I was yelling last night, at my cat, at the phone.  I feel like i’m losing it.  I’m actually yelling all week at the kids at the Community Centre. It seems like i have to, it shakes them out of their sugar haze; the haze that makes them disrespectful and mean.  I look up symptoms of Burnout last night. I know what they are,  i’ve been there before, but i look anyhow.  I look at the symptoms and i feel like i’ve mostly been in burnout in my life, with a few intervals of genuine excitement and energy.

Definition– The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, “Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement”. He originally defined ‘burnout’ as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Bang on both counts.

My family has been a job that has failed to produce desired results.  They have mostly taken from me, just about all i have, and have never been a real means of emotional support, they don’t know how  and sometimes i don’t either .  My work in the Downtown Eastside, and with the arts council has left me feeling used up, and bitter.   When i was looking at the symptoms last night I thought of how acceptable it all is, burning out, and that i’m even getting flack for not being so willing to do what is expected of me. Give at the expense of myself.   Everybody does it, what makes you so special?

Workaholism is the most acceptable addiction of them all. The one we get publicly rewarded for.  Elected. Promoted. Glorified, cheered on all for the sake of the product or cause.  Doesn’t matter if you have no life, you helped other people have one, isn’t that good enough? Inevitably its false, its martyrdom, the lives we think we gave or the people that think we saved them, give us too much credit and themselves not enough. I have honestly thought that if i worked hard enough, my family would be better, the neighborhood would be better, these kids who  are already fried at 7, would be better.  The problem is, is that i never get better, not really, i come back to the same place, wounded, worn out, battling colds all year round.  My immune system  has never been the same since i worked full time on the corner of Main and Hastings starting in1999 until the following melt down in 2001.  I had done projects on the corner annually since 1995, but only in the summer.  The winters wore me out; seeing people sticking needles in their arms everyday wore me out.  Watching people harm each other to the point of being close to death and in some cases being killed for drugs, for money, has made me sad and angry.  Watching cops in an admittedly impossible situation, behave like pumped up racist robots, has made me angry and scared.  Listening to planners and politicians drone on about initiatives that in many cases have caused and will cause more damage to peoples lives, to the City, makes me feel like screaming.  Taking care of my Mother and trying to convince her to not kill her self, to fight for her self, has burnt me out.   Convincing my Father that he wasn’t so awful, convincing both of them, all of them, the whole family,  that they weren’t so awful, was just bullshit.  Convincing myself that i am worth more, that i am worth more than being a martyr, is true.

I need to stop.  I need to stop trying to save and denying it at the same time. I need to stop giving myself away to people, causes and things.  I need to take much better care of myself, because if i don’t, i will never leave burnout.

For reference:

  • Depleted Physical Energy: Prolonged stress can be physically draining, causing you to feel tired much of the time, or no longer have the energy you once did. Getting out of bed to face another day of the same gets more difficult.
  • Emotional Exhaustion: You feel impatient, moody, inexplicably sad, or just get frustrated more easily than you normally would. You feel like you can’t deal with life as easily than you once could.
  • Lowered Immunity to Illness: When stress levels are high for a prolonged amount of time, your immune system does suffer. People who are suffering from burnout usually get the message from their body that something needs to change, and that message comes in the form of increases susceptibility to colds, the flu, and other minor illnesses (and sometimes some not-so-minor ones).
  • Less Investment in Interpersonal Relationships: Withdrawing somewhat from interpersonal relationships is another possible sign of burnout. You may feel like you have less to give, or less interest in having fun, or just less patience with people. But for whatever reason, people experiencing burnout can usually see the effects in their relationships.
  • Increasingly Pessimistic Outlook: When experiencing burnout, it’s harder to get excited about life, harder to expect the best, harder to let things roll off your back, and harder to ‘look on the bright side’ in general. Because optimism is a great buffer for stress, those suffering from burnout find it harder to pull out of their rut than they normally would.
  • Increased Absenteeism and Inefficiency at Work: When experiencing job burnout, it gets more difficult just to get out of bed and face more of what’s been overwhelming you in the first place. This may be an unconscious defense against burnout, but those experiencing it tend to be less effective overall and stay home from work more often. (This could also be due to increased illness resulting from lowered immunity, as discussed above.) This is part of why it makes sense for workers to take some time off before they’re feeling burned-out, and why it makes sense for employers to refrain from running their workers into the ground; they might not get back up so quickly!

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