
“That is not important…I have so many questions and no answers. Please help me and don’t say nothing is wrong with me or I will surely die.”
Jane is not out of her mind. Her struggles are real and are clear signs of advanced Burnout. When burnt out, it is possible to go to hospital and be given a clean bill of health yet remain unwell and even get worse even to a point of depression because burnout is not easy to diagnose. In her case, Jane looks well and all tests the doctors did, showed no illness yet what she feels is real.
Burnout happens when we work our bodies hard over long periods. Over time the body’s energy reserves are spent through long hours of work, travel, engagement with little sleep, important loses and often no rest. It is common to go through extreme exhaustion and be unable to get up which leads on to be worn out, angry and withdrawn. This leads to many questions and very few answers that erode one’s confidence, cause doubt and mistrust and in the long run the feeling of life falling apart. Conflicts often occur because the burnt out person is adamant they are not well but the lack of medical proof of illness caused doubt leading to misunderstandings.
The remedies are much simpler than diagnosis. They include long periods of rest and a determined effort to deal with life’s issues like diet, stress management and reduction, finding life work balance and in many cases medication. However, these aren’t short term measures. Often once a person has been through burnout they have to measure their engagements for life keeping tabs on what is going on, how much they are exerting themselves, what they are eating, exercising and dealing with stress to keep out of the burnout zone.
There is indeed life through and after burnout.