What travelling AND camping AND working taught me about burnout

Camping_travelling_working_burnout_cartoon

First, camping is not for the fainthearted. Particularly camping for months in the Australian desert with unreliable equipment.

But, as they say, it’s not a party until something gets broken. And things got broken. Or they weren’t working to begin with (that will teach us to leave before testing everything). Here’s the list of technical blooper highlights:

  • Our trailer pump had the water sucking in the wrong direction
  • The battery operating our camping fridge became unearthed (no fridge)
  • A CV joint for the car had to be replaced, stopping us for several days
  • A rock broke the connection between the water hose and our tank on the trailer (losing all our water)
  • The battery powering my computer kept failing (yes, I was working while on the road – more on this in a mo’)
  • Our trailer storage boxes filled with the red dirt of the desert
  • Our car filled with the red dirt of the desert
  • Our trailer breaks broke
  • The battery operating our camping fridge died
  • Both our walking sandals fell apart in the middle of a trek (Jeff kept his together with safety pins from the first aid kit; mine with dental floss)

This can be stressful.



And, yes, camping chairs with carefully embroidered logos were hurled into the scrub in protest. Stress can make you angry. And stress can make you tired. So does being exposed to the elements 24/7. So does embarking on obligatory multiple-km…walks. These ‘walks’ (kindly misrepresented by National Parks) were more like commando training hikes in the beating desert sun that involved scaling boulders and sliding down sharp inclines. Admittedly, they usually led us to a beckoning tranquil gorge under an idyllic waterfall. Sometimes even ones without crocodiles.

The surprise

You would think that crossing Australia’s chest (armpit-to-armpit) would be all about the landscape experience. Don’t get me wrong. Place found its place in my dust-filled psyche. Highlights:

  • Swimming in the enormous natural aquarium of Big Crystal Creek (complete with an extended family of tortoises)
  • Gazing at cave paintings over 40,000 years old (with updates) at Mitchell Falls
  • Watching two dogs bravely chase a school of sharks out of a bay at One Arm Point (not a one-off performance: here’s someone else’s youtube clip of this)
  • Wandering around the extraordinary mosaic-like knobble-formed range of the Bungle Bungles (Google ‘Bungle Bungles’ – it’s amazing)

But, for me, it’s been the people

Fellow travellers. I would by tickets to them. Never before have I experienced such easy, non-creepy strangers. As we’re setting up camp or stopping for a drink somewhere, they would sidle up with a smile, ask about where we’re going or where we’ve been. Genuinely interested in our response. Then they might share a travel story or two. Small bites of the good, the bad, and that mysterious rattle under the car. Looking to give any help they can with pretty much anything we needed (ref: technical blooper list – we needed a lot). Never imposing. Never in any hurry. Then moving on.

I found myself doing the same. Becoming one of them. Sidling up. Gently inquiring about this and that…It was then I learned what it was to be a traveller. At least, in this country at this time.

About travellers, clients and burnout

Yes, fellow travellers can help out when you are feeling tired. But they can also give you energy so you can help yourself – and help others. It turns out, hanging around happy, relaxed people can be good for your health. Interestingly, I found the same with my clients – beamed in via Skype (technology willing) – while on the road. Before we left, I launched my by-the-hour marketing coaching business (www.My MarketingThing.com) but worried if working while camping was too ambitious. Would meetings take it out of me? Quite the reverse. My clients gave me oomph. Every session ended on an energetic high (my clients seemed to find this as well). Moral of the story? People can be good medicine for burnout recovery.

Except the guy with the bagpipes

He played in a campsite until close to midnight, despite desperate pleas from nearby campers. I didn’t hear the bagpipes. I wasn’t there. I just heard about it from a fellow traveller, who thought the music was great.

Megan is sometimes a writer, marketing swashbuckler, and cartoonist who is learning the art of conversation in the desert. Find out more about Megan

 

 

How to have an adventure while feeling completely knackered

Idea_shower_cartoon

Apologies for my absence. I’ve been busy preparing for the greatest adventure of my life. And that of my partner, Jeff. Why a grand escapade? Because we’re both knackered.

It may seem a little strange to decide to have an adventure while feeling uber-spent. But out fatigue relates to a fundamental discontent with how we are living our lives. Something had to change. And change it did…

One ordinary Tuesday morning in September last year…

Jeff stood naked in the shower with an expression of complete and utter dread. Nothing particularly new was facing him that day. But it was if he were a small purple grape about to be crushed by the foot of an apprentice viticulturist.

Jeff has always been better than me at expressing how he feels. Even in unintentioned mime. That morning’s expression changed everything for us because I was feeling exactly the same. I was another small purple grape.

“Let’s sell the house, buy a camper-trailer and hit the road.”

These words emerged out of my mouth, calm and with absolute conviction. Except I don’t really ‘do’ camping. Being a white fluffy robe and mini-bar chocolates kinda gal, the suggestion surprised both of us. Jeff looked at me sideways as the showerhead pounded water into the back of his head. “Really?” he asked. “Really,” I said. Due to my concrete-strength ennuis, I knew the white fluffy robe and mini-bar chocolates approach wouldn’t work. It would be like drinking Verve Cliquot to get over chronic migraines.

No. It was time to get real and go raw.

Breathe the elements. Even if that meant eating over-processed road food, being continuously smothered in sunscreen and insect repellent, and owning only four pair of undies, so be it. There were some questions that needed to be asked, however:

  • Travelling for how long?
    We decided 6-12 months.
  • Where would we go?
    We live on the ‘hip’ of Australia’s east coast – from here we figured we could go further north, then cross the country to the west coast, then…
  • Where would we end up?
    Not sure.
  • What would we do for a living once we’re there?
    Not sure on that either.

My Incredible Hulk

Never have I seen a man transform so dramatically so quickly, without his skin turning green. Upon my crazy suggestion, Within seconds Jeff was bigger, louder and ready to take on the world. Me? I remained pretty tired and, to be honest, mostly shell-shocked.

Gobsmackingly, extraordinary transformation occurred without us having to do too much at all. Okay, renovating the house took three months. But selling our house for more than we hoped (and we hoped pretty big, 12 real estate agents said we were dreaming) only took THREE DAYS.

BUT there were other mountains to conquer before leaving home to…look at mountains:

Our stuff

  • Sold/gave away over half of our possessions, via mega-garage sale, ebay, gumtree and charity stores
  • Storage for remainder: kind friends immediately offered under their house for nix (bless ‘em!)

