Burnout, Implosion, and Learning to Breathe (again and deeply) as a Clinician
There are two moments in my life where I could place a finger on burnout.
The first time, I was an undergraduate. And I called my mother wondering if I should complete college. I was tired …my insides were tired. Looking back, I was in a program that questioned my presence. Not from a grade perspective, but from a ‘how did you slide through here?” type of welcome. And it had gotten to me. My mother reminded me that I could leave and come home. To which I responded, “How can you say that to me?” The next call I received was from my father, who informed me that I would be going to New Mexico for my Spring Break (which was near) and spend the week with my Aunt Annie Pearl. This great Aunt of mine was a real estate owner and we stayed at her modest home. She made a bath for me nightly, made me three meals a day including homemade biscuits, and cared for me. It was what I needed.
The second time I felt concentrated stress, I got a therapist. I remember standing in NYC (at the time I lived 40 minutes away) near NYU university and thought…I am stressed. At the time, I had a full-time job at a school for kids with autism, single in the city (haha), a graduate student taking classes in psychology to earn another graduate degree (because I wanted to be a psychologist and SLP), I had a dog…it was too much for ME at that time. I knew this and had been playing phone tag with a referred counselor. We had one session it was great, but I didn’t follow through.
The first time, someone gave me a life preserver.
The second time, I knew enough to give one to myself.
The first time, people who were wiser gathered around me and gave me what they knew I needed.
The second time, I had tools carried from the original experience to give me what I needed(again).
Here are a few lessons:
- Sometimes you need a break. And that’s all it is. Life calls you to that in cycles. It’s not a vacation but really time away to regroup and reset (as my father would call it).
- True regrouping is not lamenting. Sure lamenting may be in that conversation and present. But at some point it is mental rest, clearing of the weeds, and figuring out what works for you.
- When you get to the place of checking and confirming your next move with people (outside of trusted counsel), trust of self has been disrupted.
- What worked then, will not work now. Each level of elevation requires a new level of coping strategy and…perhaps even people supports.
- Save Yourself (that’s solid advice from my Father)
I understand burnout. I get it. I also know that Elevation changes how you Breathe. Each call of elevation may be the bridge to an unrealized you. And doing the work will feel uncomfortable.
The Call to Action (in Burnout and Elevated Planes) may be asking – proclaiming:
- How are you identifying YOU in this professional climb…why are you climbing this aggressively? Are you what you do? Are you the work? Sure we are these clinical professionals (SLP, BCBA, LPCs, etc.)…but Who are you? Many times we recycle ‘you are not what you do’…but that contraindicators show up when we operate like ER doctors. By this, I mean on call all the time, no time to eat and care for self during core hours, the thought of the work consumes us after hours, and we eat-think-breathe this 24/7. And our circles are mirrored images of this work pace. It shows up when we want the profession (a noun) to be an adjective or an action. Professions are not engineered to be what people should be to one another nor to themselves. Square peg – Round Hole fitting is maddening.
- Being the only one that looks like you is something that can gnaw at you…gain community. I have travelled to conferences and rooms throughout my childhood and I was the only one. My parents prepared me and said things like “you may be the only one that looks like you there”, but I always had pockets of community where everyone looked like me. Those communities were not better than the spaces where I was the singular brown girl. As I grew, I understood the levels of community and the trusted communities I needed. The spaces that I was in professionally did not afford me that and/or I have not had a trusted community in those spaces. But, I did have community…and those spaces know about clinical work-the clinical operational frame. And I learned what we experience here in this clinical space is found in the corporate-business world too. That supportive place has been a salve and great relationships have bloomed.
- Maybe where you are doesn’t work for you…retool your CV and resume…make some changes.
- Maybe the operations of your team and people are not a fit for your business and the vision…put the right people in right places.
- Maybe you do need to get a life and have boundaries…learn how to turn off the lights and leave IT there.
- Life Adjustments may mean adjusting time allocation. Maybe having a family and the wonderful addition of people and baby ask of more of your time…maybe you do need to figure that out.
Burnout says Change. Change because you’re burning. And imploding or exploding is damaging. YOU deserve and need better. One life is what you get. Any time spent in the fiery incinerator is too much time. Start to extinguish the flame.
The other side can be life-giving for people around you. But the real work is not cute nor is it passive. It’s activated muscles of communicated behavior change and actions that need to be exercised. It’s activated strength. And sometimes, perhaps, you don’t have it to give.
As I write this, I hope there is a confidential circle that will surround you and give you your break to reset and retool. It is my hope that your confidence circle elevates you, not from a place of feel good, but a place of uplifted action for next level mindset change- environmental change- and personal behavior shifting. It is my hope that your confidence circle protects you and gives you strength (and humor too).
My trusted circle is full of amazing people from all areas of life. Some of them know one another. But, they all are FOR ME. All of me…me as professional, a woman, a mother, a wife, a business person, a dreamer. The equally laugh when I talk about just leaving it all and opening up a nail shop (haha).
My hope is one day you have a huddle who will Lift YOU as you Soar.
P.S. There is a great podcast by Chrystal Hurst that discusses Living Too Fast from the book Margin