Bebe Taian: Combating Burnout

February 22, 2013

Combating Burnout

I mentioned before that I was going to the Dragon Fest on New Year's, but I ended up working a new job until about 1am the night before, so... I was in no condition to be up at 7am to get on the road to Orlando. -_- I spent most of the day sleeping, I think. The new job is physically intense, and I'm not strong enough to do everything I need to do yet. I suspect that will come with time. On top of that, the death of a friend and the hospitalization of another, and the subsequent stuff that needs to be done because of it, has taken precedence over anything else. After all this, I'm just... I log in to write, and then go blank. For an hour or so. Burnout again. Ugggh. WHY CAN'T I WORK ENDLESSLY? I just want to be a cross between Data and Spock. Endless working capabilities with none of the emotional/psychological mess. Perfection!

For this reason, I'd like to talk for a minute about "burnout": what it is, how it happens, and maybe suggest something you could do to combat it.

Burnout is not recognized by the DSM in any incarnation, but it is recognized in other medical sources. Generally, being 'burnt out' means that you've been under so much stress for so long, you can't function anymore. Little things seem huge. Just getting out of bed is a challenge. You don't want to do anything, and when you do, you just... can't. Like writing this blog, and then sitting at the empty page for an hour. Nothing is right, and slowly, nothing is worth trying for. It isn't a chemical condition like depression; it's the natural result of too many things going wrong. Nothing matters much anymore. Everything is going to hell, so there's no reason to even try anymore. All the effort just isn't getting any results, so doing any more is just a waste.

I feel this especially after seeing the tax return from last year- three jobs, and still barely over $12,000 to keep 2-3 people alive, sheltered, clothed, and preferably thriving, plus 4-5 cats. Yeah, not happening. And still, I know I have to show up... because I know that regardless of how I feel, if this is what it takes to just manage that much, I'll have nothing if I stop. But then performance slips because you just feel like nothing matters at all, and it's hard to focus on anything, and short-term memory goes out the window, and then all you get at work is "You really can't do this job. Why do you even show up?" and it just deepens the cycle. Arbeit macht frei. "Work will make you free". You can toil endlessly, through people who think less of you, people who just plain suck, situations that you hate, day and night, and in the end, nothing is accomplished. It's the promise of freedom when none is coming, and even if you know it, you have no choice but to keep going, even if you don't want to do anything, ever again. Plus, this progesterone disorder really messes with my entire body, and dealing with the financial stuff and the unresolved health-related stuff doesn't help any. I need to move to a country with health care... if only I could afford rent next week. Heh.

I do think, however, that I'm not alone in this. I don't know anyone who isn't struggling to make ends meet. Friends whose houses are deeply in foreclosure, who have jobs but still can't afford food AND electricity AND car insurance (a legal requirement, plus a car is necessary to get anywhere in this town), gas, and maintenance... and this is a common scenario here. People who formerly had money are living off of unpaid credit cards for daily living expenses. For those of us who rent, no one is paying on time or at all, in some cases. We can't afford to. If you have a job (or two, or three) it doesn't pay enough to support even one person, much less keeping your spouse or roommates afloat. And you're very lucky to have a job here. Burnout and depression for all. If not now, it's only a matter of time.

No one is coming to help; some want to but can't, and those who can just don't want to. We must help ourselves. But how?

My schedule is insane. I've cut way back on visiting my sister, and while I feel guilty about it, as long as she's out of immediate danger, it's all I can do to show up for the big stuff or the occasional scheduled babysitting day. I work nights and days at three jobs, so a sleeping schedule is impossible- and yet, there isn't any way to take just one set of schedules, like "daytime only" or "nighttime only", since I have to work all three to make the most money possible. Even when I don't work, I'm so used to working this crazy schedule that I can't sleep when I'm home... and when I do, I want to sleep for 14 hours. And just never go back to work. But when I have time off, I don't do anything anymore anyways. I think about it, but somehow, the time just meanders away...

The Japanese have a saying for times like this: The heart will follow the hand. If I am ever to get out of this rut, I'll have to DO something, even if I'm not really into it right now. Something that isn't work when I can't sleep. Something that isn't necessarily for someone else.

To start, I've been once again taken with embroidery, patchwork, and crazy quilts. They are perfect because no matter how small a scrap is, it can be used. If you have only a few minutes at a time, you can do a line of embroidery. If you can't focus, you can sew for a minute and stop. A hoop helps, but I haven't been using one. Stitches should ideally be even, but they don't have to be, so even an inexperienced person can do it- in fact, because crazy quilts are so irregular, it may be an ideal way to practice. In a world where things have to be up to certain standards or you risk losing whatever pittance of reward you get, it's relieving to know that it doesn't have to be 'perfect'. You can incorporate a number of different techniques used, including English/Western embroidery styles and Japanese-style embroidery and sashiko. You can make small things, like flower-stuffed sachets for drawers, or big things, like a quilt to curl up in on the couch. Any fabrics can be used together if they're pre-shrunk, so don't worry about mixing satin with cotton. Just use a synthetic thread that won't shrink! (Ah, but don't use fabrics that aren't washable or heat-safe, like vinyl or some acrylics... they literally melt.) You can put it down as you wish; no pressure to finish on a schedule, or even at all. And it can be cheap: old clothes, thrift store finds, worn-out sheets, etc. can be cut up for the fabric; embroidery thread and needles are dirt-cheap at craft stores on sale; nothing else needed unless you want it. An old blanket can be your batting if necessary. For me, it's the ideal pasttime.

I have a series of squares in colours my youngest sister likes, and a lot of embroidery thread that was given to me. I'm down to only one box out of the three I was given. Most of it, I gave away myself to other friends. I've machine-stitched the first series of blocks already. I intend to embroider them first in various colours before making another series of blocks. When/if I finish by Christmas, I'll quilt it with sashiko techniques. In the meantime, it's relaxing, and I get to learn and practice new things.

If you're experiencing burnout, any stage, or depression, I suggest you take control of the situation now. Do what it takes. Talk to friends, make new friends, find a creative outlet and just work at that until you see positive results (try out some different things, too; I love yarn! I suck at crocheting.), even quit a miserable job if you have to. It's the reason I keep looking for higher-paying or at least socially-better jobs (where I like the coworkers and structure of the work, even if the pay isn't any higher). Sometimes, the people around you, your boy/girlfriend, your family, whoever, are absolutely toxic... and there's no shame in leaving. I know that you can do it, too. It'll be hard work in some capacities, but you can do it.

Mata keiki ga tsuku sa. Times will brighten up again.

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