Accommodation & vehicles

  • Temporary home for two months post-house sale: within a week of putting out the word, a beautiful apartment in the best suburb of our city (for next to nothing) landed in our lap
  • Sold Jeff’s car privately: 3 days (including mechanical checks)
  • Sold my car privately: took a bit longer but it sold exactly when I was ready to say good-bye
  • Bought a 4WD: 3 days (including mechanical checks), Toyota Prado at a brilliant price
  • Bought a campertrailer, immediate deposit after sale of house (we had researched extensively on the net and trawled the camping expo during renovation)
  • Storage system in back of 4WD: (incl. removing back seats): Jeff achieved this himself over 6 weeks

Lewis, our cat (wah!)

  • Finding a temporary home for for 6-12 months: kind friends immediately offered
  • Getting therapy for me to emotionally cope with the separation: one session with a pet therapist (no, I’m not kidding – and, yes, she was brilliant)

Money & businesses

  • Deciding how to invest the ‘house money’: three meetings with a financial advisor
  • My business: transform from a copywriting enterprise to a Skype-driven marketing coaching business (ref: new version of: www.MyMarketingThing.com)
  • Jeff’s acupuncture and massage clinic: close clinic, car signage for mobile massages on the road
  • Our biz/marketing coaching service for natural therapists and counsellors continues as an online resource

 

And now we are half-way across Australia

In the next post..hear about the nail-biting camper-trailer’s water pump debacle, the highly distressing fridge failure, and worst of all – the weak toilet flush in every second public facility I have needed to ‘resource’. I’ll also tell you about what has been surprisingly amazing about this trip – and how I’ve remained awake through a good part of it.

By all means go have a nap now, but stay tuned to adventure with me…

 

Megan is sometimes a writer, marketing swashbuckler, and cartoonist who is learning how to live with less – like how draw and upload a cartoon without a printer, scanner or even blank paper…  Find out more about Megan

Chronic fatigue can help someone with cancer

Cancer_CFS_burnout_cartoon

It’s true. Chronic fatigue can help someone with cancer. How do I know this? Until recently, my father had cancer. The battle had been going for twenty years, but in recent months the challenge ramped up some significant notches. Honest-to-the-point-of-raw conversations during this time revealed my father and I had more in common than we could have ever imagined.

Chemo fallout

Dad didn’t lose his hair. But the last rounds of chemo zapped his energy levels. “I have the wobbles, darling,” he would say. Chemo also meddled with his recall. Until then, my father had close to a photographic memory – so this change was a big deal. And the deal was labelled ‘chemo brain’. Naturally, all this frustrated the hell out of him. But my father managed to make Wobbles and CB sound like left-footed dancing partners he did his best to move about with.

How dare I say: “I know how you feel”? The man was at the dark end of cancer. I only had chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). These conditions aren’t the same. CFS will never be deemed my cause of death. But I know about feeling wobbly and I know about sudden and dramatic dodgy recall (even though my original memory capacity was far from photographic). I know the frustration of these things. And when they persist over a long period, I know how it reduces your trust in your own ability. I know how these two can undo you.

I apologise while sharing this reflection with my father. “Our conditions are not the same…” But he brushes the demarcations aside and focuses on common ground, which – as it often does – brings us some levity. Even just for a moment.

Losing a love

My father devoured books by both Marcel Proust and Ian Rankin. He enjoyed paintings by Rene Magritte as much as cartoons in the New Yorker magazine. He was absorbed by Saturn’s rings and the birds circling his garden. He avidly supported his local team, the Adelaide Crows, while punching the air for Tottenham Hotspur in the UK (despite this last season, enough said).

But what Dad loved was music. Pretty much any kind, if it was good. Radiohead, Ray Charles, Wagner, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Bach, The Beatles, Miles Davis, Eric Clapton, Gerry Mulligan, Beethoven, Aretha Franklin, Talking Heads, The Hollies. That’s just a taster list. We could go for pages. But a few weeks ago Dad woke up and realised he didn’t want to listen to music anymore. Not a beat, not a note. He was finished with it. Which perplexed him. Deeply.

I venture in, recalling my early days of CFS and how the things I used to love had disappeared from my mojo radar – namely reading and writing. I say to Dad, “At the time I wondered ‘Who am I now?’”.

“Yes, who am I now?” Dad repeats. “That’s the question.”

Together we discovered letting go of old loves is sometimes necessary to discover more about who we really are. So, with some despair, we peeled back our layers and forced ourselves to have a closer look.

The importance of tears

‘Boys don’t cry’ is an unfortunate gender stereotype for a number of reasons. One is because sometimes crying is exactly what the human body needs to do – particularly post-trauma. And this was discussed during my father’s last stint in hospital when he found himself quietly but uncontrollably in tears.

“But I’m fine,” he exasperates. Despite the fact Dad is in hospital and in need of high-grade pain relief, at that moment he is fine. But his body isn’t.

In recent years my father’s body had been through clusters of radiotherapy, an army of chemo sessions, an orchestra of major surgeries (including bladder removal), a herd of sleepless nights caused by a relentless cough, and a mind that insisted on presenting a positive front on every conceivable occasion. Something had to give.

I know about crying. About saying and believing “I’m fine,” while tears stream down my face. In my early CFS days I cried daily in the privacy of my own home. It’s like passing wind (or bottom burping, as I prefer to call it) – something we must do for the sake of good health, but we’d rather not talk about it. And if observed doing such a thing in public, we are mortified.

When my dad found himself crying, it was in a shared hospital room with a retired Maltese fisherman called Frank. That was public enough for him.

“Is it like an outer body experience?” I whisper to Dad. “Like it’s not you that’s crying?”

“Yes,” he replies. “Exactly like that.”

“It isn’t you,“ I say. “It’s your body crying. You body has been through a lot…still going through a lot,” I murmur. “It just needs to release. Good chemicals,” I add by way of explanation.

“Yes,” he nods, pointing his finger to me in recognition. ‘Yes,’ he says again.

The power of the groan

‘Multiple tumours in the spine’ is as bad as it sounds. And Dad’s pain ramped up big time one morning while I was there.

