Burnout recovery tip 1: The Helen Keller approach

This post was written by Megan on August 11, 2010
Posted Under: burnout and recovery

Burnout cartoon cotton wool

It's been a month since I last wrote. I was going to apologise, but then thought 'Nah.'

I'm tired. You already know what that's like, I don't have to explain it to you.

So I imagine, chances are, you also understand the fatigue associated with apologising for not keeping up with the blogging/tweeting/typing 'Me! Me! Me!' sixteen times a day for the sake of "building strong online relationships and raising your Google ranking."

Let's raise our doodle ranking instead…


What our world has become

Your know those racing greyhound dogs who follow the fake rabbit around and around the circuit? Enough said.


This is an important point to burnout recovery:

Put some brakes on that fake rabbit. We've both got a pretty spiffy excuse already: "I'm burnt out". Why waste it on being a hyped-up, one-track animal who has forgotten the importance of the phrase, "Let sleeping dogs lie"?


Back to The Helen Keller approach

This is number one on my 'recovery things' list (there are twelve others: 13 things towards burnout recovery). Must admit, the title to this post is a bit misleading. Helen Keller worked hard to extend beyond her physical limitations and really optimise her senses. What a woman. My hat off to her.

But the lesson to burnout is…in a way…err….to stop extending beyond our physical limitations.  

Wow, that was really hard for me to write. I'll tell you why…


What my grandfather said

Apparently, my grandfather was fond of saying "Know your limitations". Over and over again. I don't remember this. He died when I was freaking out in nappies. But it's something that my father recounted for me. Over and over again.

This was not a story of fond nostalgia. The distaste in my father's tone while mimicking his father was palpable. And I understood why. It seemed like a pretty negative mantra to me, too.

My dad is well-known for his super-positive attitude – except when talking about his father. And he brought me up with the notion that I could do whatever I wanted (apart from watching the Brady Bunch and talking on their phone to my friends for longer than half an hour).

My father's voice saying "Megan, you can do anything!" still rings about my ears. Somehow that message translated in my brain to "Megan, you should do everything!". And so, no matter how much I experienced of the world, and no matter how positively I tried to embrace it, it never felt enough. 


But I don't regret extending beyond my limitations…

…and burning myself out to a cinder. I've had a pretty interesting life as a 'must do' maniac – using sight, sound, taste, smell and touch to the full and then some.

More importantly, this crazy life has led me here. To the point where it's become harder to move from chair to chair than it once was to move from country to country. And to the point where it's become much harder to see, hear, taste, smell and touch. 


The senses they don't talk about

Being burnt out is a time not to go 'beyond', but to go within. It is a chance to slowly discover the interior senses we generally don't explore. To achieve this you must have the desire to see, hear, taste, smell and touch clobbered right out of you.   


What are these 'interior senses'?

I don't even want to try and name them. The important thing is to allow yourself to go there and experience them for yourself, in your own way.

But there are some recommended guidelines. You must NOT:

  • allow tradesmen into your home for long periods, if at all
  • have TV, your iPod and/or small children turned on for long periods
  • worry about Brad, Angelina or Jen
  • play Guitar Hero as often as my brother does


You must instead:

  1. find a quiet place
  2. wrap yourself in cotton wool (not literally..then again…)
  3. bunker down 
  4. do nothing (zip, nada, diddly-squat)


I'm not saying you have to do this full-time. But to simply give this process a go. To be deaf, be dumb and to be blind. And to trust that, at that moment, appearing completely senseless is okay. 


Which leads me to my next post – Burnout recovery tip 2:The nothing 

I can't tell you when it is going to be published, but I know you already understand if it takes me awhile. 

This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who now understands the power of closing her eyes, covering her ears and yelling 'La La Laaaaa!!!' every once in awhile. Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments

I work with a lot of burnout-ees and you are right about learning to switch off the senses. I hadn't thought about it like this. To switch off all the input is to render one still.
I try to get them to sit still and resist the urge to be productive and all they want to do is kill me. Fortunately this wanes and they start to see the point.
Thanks Megan regardless of how long it takes until the next one.

Written By Jeff on August 11th, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

Megan, love your musings on the senses and your suggestion that letting go and tapping into our interior senses can help us operate more effectively in our outer world.  Maybe by letting go, we can sometimes make better sense (!) of things?
Your blog made me think about a beautiful tapestry I saw once. It's housed in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris and is titled, 'The Lady and the Unicorn'. I'm sure you know it. Each tapestry depicts one of the five senses, and then there is a sixth tapestry in which a lady stands in front of a tent and across it are the words, À Mon Seul Désir translated as 'to my one desire' … in reference to 'Love' … I often wonder if this allusion could be more mysterious than romantic love of the Other, and actually represent love of the Self … the soul … which is what the interior senses are really all about, I suppose …

Written By Monique Mayze on August 11th, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

Yes, I know the tapestry you are talking about. What a beautiful connection you have made, Monique. And I agree, this process is about learning to love ourselves, our souls, who we really are. Thank you so much for the great comment.

Written By Megan on August 16th, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

Thank you for sharing your story and for writing about it in such an interesting and humorous way. It helps to know that I am not alone. This is not on topic with regard to the last comment on the tapestry; just my burnout story that I wanted to share with anyone who wants to listen. I have been working at a very stressful job for over 8 years, and have loved every minute of it, up until about 2 years ago when I gradually started to hate everything about it. Over the years, I took on a lot of different responsibilities without realizing that there was a limit to how much I could handle. Just like you, Megan, I am a type A personality, and in my case, I thrive on overloading myself with work to see what creative solutions I can come up with to get it all done. I let work define me, and when that world started to crumble, so did I.
I decided I had had enough when I came back from vacation, refreshed and with a new outlook, having promised myself to only take on as much as I could handle, and to leave after 8 hours and not give a damn if the building caught on fire. But projects kept coming in, one after the other and I froze; instead of coming up with more creative solutions on how to get it all done, I just froze and couldn't do anything. When I tried to push back on my boss, he gave me a blank stare. It got so bad that I had physical reactions to the office every time I walked through the door as if I had developed a physical allergy to my workplace. That's when I knew I was at the end of my rope. 
This was only a few months ago so I don't have any words of wisdom to share yet. I am working reduced hours and taking everything slow, trying to redefine my sense of self and learning to slow down. Not easy after thirty-something years of go, go, go…

Written By Alex on October 1st, 2010 @ 11:14 am

Thanks so much for sharing you story, Alex. You are doing soooo well. I’m very impressed. It’s weird that when we feel at our weakest (i.e. burnt out) that we have to be at our strongest. It’s when we need to work – literally – against the tide of expected behaviour. This often involves ‘managing up’ – that is, managing your manager about what is a genuinely productive work strategy. Pompoms to you :)

Written By Megan on October 3rd, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

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