Friday, January 26, 2007

Now, I'm Burned Out

A year and a half ago, I read a book the title of which caught my attention at Books for Less. It's entitled "When God Wants You to Rest", written by Flor Ulan-Taylor, a former U.P. professor of Philippine history who became a missionary to Thailand.

While reading the book, I thought that I was thankfully not going through what she was going through. She described a point of being totally exposed - fragile, bitter and vulnerable. It took years to recover from her burnout experience but she lived to tell the tale and thus wrote the book. I was fresh in my volunteer work in Lingkod at the time that I read it and burnout was the last thing on my mind.

Last week, I read the article "Burnout: Prevention and Cure" by Dr. Archibald D. Hart. He said that pastors were most prone to burnout because:

(1) they have not been taught to care for others in the right way;
(2) they care too much out of guilt;
(3) they care too much and feel helpless about providing solutions;
(4) they care too much all of the time; and
(5) they do not care enough about their own self-recovery.

Ouch. I am not a pastor but I could identify with some of those reasons. Then I took the test included in his article, and guess what my score was?

71, his assessment was: You are beginning to experience burnout. Take steps to better control your life.

Of course I didn't need an article to confirm what I was experiencing. I suffered sleepless nights, difficult mornings, lost ambitions, constant headaches, etc. all throughout last year. I did not blog about it everyday because it was too negative and might put people and things I loved in a bad light, when it was not their fault, but mine.

It took Flor Ulan-Taylor around twenty years before she suffered burnout from teaching, counseling and mentoring women. It took me only seven years in Lingkod and one year as a full-time volunteer staffer before I began to experience burnout. I blame this on the fact that I cared too much of what others thought and of problems that were not mine to deal with, and thought too highly of myself, that there was nothing I could not do.

I am taking steps now to better control my life. It frustrates me though when people don't respect the space I asked for, thinking I still derive happiness from being involved in everything related to community. I have tried to explain several times to these brethren that I need some time to recover. The solution to my depression is not additional service; neither is it in jumping to the other end of the spectrum and immersing myself in hard-core corporate law or litigation.

I talked to a missionary friend of mine and he said that he learned through the years that we have to look after ourselves, that when burnout and depression kick in we can't expect others to handle us with care. We have to set our boundaries and not be guilty about seeming to not give or care enough, like we used to.

I saw on ANC one morning an interview with an expert on depression. She clearly described my inner life. I wanted to call the network and ask for her number. She's a stranger, maybe she would understand.

I'm still reading "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World". I'm being described there too in every page. The solutions are on paper but my journey might take a while. At the back of my mind I know that I don't have a job now because I'm not yet ready. It is a blessing in disguise.


Ted said...

I used to say when I started working (way, way back) that I don't worry about burn out anymore because I've been burnt out so many times already. Of course, I wasn't serious and besides what did I know about burn out then?

But, having experienced it, it is something really that can be quite terrifying. My own experience with burn out I describe as follows: when things no longer make as much sense as they used to; when colors dull, when sounds fade just a little, and when things move just a tad more slowly than you're accustomed to and you find yourself wishing everyday that things made as much sense as they did; that the colors were still as vibrant, the sounds still as clear and things moved just as quickly as before but you can only find yourself only wishing and not being able to do anything about it.

This may be small comfort but The NAB Catholic Edition Bible has "An Invitation to Grace" as its subtitle to Isaiah 55; more than anything, it's really grace you need at the moment. That I pray for you at this moment. As Isaiah 55:1 says, "All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!" and if I may add, "come thirsty, and drink deeply!"

God bless you, Els.

Ella said...

The kindness that you and my other God-given friends have shown are helping me to rebuild what I thought I had lost. I'm taking baby steps. The MCLE is the next chapter in my ongoing love-hate relationship with my profession. Perhaps love would be lovelier the second time around. :) See ya, Ted.