I hit the palliative nurse’s call button like a buzzer on a game show. And wait. Felicity, the nurse, is told 27 times “David Hills is in pain” before she can get to him. She does her darndest that day with particularly bad staffing shortages. Meanwhile we remain in room 151 for what seems like an eternity on a loop.

The day before, Dad and I had been talking about the Buddhist mantra om mani padme hum (something to do with the path to purity). Harking back to those early CFS years, I chatted about my past pseudo-habit of humming ‘ommmm’ for a good long breath. The trick was to focus on the vibration. It had helped a bit.

Fast forward to the next day: Dad is gritting his teeth to breaking point, and his eyes about to pop out of their respective sockets. Felicity is still bogged down back in Room 163. In the next bed, Frank lies in a heavily medicated slumber. He’s been out for hours from the kind of sleep my father begins to envy.

Dad shuffles from bed to chair (with my assistance), then attempts to stand, then sits down again. We both know there isn’t a comfortable position, but the movement serves as a valuable distraction from the pain.

“That’s good,” I pipe up. “Keep moving.” Positive reinforcement seems to help. Then it doesn’t. Dad stops moving and begins to groan. The groaning becomes louder. And loader. The noise could have woken the dead. But it doesn’t stir Frank, mouth opening and closing (like one of his fish) in the next bed.

“That’s good,” I say to my father. “Keep groaning.” The encouragement to groan surprises him so much he stops at stares at me for an explanation. So I say, “Remember what we talked about yesterday, about the om chanting?”

“Remind me,” he replies, shifting his eyes to the floor.

“The vibration chanting thingy that used to help me back with CFS.” I feel like a fool even bringing it up. What do CFS symptoms have in common with this level of pain? “Oooommmmm,” I demonstrate, wondering if Dad would muster the strength to hit me across the head (there was a first time for everything). He doesn’t and I press on, explaining my point – still well within swipe range. “Dad, you are doing that chanting thing naturally by groaning. Keep doing it.”

And so he moves and groans until Felicity finally shows up with the good stuff. Then we wait twenty minutes for the medication to kick in. More moving, more groaning. Whatever it takes.

To help or not to help?

Sometimes health is like that. We do whatever it takes, willing to try anything, willing to listen to whatever codswallop advice any well-intentioned bystander chooses to offer up. Because it might help.

And then you stop.

Right up to his death, my father listened with attentive respect to my fumbled CFS accounts and uncertain suggestions. But when he could no longer concentrate long enough to read a magazine column or watch a TV program, he rationally ascertained that there was no point in living further. He had decided he was done.

But he was still alive. What to do?

I take my mind back to 2003. I am weeping on my bed, unable to read, unable to do anything of any value for me or for anyone. And I see no end to it.

“This will probably sound ridiculous…forgive me, Dad…but it, err, seems your challenge right now is to find peace in this moment.”

Again, he somehow manages to open up to yet another proposal. “Sage words, my darling,” he replies with a nod, eyes-closed.

His was a generous response. It was possible that, if my father had the ability, he would have thrown me in a wheelchair and rolled me out of the place – or at least out of earshot. By that stage, every right thing emerging from my mouth seemed to neatly counter-balance with a real clunker. Half the time it was hard to know which was which.

Dad’s final days, the ones that followed, were far from peaceful. It was mostly hard, but also precious, sometimes even boring. And for all the sharing we had done, he was alone in dying. That was a fact. I could not join him there. And then he was gone.

But we are here, you and me

To do what? Whatever it is, we could probably use some help with it. Or give some help. And by ‘help’ I don’t mean having ‘the answer’, or pretending our experiences are the same. They won’t be, but they can at times be similar. Help can be saying “I get it” when we do. That’s all. We need not feel alone in this. Not while we are both here.

 

Megan is sometimes a writer, marketing swashbuckler, and cartoonist who wonders who she is right now – and likes exploring her options.  Find out more about Megan

The burnout recovery elephant

burnout recovery elephant cartoon

There has been an elephant in the room here on My Burnout Thing. A well-meaning elephant with poor table manners. The elephant is called ‘the clumsy recovery’. Frankly, I’m wondering if there is any other kind.

It was Hans Schoendorfer who called my attention to this elephant-of-inelegance in an email to My Burnout Thing. Hans wrote:

“Recovery is not a smooth process at all and I've had many ups and downs including some really good times. However, my habit is still trying to do too much healing too fast and I usually stumble and regress.”

But this is when I began wondering about the value of My Burnout Thing:

“I'm now at the point where reading advice is not very productive and I have to proceed more on my own road with patience. I have given up on forums as they almost all contain enough painful writing that I get discouraged.”

And here was the kicker:

“While there is endless information on recognizing and preventing burnout, it seems that recovery is so individual that little is written to document it.”

 

Is Hans right about the individual nature of recovery? Or do we all have more in common than we think? I, too, have ups and downs and stumble and regress. Hans and I decided to compare notes…

 

Megan: “Hans, perhaps we need to backtrack a moment. How did you become burnt out?”

Hans: “I was a Canadian petroleum geologist. My role was to grow our division within a multi-division resource company. I worked incredibly hard over a number of years to achieve this. Long hours, shortened vacations and a lot of stress. In 2011, I found out the company had no intention to grow our division despite statements of intent to invest; the work lost all meaning. Fatigue from all those years of hard work just sapped my energy. I was burnt out.” 

Megan: “It’s interesting how lack of job satisfaction – or life satisfaction – can be a part of burnout. A whole lot of energy going nowhere. I can definitely relate to that. What did you do to help yourself recover?”

Hans: “I took a month’s leave and returned to work. But then encountered a more serious burnout in 2012. So I took a vacation in July, then subsequently medical leave until mid-August. I then arranged to return to work part-time. However, anytime I thought about returning to working my anxiety would soar. Dropping into the office was fine, committing to it was something else. I studied burnout causes and found I excelled in all facets!”

Megan: “I relate to this work do-si-do, except I went part-time first. Then became practically catatonic (dribbling in the corner) so had to resign. Taking a few months off was not a choice. It was a necessity. Once ready to attempt work (sort of), I considered returning to my previous job. But the stress level was destined to put my health back in a hole. The idea of applying for jobs was such an anxiety-trigger I couldn’t do it. So I became a freelance writer. This meant low-cost to start-up and I could nap when I needed. But I still felt incredibly anxious. My first freelance job was so stressful it almost killed me. It was a small brochure for a sweet dog trainer. How tragic was I?! Anxiety is still something triggered by work. Do you work now, Hans?”

