Burnout recovery tip 3: Cull your friends

This post was written by Megan on September 12, 2010
Posted Under: burnout and recovery

Friendship and burnout cartoon

'Cull your friends' sounds a bit harsh. Even by Facebook standards. And it also sounds like strange advice, considering friends can be damned handy when things get rough. And if you are burned out, things can get rough. 

But this morsel of advice comes from a place of love…and sanity. A new kind of love and sanity you can have for yourself.


My problem 

It was during burnout when I realised most of my friends rang to tell me their problems. Sharing problems is all part of friendship, right? Sure, but I rarely got to share mine.

Once my friend felt happier from talking through whatever was plaguing them, the conversation would end with "I've gotta go! But we haven't talked about you…I'm soooo sorry, but I really have to go. Next time?"

Yes, there was a next time. But my friend had a new problem then. Could they just talk through first? Of course they could.


Why I loved this problem

Firstly, I loved hearing about other people's problems and trying to work it out with them. For me, this little activity had some personal psychological bonuses: 

They are confiding in me = I am close, I am useful, I am appreciated.

Secondly, I'm a writer. This means I'm actually a parasitic voyeur. Being allowed access to the private thoughts and feelings of others was likely to lead to juicy material for my fiction writing (change the names, who would know?).

Thirdly, I actually didn't want to talk about myself. If I did, the main points were:

  1. I perpetually feel like crap
  2. The doctors don't know why
  3. I'm trying everything I can to fix it
  4. Nothing is working
  5. I'm broke

It was bad enough living it. Talking about it was just dragged me down further. 


Not all my friends were self-obsessed…

Some friends were very interested in me. And they did their darndest to help out. And when their time comes, these good intentions will be rewarded with an express ticket to Halos in Heaven, no doubt.

But to be honest I didn't feel in complete sync with these people. In hindsight, it became clear these friendships that had formed more out of circumstances than a deliberate choice.

Sometimes I wasn't always sure I wanted – or needed – their particular kind of help. Other times I was absolutely certain I didn't want – or need – their particular kind of help. As well intentioned as it was.


The third kind of friend

There were friends I was in sync with. And still are. These people have talked about their problems from time-to-time, sure. They also devised clever ways to get me to talk about the bees in my particular bonnet. 

Note: I know. It's hard to believe I had difficulty talking about myself, considering the nature of this blog. What can I say? Once the floodgates are open…  

We have also talked about other things. Broader topics not directly related to the challenges our personal lives, Fun topics like sex, politics and religion. How refreshing.


These friends are not perfect

Friends who are good for you can say the wrong thing every once in awhile. They might host an almighty whinge-fest and demand you to punch some pompoms on their behalf. They can even be absent at times when you really need them. 

In short, these friends can be human. Just like you.


So how do you know which friends to cull?

As mentioned in my e-book 'Ten unusual ways to manage stress and burnout' (free to all My Burnout Thing e-news subscribers):

You might discover, for instance, that a particular friend has a knack of making you feel like dried up Play-Doh at the bottom of a soggy sandpit.  Not just lately, but for eons.  Maybe from the very beginning.

If you are carrying the weight of the friendship by giving full support to the other person while they suck upon your bone marrow, then the answer is ‘doh’. 

The answer is simple:

If you feel like you have significantly less energy every time after seeing that friend, then you have a sign.  


How do you say goodbye to a friend?

Confrontation can be draining. So it's tempting to get caller ID, refuse to pick up and gradually freeze them out with passive-aggressive silence.

The problem with this tactic is that the friend may envisage you collapsed on the floor slowly starving to death (why else wouldn't you call back?). So, naturally, they will have police break down your front door. Are you disintegrating into the wool-blend Berber carpet? Nope, you're happily munching on cheese toasties while playing Yahtzee with…who are these people??

Alternatively, you can tell them you are moving to Ghayl Ba Wazir, a village in Yemen that has a secret burnout spa usually reserved for personal assistants of Hollywood celebrities. No phones, no internet. Guests? No, no guests, I'm afraid. At least six months.

But in a month's time, it is guaranteed your friend will spot you at that cafe you like. And…well, you can imagine the rest.


….or you could be honest.

Tell them that you're really unwell (true). You are having to rest a lot more and wanting to talk a lot less (also true). Your health practitioner says you need to bunker down for awhile (find any half-decent health practitioner and they will say this, so have the consultation and you won't be lying). 

You could also mention that you will be back in communication with important friends when you are starting to feel better (true again).

But it's up to you.


Wrap up

Close friendships that don't feel right can be very draining.

By default, perpetuating a relationship that's not right for you is not going to be right for the other person – even if they don't know it yet.  

So this is not about about being judgemental regarding 'right' or 'wrong' behaviour. This is about deciding who is good for you – and your health – right now.

You deserve to be selective about your company. Any good friend will tell you that.


This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who wonders if a person can have too many friends… Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments


Note from Megan: Amber had trouble posting this so I'm doing it for her….


On the topics of friends – YES I can relate. In my case I was trying to hold on to friends, and hoping beyond hope that they would understand me and what I was going through…which didn't really happen. :-( I felt so alone. It really sucks when you find out that people you thought were your 'best friends'are in fact really self-absorbed, and have probably been like that forever!


Well, not that I haven't been self-absorbed the past years. Good god, I have. But two self-absorbed people in a friendship- nah, doesn't really work. I thought we might take turns – they didn't even notice. 


Part of it is also the disconnect in daily lives. I am 31, was 28 when I fell ill- my friends are all in the marriage, buying houses, having babies, and making careers stage. Not me. So that sucked. The disconnect. My inner circle started to consist of other people in crisis which worked better :-)


I am feeling much stronger now than say 2 years ago, so I manage much better – but man it was a tough lonely ride. I felt like the crazy fallen person that had no connection with normal life anymore. 


I have gotten really discerning when it comes to new friends ( I have met some great people!) Still find it difficult to say no to some old ones….

Written By Megan on September 28th, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

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