Hans: “I had not planned to retire, but could afford to. So there really was no reason to continue. I've made all kinds of changes since I burned out three months ago, including ‘retiring’ from my unsatisfying job.”

Megan: “What other things have you done to help your recovery from burnout? And what do you think has worked well for you?”

Hans:“I've been working with a psychologist. In my opinion, work was merely the situation I was in while burning out, albeit a bad one. She has helped me see where my beliefs and values tend to cost me energy and pleasure. I'm trying to focus more on the present moment of my life. I walk, I read, I rest. I make sure I go out somewhere every day. The best part for me has been taking time to enjoy the outdoors. Trees don't rush the winter looking for spring.”

Megan: “You mentioned in your email that you try to do too much healing and so you stumble and regress. I have fallen into this same trap many times. Is it that we aren’t good at setting reasonable expectations for ourselves?”

Hans: “Nobody wants to feel burned out, particularly the anxious or depressed part, so I think we try harder to be well soon. I keep looking for an answer to get well faster so, yes, I expect too much. Trying to get well faster is like the causes of burnout – if we only work hard enough we should be able to fix our feelings and exhaustion as well. It is like trying to heal a broken bone faster than it will knit. When listening to other's recovery stories, it's helpful to pay more attention to their progress, rather than the painful gaps in between.

Megan: Yes, it’s so easy to forget how far we’ve come. Thanks so much for the reminder, Hans.

 

Megan is a writer, marketing swashbuckler, and cartoonist who wonders if her inner elephant needs to break out of the room and roam free.  Find out more about Megan

Jerome Stone, nurses and burnout

Jerome Stone, nurses and burnout cartoon

In the world of burnout, healthcare workers can have it tough. And nurses can have it toughest.

Jerome Stone knows this well. Being a registered nurse with over thirty years experience (including pain management, hospice care, and ICU), Jerome has seen many a nurse ‘go to the wall’. In fact, Jerome says that there have been times when he’s gone right through the wall!

‘This has to stop,’ Jerome thought. And so he wrote the book: Minding the Bedside: Nursing from the Heart of the Awakened Mind and created a resource-packed website also called Minding The Beside.

Both the book and the site could be called: How to stop nurse burnout – and love your job again.

But Jerome’s answer isn’t just helpful to nurses.  It is helpful to anyone in the burnout zone. So what is Jerome’s answer to burnout? Read on to find out…
 

 

Have you suffered burnout as a nurse, Jerome?

Yes, I have suffered from burnout. I think that it’s hard not to, even if that burnout only lasts one or two days. As a nurse, there are times when you come into work and say, “Why the hell am I here?” Sometimes it’s because you’ve lost one too many patients in a shift, or because your workload is too high. For me, and this has occurred a number of times in the ICU, my “burn point” has been around having to care for people who I just knew shouldn’t have been in the ICU but should have been in hospice instead. There’s a climate of heroics at all costs in the ICU that can wear down one’s sense of service, replacing it with high-tech heroics. I don’t know if hospitals are aware of how badly these kind of heroics burn their nurses out.
 

What is it about the job that sees such a high proportion of burnout?

When I graduated from nursing school, all those decades ago, I was paid $0.48/hr LESS than Safeway grocery checkers. And that was after I’d already learned that the ER docs who I worked with were going to hand off the responsibility of informing the parents of a child who had just died to me! Since that time nursing wages have advanced (not to where they should be!) but there’s still a perception on the part of the public that nurses are the “handmaidens” to physicians, nothing could be further from the truth.

Nurses are crucial to all aspects of healthcare but are constantly treated as “renewable resources,” easily replaced and undervalued. Staffing shortages, heavy patient assignments, compounded grief, night shift work – which has been proven in clinical studies to be injurious to one’s health – and being undervalued can lead to a sense of disempowerment. Once nurses begin internalizing this disempowerment, the next step is burnout. It’s a no-win situation.
 

What happens when a nurse begins to suffer from burnout?

I think that burnout can be insidious, sometimes coming on so slowly that you can miss it. It may start with a laissez-faire attitude about one’s work environment, not giving a damn to help make changes to the system, and gradually lead to caring less about what one is doing. This causes a real sense of cognitive dissonance in the heart and mind of a nurse, whose primary reason for going into nursing was to help others and to be of service. It’s not that one cares less about one’s patients, although that can happen; it’s more like one goes into an automatic mode. I walk into a patient’s room, introduce myself, hand them their medications, and then beat a hasty retreat to the door. What?!?!?

Healing comes from connection, from human interaction. The person in the bed is, in a very real sense, just another “me.” I could be in the bed, I could be the one needing compassion and soothing. It’s amazing how burnout can short-circuit the sense of seeing another’s suffering as one’s own suffering. And in the end, the patients suffer too because patient outcomes are directly related to rapport-based interactions with nursing staff.
 

You aren’t just a nurse, but also have degrees in Environmental Education and a dual-degree in Comparative Mythology and Depth Psychology. How have these qualifications helped you understand burnout better?

Hmm, I guess that my education, both formal as well as “life training,” has given me a well-rounded sense of who I am. I’m not “just a nurse, “ but am a creative and “mythic” human being. The degree in education helped me to think in terms of my teaching role both in and out of nursing. I LOVE TO TEACH! That’s why I’m working on teaching/speaking gigs for my book, I love to teach. I know of no greater pleasure than of being able to help others to better themselves or to deal with life’s circumstances. That’s what meditation is about too, dealing with whatever comes at you while not losing one’s connection to others, not becoming “burned out.”

The degree in Psychology and Mythology helped me to see, in the words of Joseph Campbell, the “hero’s journey” that we’re all on in our lives. Like, in Homer’s work, The Odyssey, Odysseus would have been SOL if he’d just curled up in a ball after losing all of his men and being confronted with so many obstacles. The hero’s (or heroine’s) journey is about finding meaning in one’s life, in one’s suffering and tragedies, and turning it into strength. Preventing burnout is about taking those things that are burning you out and alchemising them into strengths, taking the deaths of multiple patients and turning them into a reminder of impermanence and change.

 

What is the key message in your book Minding The Bedside?

Key point? Well, there are quite a few key points. I guess to essentialize it all, it would be that while we can’t change our circumstances, we can change our mind. How we show up at the bedside depends upon our mind. Our patient load might be too heavy, or our pay may be too low. We might be having a crappy day and wonder what the hell we’re doing taking care of others when we should be taking care of ourselves. Minding the Bedside is about showing up with one’s heart and mind intact, regardless of one’s circumstances.

Being happy, being present, and being compassionate are about one’s mind. Attending to one’s patients is about recognizing one’s moment-to-moment awareness and applying that awareness, compassionately, to one’s patients.

 

It’s often assumed that workplace burnout comes from being overworked and undervalued. But I’m wondering if there is one step further. By being overworked and under valued we naturally begin to feel disconnection and resentment. And perhaps that’s when burnout can happen. Do you agree with this? And is the value of your message creating re-connection and preventing resentment – which can curb burnout?

I think that disconnection and resentment are at the heart of many things that go wrong in healthcare today. And I think that the “re-connection” that you’ve mentioned happens when we begin to reconnect with our inherent goodness. That goodness is found at the heart of meditation, wherein resides compassion. So, yes, the reconnection brings us to our fundamental goodness and this can antidote burnout as well as empower us to experience more fully our commitment to service.

 

How do people ‘walk your talk’ after reading your book Minding The Bedside?

Meditation isn’t about sitting on a cushion and blissing out. It’s not about chanting a mantra and checking out. It’s not about getting rid of thoughts. It’s about taking one’s formal practice and bringing it into life. So the “walk” is about applying what one has gained through one’s meditation practice – “talk” – and applying it to being more present and compassionate, with one’s patients, one’s spouse, one’s kids or the clerk in the check-out line at the grocery store. Walking the talk is about being present and aware, regardless of the situation or circumstances.

As an example, the book presents techniques on working with one’s breath as a focus of meditation. That’s great, but it’s not just about watching one’s breath while practicing meditation. It’s about coming back to the breath as an anchor of one’s attention when one is in an argument, or is having pain, or is sad. It’s about anchoring one’s attention in the moment and in one’s compassionate heart.

 

The idea of meditation can be challenging for people who are healthy, let alone those with burnout. How can a person with burnout meditate, given how they feel?

Start from where you are. If you’re burned out, great! If you’re depressed, great! If you’re happy and you know it…clap your hands! Like all aspects of the mind, feeling burned out is a state of mind, a way of thinking, a habit. I know that when I’m feeling fried, I can feel it in my very core. That doesn’t mean that I can’t also experience the joys of taking a walk with my son, sharing a dinner with my wife, or riding my bike in a canyon. Meditation is about discipline, it’s about relearning how to “be” in the world. But it doesn’t have to be serious, we don’t have to furrow our brow, sit like a mountain, and plant ourselves in our meditation practice. It can be about stopping to look at the sky, and really enjoying it.
 

What would you like to see change in hospitals and other healthcare environments to help prevent staff burnout?

Really? How long do I have? Healthcare has lost site of the person at the bedside. While there’s been a needed and dramatic shift towards patient outcome and satisfaction, it’s still like the people at the bedside are part of that system. Nurses aren’t encouraged to take care of themselves. Here’s a glaring example: as an RN, I’m given a certain number of days or hours “PTO” (paid time off). I get 20 days of PTO a year, sounds great right? Not. Those 20 days include sick days, it’s a bit “pot” to draw from. What this means is that nurses end up coming to work sick just so they won’t have to use up their PTO because they so desperately need a vacation!

So first, take care of your nurses! How, besides giving them REAL vacation time, provide them with the tools (hint: classes taught by people like me – wink, wink) on how to care for themselves.
 

Do you have a motto for nurses?

Just one?!? Sure, establish a daily routine of working with your mind. Whatever method you choose, stick to it and practice it formally so that you can access it at work. So, the slogan? Care for your mind, care for your heart, the care for your patient will follow.
 

 

Megan is a writer, marketing swashbuckler, and cartoonist who sometimes forgets to breathe.  Find out more about Megan

Catie Payne on food and burnout

Catie Payne food and burnout cartoon

Embracing the adage “We are what we eat”, does not mean accepting that if I eat a Brussels sprout, I become a Brussels sprout. But the natural question for us burnees is: What should I be eating?

In my search for an answer, I stumbled across Catie Payne’s site Head Plant Health. I laughed, I cried (from laughing) and came away feeling rather well informed about nutritious food and how it can actually be edible – except perhaps that post on cows tongue.

Who is this mysteriously entertaining health enthusiast Catie Payne? It turns out she is a recent graduate in an Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy. “I’m working under the wing of an amazing Sydney-based Naturopath, absorbing as much as I can and gaining invaluable clinic experience” Catie explained to me. “My official title will be Naturopathic Assistant (or: brewer of tea, blender of herbs and consoler of clients).” On the site she claims to be 23 years old. I asked her if this is still the case. Her answer: “Yes, and I plan to remain so.”

Young and only newly qualified, what could Catie Payne really know about food and burnout? Plenty, it turns out. And she blows some assumptions about healthy eating right out of the water.

 

Megan: Catie, why is naturopathy your weapon of choice?   

Catie: Naturopathy, to me, means getting out of the way of our bodies as they do their healing thang. We possess the materials and the potential; sometimes we simply need a little herbal/nutritional garnish.
 

Why is food so important to us burnees?

The majority of our nervous system resides in our gut; it is where everything starts (in a naturopathic sense). If you aren’t absorbing what you eat, if you have perpetual internal inflammation and if the pipes are blocked, your chances of overcoming any chronic condition are markedly diminished.

 

What is your experience with dodgy health and burnout?

My health in my teens and early twenties was woeful. And, thanks mainly to girlie vanity (i.e. not wanting to resemble a giant caramel tart – a favourite foodstuff) an interest in food for pudge-prevention purposes was born.

After becoming a strict raw-food-dabbling vegan, I had a chronic fatigue run-in after my body failed to clear an old Epstein-Barr virus (glandular fever/mononucleosis). Nutritional deficiencies, lack of fats and protein, over exercise and sub-clinical dogmatism prevented me from achieving vibrant health. The moment I was physically unable to attend my best pal’s birthday party after taking root in an armchair was the time I decided my health needed yet another kick in the pants. That was 18 months ago.
 

So how did you become ‘bon vivant’?

A traditional diet that includes organic, grass-fed meats, organs, broths (and all manner of slippery delicacies), organic veg, happy eggs and an abundance of beneficial fats has supported robust cultures for thousands of years; and now does the same for me. It was only when I ‘got healthy’ (an ongoing journey) that I made the connection between what I ate and how I felt.

I was a vegetarian before the invisible piano landed on me (chronic fatigue syndrome). My partner dragged me back to eating meat (he’s an acupuncturist, can’t help but meddle). I found it difficult getting my head – and principles – around eating meat again. How about you?

It was a philosophical sh*t-storm, morphing my vegan idealism into meat appreciation, and one I don’t expect others to adopt lightly. Re-evaluating my beliefs surrounding life and death, animal rights and environmentalism was key to my transition, and has left me with deeper connection to my food.

Interestingly, trying to avoid all death and disharmony by practicing veganism actually widened the gap between myself, nature – and it’s realities. Being complicit in death cannot be escaped; all we can do is act mindfully & respectfully, acknowledging that one day too, a big slobbery cow tongue will wrap itself around the grass we’ve since become.
 

So what’s the dope on food for ‘burnees’?

Nutrition for ‘burnees’ will involve the same basic principles that I feel, apply to everybody (charred or blister-free!):

  • Real food
    Free from chemicals, pesticides, Franken-ingredients (such as hydrogenated oils and yeast extracts) and e-numbers (numerical codes for chemical additives). Animal products that are rich in a range of essential vitamins and minerals, and that are ethical, local and organic.
  • Seasonal produce
    Because it’s bursting with just-picked nutrition, supports us constitutionally (denser veggies in winter, berry abundance in summer – with specific antioxidants for sun protection for example And the most nutrient-dense fare available.
  • Avoiding allergenic foods
    Or ones that don’t support your personal constitution (e.g. diary, wheat, gluten, etc.).
  • Food that gives you pleasure
    Meals that can be chewed mindfully between raucous laughter and jokes around the dinner table.

For burnees, this traditional diet fulfills all requirements – with alacrity! However, compliance needs to be high (steely Bruce-Willis-resolve required) and sneaky optional extras need to be kept low. 
 


I often hear from natural health practitioners, “Let’s take out wheat and dairy from your diet and we’ll review.” Some also go as far as outlawing coffee and grains. What say you on this?

Unfortunately, these recommendations hold firm. Wheat and dairy line are allergenic foods for a vast majority of people, and their removal can address the top in a chain of harmful internal happenings. It sounds no fun. It appears militant. But realistically, it isn’t so tragic! Life does go on sans milky coffee and croissants. Plus, some people can return to eating properly prepared grains and whole, high-quality milk once they’ve aced their gut-healing protocol.

Does anything taste as good as having energy, zing and swagger feels? I think not. Harmful foods and liquid stimulants are a small dietary concession for those intent on healing. A resounding ‘Man Up!’ springs to mind…!
 

Some of us are in worse shape than others. How do we eat according to our level of health-crappiness?

The severity of the ‘burns’ determine the treat allowance. Here are three basic categories below with some tips to shoot for:

  1. ‘Feeling Tired’
    Lighter end of burnout: ongoing lethargy but still able to function.
     
  2. ‘Wired Tired’
    Mid-range burnout: lethargy but also hyper-anxiety (wired tired) that makes it hard to rest.
     
  3. ‘Barry Manilow victim’
    The dark end of burn out: i.e. “I can’t dance, and I can’t sing, I’m finding hard to do anything”


1. ‘Feeling Tired’ tips

  • Reduce caffeine/stimulants dramatically; replace with herbal teas, dandelion coffees and water
  • Decrease dependence on sugary pick-me-ups that only serve to perpetuate blood-sugar imbalance
  • Break-up with soft-drinks, energy drinks, sweets and (even) swathes of fruit
  • Eat a large protein and fat rich breakfast to ensure you’ve got a sturdy ‘log’ on the fire to see you through the day (i.e salmon and eggs, bacon and eggs, dinner leftovers & veg, salad, sardines and homemade aioli etc)
  • Ensure each meal has a protein and fat component to regulate energy, mood and satiety (satisfied appetite)


2. ‘Wired Tired’ tips:

  • As above – achieve balance throughout the day so body can retire peacefully at night!
  • Eating a higher protein/fat snack before bed can ensure a deep, complete sleep – prevents blood sugar dips during the witching hours. A handful of macadamias, a boiled egg or two, some coconut oil/butter/(cow) cream & berries make nice bedtime desserts
  • Drinking homemade broth during the day and before bed will assist sleep and relaxation. It contains a range of zennnnnn-promoting nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and sodium (which, incidentally, helps to lower night-time aldosertone/cortisol/adrenaline). The amino acid glycine in broth also acts an inhibitory neurotransmitter, helping to promote a deep, restful sleep
  • Having a glass of (whole, high-quality) milk with honey and a pinch of salt before bed also helps induce the z’s. It actually mimics the action of T3 (thyroid hormone) regulating body temperature and adrenaline. A winning old wives tale!


3. ‘Barry Manilow victim’ protocol:

  • Get thee to a naturopath/herbalist! This poor soul may require extra nutritional and herbal support for profound positive change.
  • Consume extra saturated fat (yes, the kind the heart-foundation gives the stink eye). Our hormones are synthesized from fats and cholesterol – if you’re lacking adequate precursors to these, your mood, energy and health will suffer! Cooking with butter, coconut oil or ghee, liberally wielding the butter knife, eating slow-cooked fatty cuts of free-range meat, eggs and coconut products will help direct extra resources to an ailing, undernourished system!
  • Foods such as liver pâté, broths, seafood and leafy greens will provide stellar nutrition – the focus should be on delivering maximum vitamin/mineral bang for your metabolic buck. When everything is flatlining, you need to rebuild with bricks, mortar and burly tradies – flimsy balsa ain’t gonna cut it.

 

How is it possible to have a nourishing diet that is rich in fats and cholesterol?

Believe it or not, a diet rich in fats and cholesterol has underpinned the growth and development of humans since time immemorial (or at least, since we ceased being balding apes and adopted business suits).

It’s a huge, lengthy, nerdy explanation, but a précis goes something like this: everything we are fed about nutrition from mainstream sources is, disrespectfully, wrong. When examining the nutritional requirements of the body and how we operate (past the black/white, cause/effect simplicity of modern western medicine) we discover that traditional cultures revering animal fats, dairy, organ meats and eggs were physically fit (in the slang British sense).

Every cell wall is made of fatty, cholesterol-rich substances, as well as 60% of your brain! We run on the stuff. The demonization of these nutrients is misguided in every sense, and motivated by big-business interests, cheap, subsidized monocrops (wheat & corn empires) and a sickness industry that revels in pharmaceutical prescriptions, not preventative nutrition. But now I’m just sounding like a conspiracy theorist!
 

How are you feeling now?

Like a wombat on speed (if you can imagine it). Strong, robust, purposeful, with energy to burn! (And a rather hairy nose). To avoid the infomercial, I do have low-points like everyone. But only if I disrespect my nanna sleeping schedule, make poor nutritional choices or insert too many exclamation marks in one paragraph! Otherwise, I finally feel I am healing. After 18 months, my body is relaxing, digesting, assimilating and rebuilding. My hormones have come back online, I can go for a run without needing a nap and life is colourful again.

This is the sum of proper nutrition, sleep, exercise and, of most supreme importance, happiness. All the best to everyone on their way!

 

Thanks a bunch, Catie. And all the best to you, too.

For helpful health-boosting info (and some chuckles)
check out Catie Payne’s site: Head Plant Health

 

Catie Payne was interviewed by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer, marketing swashbuckler, and cartoonist who daydreams of her next 'food move' more than perhaps she should.  Find out more about Megan

Brene Brown on The Power Vulnerability

Earth cartoon connection problem

Feeling burnt out means you feel a lot of other things too. One of those things is bound to be 'vulnerability'. Like for many others, vulnerability has come screaming at me like a banshee from my very core. It has showed itself as primal. It has me feeling like a pigeon amongst cats who could eat a horse. Or me. Vulnerability is not one of my favourite emotions.

So when I came across the TEDxHouston video The Power of Vulnerability I was curious.

I was cautious as well. Because if another dingbat hype artist was going tell me to love myself and my imperfection one more time I was going to explode. But TED security usually manage to head those guys off at the pass. Besides, the presenter was arch academic social researcher Brené Brown. So I clicked 'play'.

Brene Brown

You can too – click here.
(20 mins 15 secs):

Brown has a magic sense of humour and delivers with a refreshingly gutsy honesty, so it's worth a watch. But I know you're tired, so let me boil it down for you: Our purpose in life is to feel connected to others.

Fair enough, I thought. But then I pondered on the billions friending-up on facebook and wondered whether we can have a little too much connection. Brown moves past my mutterings. She tells me that the thing that gets in the way of connection is the feeling 'I'm not good enough'. Or in one word: shame.

The bells rang loudly at this point.

Those of us feeling burnt out can feel 'not good enough' in a big way. In lots of ways. 'I'm not good enough' descends like an avalanche onto our feelings around work, our home life, our friendships, in the bedroom (and I'm not talking napping…although even that can be harder for the fatigued than many assume). Or what remains of these things in our fatigued state. And we feel shame. But Brown explains that shame is only part of vulnerability. By being vulnerable we can find connection. It's a bit of a round trip.

Have you let someone help you because you're tired?

Asking for help can make you feel vulnerable. But it can also be the thing that makes you feel ultra-connected to the person who is happy to help you. And they feel more connected to you.

The Brown-meets-burnout plot thickens…

The same week of seeing the TEDx video I came across an article about Brené Brown in Dumbo Feather magazine (Issue 30, 2012). Spooky.

I should mention that the way Brené Brown works involves starting with a question and interviewing a lot of people with very open-ended questions to find the answer. An example she gave was:

What do people who have a deep sense of love and belonging have in common?

Punch line: They feel worthy of love and belonging. Brown calls these people 'the wholehearted' and says, "They cultivate creativity in their lives and they work mindfully to let go of constantly comparing who they are and what they produce to other people. They absolutely honour things like play and rest."

So by resting Brown believes you are demonstrating that you are worthy of love and belonging. This means you are by-passing the 'I'm not good enough' trap. Instead, you are being vulnerable in a healthy way. Subsequently, you have a better shot at feeling connected, which means you are more likely to feel good about life. Sound good?

The next line about the wholehearted took some absorption, however:

"They stay very aware of culture that tells us being exhausted is a status symbol and they work to overcome that…"

Here's my interpretation of Western culture's view of exhaustion (warning: the following statement is a massive generalisation): Being tired but ploughing on regardless is often seen as commendable, and I think this is the bit Brown is referring to. Exhaustion that prevents a person from being fiscally productive isn't something heralded by our society. When the wheels fall off, you may as well have contagious leprosy.

 

What now?

Do you feel worthy of love and belonging? I suspect I need some work in this area. But through my burnout goggles, the world looks very strange. 'Do I really want to belong to it?' is a question that crops up. Maybe I could love the world a little more than what I do, then perhaps I will feel more worthy of love. And the world could belong to me, too. How about you?

 

Megan's cartoon from: www.MyCartoonThing.com

This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer, marketing swashbuckler, and cartoonist who is giving up the idea of finding her true purpose in life. She is tinkering with creativity instead – between naps.  Find out more about Megan

The subliminal message of Doctor Dolittle

Doctor Dolittle cartoon

I keep thinking about Doctor Dolittle…and whether a subliminal message is being sent through this children's classic by its sneaky author, Hugh Lofting. 

It all began with an absurdly long title: Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of his Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed. Well that was the first book, published in 1920, of the Dr Dolittle series. Subsequent titles embraced the joy of brevity.

The story is essentially about a doctor who refuses to treat humans after learning to talk to animals, thanks to the lingual teaching skills of a parrot called Polynesia. Polynesia spoke over 2,000 languages (including Dodo and Unicorn). From then on, Dolittle's patients became those of fur, scales and feathers.

To me, Doctor Dolittle is Rex Harrison. Once you've seen the 1967 movie Doctor Dolittle, there really is no other way to picture him. Unless you've seen Eddie Murphy's versions (Doctor Dolittle 1 and 2) which I can't bring myself to do.

 

My question is this: Why call the main character Doctor Dolittle?

He goes off to Africa to cure some monkey epidemic and has a multitude of adventures along the way. In short, this guy seems to do a lot. Not a 'little'. There must be an answer as to why ol' Hugh decided to call him this. Perhaps he was doing little while sitting in the trenches during World War I, where he began writing the story as letters to his children. Hard facts explaining why 'Dolittle' are beyond my googling skills.

 

Is 'Dolittle' referring to animal behaviour?

I've been watching some David Attenborough documentaries lately – wild photography (boom boom) – and have noticed that animals can spend a lot of time doing very little. For documentary success, there is a big reliance on heavy editing and breathy narrative anticipating things that don't end up happening.

In the animal kingdom, it seems the bigger you are, the more hammock-living suits you. Short spurts of hunting with long periods of digestion is the go. With this in mind, I'm currently looking at Lewis, my ginger cat who's draped across my waffle-weave blanket like Cleopatra, and recall what happens on Tiger: Spy in the Jungle. Pretty much the same thing, except the tigers are draped on a bed of grass or over rocks in a small river (where they drink AND pee and still survive – nature is incredible).

 

The pushmi-pullyu mystery

Does Doctor Dolittle's pushmi-pullyu – a lama-like animal with two heads and no behind – also have significance? If you are pushed and pulled at the same time, you don't go anywhere. You can't even go to the toilet. There is no real action. Or am I looking too deeply into this?

 

Does nature have some answers?

Perhaps animals – real ones with bottoms – have something to teach us about our health. Or, at least, about the pace of our lives. Is being a 'Dolittle' a bad thing, or is it only natural?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

 

This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who often walks in two different directions at once.  Find out more about Megan

How to give yourself space

In my last post 7 things I've learned lately about work and stress I mentioned there was an eighth thing, but it requires a full post all on it's own. Not because it takes a lot of explaining. Here it is in a nutshell:

When we feel overwhelmed – or even mildly pressured – something in us cries out for 'space'. Too much to do: 'Space!'. Crazy deadline: 'Space!'. 'Irritating person in your life': 'Space!'

Let's not navel gaze too hard on how we define space and why we seem in constant need of it. It just is.

Here's what you do:

Imagine you have an in-tray loaded to the point of collapse right in front of you. Or that crazy deadline. Or that irritating person.

Not too hard, is it? You're probably pretty much there already.

Now, with both hands, push that oppressive space-sucking thing away from you. Now take a deep breath. Feel the space? It's there.

I call this 'T'ai Chi in two seconds'. Here's a step-by-step diagram for this complex move:

T'ai Chi in two seconds cartoon

'That's it?' you ask.

'That's it,' I reply.

 

There is another simple thing that has helped me recently…

But it does betray me for the crazy gal I really am (that is, if T'ai Chi in two seconds didn't give it away).

Here goes: I imagine wearing an 'energy beanie'.

'A what??' you ask.

'An energy beanie,' I mumble with embarrassment. 'Err, it's a woollen cap made out of…umm…twinkling yellow lights,'

'Why?' you ask as you start moving slowly towards the door.

'Because it makes me laugh.'

 

Simple as that.

It has nothing to do with affirmation-energy stuff. If anything, I'm supposed to be focusing on my body having energy and shutting my mind down more. But I can't help it. This ridiculous picture of the 'energy beanie' makes me smile every time I think of it.

Here's what I'm imagining:

Energy Beanie

It's a bit like wearing a disco ball on your head. It helps if you imagine wearing one at an important boardroom meeting.

If the energy beanie doesn't tickle you, don't fret. Find an image that does make you smile, just by conjuring it up in your mind – even if you are feeling tired and stressed. Particularly if you feel tired and stressed.

 

This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who is quite possibly as mad as a hatter.  Find out more about Megan

7 things I’ve learned lately about work and stress

Sometimes I tie myself in knots cartoon

  1. Stop chewing over it
    I am getting better at identifying what's worth pulling apart and thinking about deeply and what demands an instant decision. Regarding the latter, the trick for me has been making a fast decision but giving myself time before I act. During the lag time an idea can pop up from my subconscious about the decision which has been much more useful than if I thought long and hard about it. Sounds trippy, but it's working for me.

  2. I am not a Chinese acrobat
    'But I can do more than one thing at a time!' No, you can't. Not even if you are a woman. It's that jumping around thing from checking emails, to liking someone on facebook, to working on a project to ringing a friend in need to planning dinner for that evening. This is a one-way ticket to self-created stress. Let it stop, for god's sake.
    God-saver tip from a friend: Check emails only at 11am and 4pm
    (this is on my e-signature so everyone knows, and that they can call if urgent)

  3. Knowing my three amigos
    I have no more than three main priority tasks for each day…or in my language: 'The Three Amigos' (which makes me feel warm 'n fuzzy about hanging out with these guys). Yes, the unexpected can change the plan. But when that happens, I'm immediately clear on what I'm sacrificing if I change tack. I'm making better decisions based on these circumstances – sometimes instantly.

  4. The sounds of Bach and the marimba
    I got the tip of playing Baroque music while working from Siimon Reynold's book Why People Fail. Something about the 4/4 time beat of the music that has been shown to increase work productivity. I'm just enjoying the music. It's calming and actually makes me want to stay in my office. I also use my marimba alarm on my phone to set regular break times. This means I sit for no more than an hour, which from the beginning makes the task feel more manageable. A marimba break is on the way…
     
  5. Rounding up free range bibs & bobs
    I do my best to keep focused on the three amigos I've set myself. If distracted by minor but valuable thoughts about other things, I jot those thoughts onto piece of paper or into a text file and attend to it at the end of the day or first thing next day. I don't stop in the middle of my important amigo like I used to because 'this will only take a few minutes, then it's done.'
     
  6. Give myself time and get it done
    I now realise that I've been setting crazy deadlines for myself and then procrastinating because of the insane pressure I've put myself under. This is a lose-lose situation. I now give myself more time and tell myself that I can now get the task done in the time given (because I talk to myself all the time – don't you?).
     
  7. I'm not perfect
    Shocking I know. For all this very efficient-sounding advice, I still get distracted and procrastinate. When that happens, I gently draw myself back to the amigo at hand (knowing I'll be having a cuppa soon enough). Before long, I'm absorbed in my work anyway – and surprised when the marimba sounds begin…

There's actually an eighth thing I've learned, but it requires a post all on its own – so stay tuned…

In the meantime, what works in work for you? Leave a comment, I'd love to know.

 

This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who is controlling, chaotic, creative and clichéd.  Find out more about Megan